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Sentinel, The

Universal // R // September 7, 2004
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Mike Long | posted September 28, 2004 | E-mail the Author
The Movie

No matter how much you love horror films, you must admit that they've always been treated as Hollywood's bastard step-children. Things changed for a time in the 1970s, with the success of The Exorcist and The Omen (and if you'd like, Rosemary's Baby from the late 60s), supernatural horror films had become quite chic (look at the popularity of "The Amityville Horror" novel (and subsequent film) at the time). On top of that, these films featured big-name Hollywood stars in prominent roles. It was this legacy which most likely created The Sentinel, a by-the-numbers horror film which contains an incredible array of familiar faces and a challenged script.

Christina Raines stars in The Sentinel as Alison Parker, a model who has been living with her lawyer boyfriend, Michael Lerman (Chris Sarandon). She decides that she wants to live on her own for a while and finds a furnished apartment in Brooklyn for an incredible price. Alison soon learns that the apartment building has its pros and cons; neighbor Charles Chazen (Burgess Meredith) is eccentric, but nice; however, the two women who live on the first floor (Sylvia Miles and Beverly D'Angelo) are very weird. And then there's the blind priest (John Carradine) who lives on the top floor, forever staring from his window. As Alison gets settled into her new digs, strange things begin to happen. At night, she hears footsteps from the empty apartment above. She has terrible headaches and passes out several times. She also begins to have very vivid nightmares, and insists that she sees her deceased father in the building. Concerned for Alison's health, Michael does some research on the building and learns that Alison is living in a building whose supernatural powers have claimed many lives over the years and that she is next.

As with Alison's new apartment, The Sentinel is filled with many pros and cons. The film's central idea, taken from a novel by Jeffrey Konvitz (who also co-wrote the screenplay and co-produced the film) is very creative. The script offers the viewer several clues as to what's happening to Alison and the reveal is done quite effectively. And the film doesn't cop-out at the end. I'd seen bits and pieces of The Sentinel on TV over the years, but I'd never seen the R-rated version, which is a must, as this cut contains two shocking scenes, one containing an act of violence, and the other featuring a bizarre sexual display. As mentioned above, the cast of the film is truly amazing. In addition to the actors mentioned above, we get Eli Wallach, Martin Balsam, Jose Ferrer, Ava Gardner, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Walken, Jerry Orbach, William Hickey, and a brief scene with Tom Berenger. Every few minutes another familiar face walks into the film and one can't help but wonder why this film didn't win any awards for casting.

Unfortunately, The Sentinel is also chock full of problems which keep it from being a classic, or even highly recommended. First of all, the direction from Michael Winner (the Death Wish films) is extremely lethargic and the film really drags at times. For every creepy and engaging scene, Winner gives us five scenes where nothing happens. Also, Chris Sarandon's character is deeply flawed. He's presented as the stereotypical sleazy lawyer for the first half of the film (and he has a dark past), so when he begins to investigate the building to help Alison, we have no idea how sincere he is about the project, or what his motivation is. (This point of contention also effects the film's finale, where a reveal of Sarandon's true character could have been handled much, much better.) And the controversial end scene, which contains people with real deformities, is more revolting than shocking, and certainly puts a damper on the film. Fans of supernatural horror, especially those films which feature conspiracies within the Catholic church should enjoy The Sentinel, as long as they are prepared to deal with the chatty and boring sections of the film.


The Sentinel moves onto DVD courtesy of Universal Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Given the age of this film, the transfer looks quite good, as it is sharp and displays very little grain. Also, there is a surprising lack of defects from the source material here, although we do get an occasional black dot. The transfer does show a certain lack of detail, as the ivy outside of Alison's apartment becomes a green mass in some shots. The colors are good, although slightly washed-out in some scenes. There is a minor amount of artifacting, but it's tolerable.


The DVD features a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio track. This track offers clear and audible dialogue, and shows only a slight trace of hissing. The dialogue and music are well-balanced and one never drowns out the other. The stereo separation is well-done and makes the scenes in which Alison explores the apartment building much more intense.


The only extra on the DVD is the theatrical trailer for The Sentinel, which is presented full-frame and is in very bad shape, showing many scratches and defects.

The Sentinel is a fantastic example of a late 70's horror film. The movie features an incredible star-studded cast, is based on popular novel, and pushes-the-envelope with sex and violence. Yet, for all of that promise, the movie has its share of problems. It's good for a few stand-out scenes and for star-gazing, but don't expect a masterpiece.
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