The Sentinel (1977)
Director: Michael Winner
Starring: Chris Sarandon, Cristina Raines, Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith & John Carradine
Released by: Scream Factory
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
Following the death of her father and an urgent desire for independence, beautiful model Alison Parker (Cristina Raines, The Duellists) moves into a spacious New York brownstone unaware of the danger that awaits her. Haunted by nightmarish memories and riddled by her peculiar neighbors, Alison learns her once desirable new residence is a gateway to hell. Chris Sarandon (Child’s Play), Ava Gardner (The Killers), John Carradine (House of Frankenstein), Burgess Meredith (Rocky), Beverly D’Angelo (National Lampoon’s Vacation), Jerry Orbach (Law & Order), Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park), Eli Wallach (The Magnificent Seven) and Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter) co-star.
Based on the novel by Jeffrey Konvitz, Director Michael Winner (Death Wish) returns to the city that never sleeps for his controversial religious shocker. Shot on location in Brooklyn Heights, Alison Parker (Raines) moves into the ideal New York brownstone, inhabited by a blind reclusive priest on the building’s top floor. Shortly after settling in, Alison develops a series of medical drawbacks while becoming acquainted with her eccentric new neighbors. Unsettled by reoccurring dreams of her recently deceased father and her own previous suicide attempts, Alison’s sanity comes into question after learning she, along with Father Halliran (Carradine), are the only occupants of the apartment complex. Aided by her boyfriend Michael Lerman (Sarandon), Alison discovers her new home is a gateway to hell that the Catholic Church assign guardians to protect. While the ailing Father Halliran upholds his duty, Alison has been selected as the next Sentinel for a chance at redemption for her previous sins. As the demons’ influence take greater hold, Alison’s faith and will to fight back are mankind’s only hope against the forces of darkness.
Boasting one of the most eclectic casts in 70s horror, The Sentinel continues to tap the hot-button subgenre of religious terror during a time when satan gripped audiences attention. Matched with underrated makeup effects by Dick Smith (The Exorcist) and bizarre imagery of ballet dancing lesbians fondling themselves, The Sentinel packs a visual identity not soon forgotten. Considered wildly offensive during its original release for the casting of actors with real-life deformities, Director Michael Winner’s sole horror feature achieves an authentic level of eeriness separating itself from other Catholic based dives into the supernatural. While generally viewed as a mediocre effort, The Sentinel has rightfully developed an increased appreciation over the decades. Guided by worthy performances from Raines and Sarandon, along with a scene-stealing Meredith, The Sentinel has kept its hellish inferno burning for viewers to rediscover its chilling charm.
Scream Factory presents The Sentinel with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Boasting a noticeably filmic appearance, skin tones are generally natural looking with colors of the apartment’s greenery and the film’s bloodier moments popping nicely. Aside from inherent age-related issues of mild scratches and scuffs, detail remains strikingly stable with Dick Smith’s frightening effects better appreciated while, black levels reveal no glaring crushing issues. Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is always audible and free of any intruding distortion. Meanwhile, sound effects and Gil Melle’s (Blood Beach) moody tunes come across effectively. Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Producer Jeffrey Konvitz, Audio Commentary with Writer/Producer/Director Michael Winner and Audio Commentary with Actress Cristina Raines. In addition, Working with Winner: The Making of The Sentinel (23:56) finds Second Assistant Director Ralph S. Singleton discussing his early starts in the industry and his working relationship with the often tough but respected Winner in this engaging featurette. Furthermore, a Theatrical Trailer (2:35), TV Spots (1:39), Movie Stills (2:47), B&W Press Photos (2:30) and Lobby Cards and Posters (2:34) Photo Galleries round out the supplements.
Nicely complimenting Scream Factory’s other resurrected religious frightener The Legacy, The Sentinel packs an impressively diverse cast with enough disturbing imagery to cement itself in horror lovers’ subconscious. Graduating to high-definition with noticeably improved technical merits and a generous supply of bonus content for such an unsung feature, Scream Factory lures you to the hellish underworld with The Sentinel as your ideal host.