Home Video Hovel: The Sentinel, by David Bax
Michael Winner’s The Sentinel is an ideal candidate for a quality Blu-ray release. In the age of large televisions and home projectors, the ability to have some friends over for cocktails and popcorn and movie watching is the next best thing to a midnight movie theatrical experience. And something like The Sentinel – bizarre, creepy, corny, bloody and occasionally just plain wacko – would fit such a bill just fine.
Cristina Raines stars as Alison Parker, a depressive model looking for a place to live in New York City. It turns out her lack of family and her past suicide attempt make her the perfect candidate for a tony apartment overlooking the East River which happens to be a gateway to Hell. Alison finds herself in a tug of war between the more cryptic branches of the Catholic church (which owns the building) and the cabal of damned spirits who inhabit the other apartments. With those groups, Alison’s boyfriend and a couple of detectives, The Sentinel is crammed with a staggeringly impressive cast. Chris Sarandon, Martin Balsam, John Carradine, José Ferrer, Ava freaking Gardner, Burgess Meredith (amazing), Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken, Jerry Orbach, Beverly D’Angelo and Jeff Goldblum all appear, as do Tom Berenger and, oddly, Richard Dreyfuss as essentially an extra despite already being a well-established actor by this point. Raines may actually be the least famous person in the movie.
Scenes in which a young woman in a New York apartment building is hounded by her eccentric, occult, weirdo neighbors bear enough of a Rosemary’s Baby influence to count as a straight up rip-off. Still, that fails to detract from the movie’s fun, mostly because it doesn’t lack originality in other aspects. From high society cocktail party freak-outs to the ritualistic, dark underbelly of Catholicism to a woman stabbing the ghost of her father to a birthday party for a cat, The Sentinel never misses an opportunity to deliver something unexpected.
There are hints of ruminations about what a suicide attempt does to the soul and how harsh organized religion can often be toward those it could be helping. Really, though, I’m pretty sure The Sentinel’s main message is that New Yorkers will put up with a hell of a lot to get a decent apartment.
Shout! Factory’s transfer isn’t going to knock anyone’s socks off but it’s solid and consistent, presenting this late-1970s shlock fest in the grainy way we’d prefer to imagine it.
Special features include three audio commentaries – one with Raines, one with Winner and one with writer/producer Jeffrey Konvitz – as well as an interview with the assistant director.