Theatrical release poster by Bill Gold
|Directed by||Michael Winner|
|Based on||The Sentinel|
by Jeffrey Konvitz
|Music by||Gil Mellé|
|Cinematography||Richard C. Kratina|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$4 million|
The Sentinel is a 1977 American supernatural horror film directed by Michael Winner, and starring Cristina Raines, Chris Sarandon, Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith, Sylvia Miles and Eli Wallach. It also features Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, John Carradine, Jerry Orbach, Tom Berenger, Nana Visitor and Beverly D'Angelo in supporting roles. The plot focuses on a young model who moves into a historic Brooklyn brownstone that has been sectioned into apartments, only to find that its proprietors are excommunicated Catholic priests and that the building is a gateway to Hell. It is based on the 1974 novel of the same name by Jeffrey Konvitz, who also co-wrote the screenplay with director Winner.
The film was released by Universal Pictures in 1977.
Alison Parker, a beautiful but severely neurotic fashion model, moves into a historic and spacious Brooklyn brownstone house that has been divided into apartments. The house is inhabited on the top floor by Father Halliran, a reclusive blind priest who spends all of his time sitting at his open window. Soon after moving in, Alison begins having strange physical problems, including insomnia, and suffers startling flashbacks of her previous suicide attempts, which were triggered by her hedonistic, abusive father. Alison meets several of her neighbors: Among them are Charles Chazen, an eccentric elderly man, and two women, Gerde Engstrom and Sandra, who share an apartment. While visiting the latter two, Alison is disturbed when Sandra begins masturbating in front of her.
Several days later, Alison attends a bizarre birthday celebration for Chazen's cat, which is also attended by various tenants in the building. She becomes increasingly uncomfortable in the apartment building, and is regularly awoken after midnight by noises emanating from the apartment above her. When she complains to Miss Logan, the real estate agent, about the noisy and irritating neighbors, she is told that the house is occupied only by Father Halliran and her. Miss Logan proves this by showing Alison the various empty apartments.
Late one night, Alison is again awakened by strange noises, and encounters the animated, rotting corpse of her recently-deceased father in the stairwell. The incident causes her to suffer a nervous breakdown. Michael, Alison's lawyer boyfriend, initially believes she is suffering paranoid delusions, but aids her in investigating the building. He summons the help of two detectives, Gatz and Rizzo, who discover that the people Alison claimed to have met at the cat's birthday party are all deceased murderers and serial killers. Michael breaks into the Diocesan office and finds documents that show the building is owned by a secret society of excommunicated Catholic priests and is a gateway to Hell. Father Halliran is the Sentinel, who ensures that the demons do not escape. Halliran is nearing the end of his life and a new Sentinel is needed. The society has chosen Alison, because her two suicide attempts qualify her as an ideal candidate. She is told that she must pay for her sins by becoming the next Sentinel. Only by doing so will she be allowed into Heaven.
Returning to the apartment building after a party, Alison is confronted by Chazen, along with the minions of Hell. Among them is Michael, who has been killed unbeknownst to her, damned for having murdered his wife. Alison is chased through the building by grotesque and deformed creatures. She runs to the top floor and into Father Halliran's room, where the demons corner her. Chazen hands her a knife and tries to convince her to commit suicide in order to avoid this torment. Father Halliran and another priest, Monsignor Franchino, enter the room. Franchino supports the infirm Halliran as he wields a large crucifix. They work their way through the demons and reach Alison, where they prevent her suicide. She takes the crucifix from Monsignor Franchino and sits in Father Halliran's chair.
Shortly after, the brownstone is demolished and replaced with a modern apartment complex. Miss Logan shows the apartments to a young couple looking to rent. The couple asks about the neighbors and Miss Logan explains to them that there are only two — a violin player and an old, blind nun. The nun is Alison, now blind like Father Halliran. She sits facing out the open window in the top floor apartment.
- Chris Sarandon as Michael Lerman
- Cristina Raines as Alison Parker
- Martin Balsam as Prof. Ruzinsky
- John Carradine as Fr. Francis Matthew Halliran
- José Ferrer as Robed Figure
- Ava Gardner as Miss Logan
- Arthur Kennedy as Monsignor Franchino
- Burgess Meredith as Charles Chazen
- Sylvia Miles as Gerde Engstrom
- Deborah Raffin as Jennifer
- Eli Wallach as Det. Gatz
- Christopher Walken as Det. Rizzo
- Jerry Orbach as Film Director
- Beverly D'Angelo as Sandra
- Hank Garrett as James Brenner
- Nana Visitor (billed as Nana Tucker) as Girl at End
- Tom Berenger as Man at End
- William Hickey as Perry
- Jeff Goldblum as Jack
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Winner was inspired by the depictions of the creatures of Hell as they appear in the works of Christopher Marlowe, Dante's Inferno, and the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. Shortly after the film's release, Winner revealed that many of the deformed persons featured in the finale were actually people with physical disabilities and abnormalities, whom he cast from hospitals and sideshows.
The Sentinel received mostly negative reviews upon its release. David Pirie in Time Out was quite negative in his review, claiming The Sentinel was "just a mass of frequently incomprehensible footage, acted so badly that even the most blatant shocks count for little". Pirie criticised the movie for being derivative of Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist and The Omen: "The Sentinel seems little more than a pile of outtakes from recent supernatural successes." Robin Wood described The Sentinel as "the worst—most offensive and repressive—horror film of the 70s". Variety gave the film a negative review, writing "The Sentinel is a grubby, grotesque excursion into religioso psychodrama, notable for uniformly poor performances by a large cast of familiar names and direction that is hysterical and heavy-handed." The New York Times called the film "dull", criticizing the film for its long stretches, but commended Raines' performance.
Film scholar Richard Bookbinder wrote in his 1982 book The Films of the Seventies the final sequence in which the "armies of Hell" terrorize Alison "is undoubtedly one of the most terrifying interludes in seventies cinema."
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, The Sentinel holds an approval rating of 47% based on 19 reviews, with a rating average of 5.9/10. Anthony Arrigo from Dread Central gave the film 3.5 out of 5 stars, writing, "The Sentinel might be devoid of any big, memorable showstopper moments but it maintains enough of a chilling atmosphere to keep fright fans engaged." Brett Gallman from Oh, the Horror! gave the film a positive review, stating that, although it was not the best of the "demonic horror" subgenre, it was just as entertaining. Gallman also commended the film's script, performances and effective imagery.
Ian Jane from DVD Talk awarded the film 3.5 out of 5 stars. In his conclusion Jane wrote, "Michael Winner's The Sentinel is a gleefully perverse slice of seventies horror that makes no qualms about taking things in a few entirely unexpected directions while still sticking to some tried and true genre conventions. It's not a perfect film but it's definitely interesting and always entertaining." The film was ranked #46 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments in 2004.
TV Guide awarded the film 1/5 stars, calling it "a truly repulsive film". Jedd Beaudoin from PopMatters gave the film 1/10 stars, criticizing the film's lack of believability and incoherent plot.
- "The Sentinel". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Archived from the original on September 26, 2018.
- "The Sentinel (18)". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved July 14, 2017.
- Nowell 2010, p. 256.
- Alleman 2005, pp. 92–93.
- Reed, Rex (February 20, 1977). "The big Winner of the horror game". New York Daily News. p. 7 – via Newspapers.com.
- Bookbinder 1993, p. 188.
- "The Sentinel", in Time Out Film Guide 2011, Time Out, London, 2010. ISBN 1846702089 (p. 946).
- Robin Wood, Hollywood From Vietnam to Reagan. Columbia University Press, 1986.ISBN 0231057776 (p. 153).
- Variety Staff (1977). "The Sentinel". Variety. Archived from the original on March 28, 2019.
- "'Sentinel,' Less a Horror Film Than Dull". The New York Times. February 12, 1976. Archived from the original on August 31, 2018.
- "The Sentinel (1977)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved July 14, 2017.
- Arrigo, Anthony. "Sentinel, The (Blu-ray) - Dread Central". Dread Central.com. Anthony Arrigo. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
- Gallman, Brett. "Horror Reviews - Sentinel, The (1977)". Oh the Horror.com. Brett Gallman. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
- Jane, Ian. "The Sentinel (Blu-ray) : DVD Talk Review of the Blu-ray". DVD Talk.com. Ian Jane. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
- "The Sentinel - Movie Reviews and Movie Ratings". TV Guide.com. TV Guide. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
- Beaudoin, Jedd. "'The Sentinel': Of Pre-Internet Feline Birthday Parties and Masturbating Specters - PopMatters". PopMatters.com. Jedd Beaudoin. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
- Long, Mike (September 27, 2004). "The Sentinel DVD". DVD Talk. Archived from the original on December 23, 2010.
- Barton, Steve (July 22, 2005). "The Sentinel Watches Over Blu-ray and DVD". Dread Central. Archived from the original on May 16, 2016.
- Alleman, Richard (2005). New York: The Movie Lover's Guide: The Ultimate Insider Tour of Movie New York. New York: Broadway Books. ISBN 978-0-767-91634-9.
- Bookbinder, Richard (1993) . The Films of the Seventies. New York: Citadel Press. ISBN 978-0-806-50927-3.
- Nowell, Richard (2010). Blood Money: A History of the First Teen Slasher Film Cycle. New York: Continuum. ISBN 978-1-441-14316-7.