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Sentinel, The

Shout Factory // R // September 22, 2015
List Price: $27.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted September 16, 2015 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

Directed by Michael Winner, based on the novel by Jeffrey Konvitz and released by Universal in 1977, The Sentinel begins in Rome where two higher ups in the Catholic Church, Monsignor Franchino (Arthur Kennedy) and an unnamed associate (Jose Ferrer), detect warning signs of a great evil afoot in New York City. From here, we meet a fashion model named Alison Parker (Cristina Raines) who has just rented an apartment in a home let out by Miss Logan (Ava Gardner). Before Alison moves in, Logan tells her that there's an old and very blind priest named Father Halliran living above her. Halliran isn't the only oddball in the house, however, there's also a strange old man named Charles Chazen (Burgess Meredith) and two frisky lesbians in the form of Sandra (Beverly D'Angelo) and Gerde (Sylvia Miles).

Alison's got problems of her own though. Not only does she have an appetite for pills but she is plagued by a gruesome dream wherein she murders her recently deceased father. She might not be the most stable tenant, something that isn't lost on Logan. See, Alison complains to her about the other tenants making too much noise, but Logan tells her the only other person in the building is Halliran. She discusses all of this with her boyfriend, a lawyer named Michael (Chris Sarandon), and he decides to start digging around into the building's history. What he uncovers is not only unsettling, it's unholy! The place has a history of death that ties into a very ancient evil… and then there's a pair of cops kicking around in the form of detectives Gatz (Eli Wallach) and Rizzo (Christopher Walken).

Clearly meant to take advantage of the supernatural horror boom that was raking in box office gold in the seventies thanks to films like The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby, Winner's picture isn't particularly consistent but it is weird enough to work despite its flaws. The New York City location footage helps to add some interesting atmosphere to many of the scenes and as anyone who has seen the film before will be able to tell you, the movie does not want for sleaze. There are some bizarre sexualized scenes here (Beverly D'Angelo's infamous self-pleasure sequence being the most obvious) that are unusual to see in a major studio production, particularly one with a cast as heavy with notables as this one is. The film also features some impressive gore and a few impressive set pieces of creative and visually impressive horror. These make it easy to overlook the fact that a whole lot of what we see here is one genre cliché after another.

As to how that cast fares? Cristina Raines is fine in the lead, though she doesn't have a whole lot of chemistry with Chris Sarandon as the sleazy lawyer character we've seen in countless other movies. This does hurt things a bit and it dulls slightly an otherwise very sharp finale. The supporting players are more interesting here than the leads. Walken and Wallach are a kick to see as the cops, while Burgess Meredith tends to steal pretty much every scene that he's in as the kindly but bizarre old man across the hall. John Carradine does his things well as the blind old priest who really doesn't do much more than make eerie faces staring out the window but his screen presence is put to good use. Beverly D'Angelo vamps it up big time, Sylvia Miles to a lesser degree, but hey, both ladies make an impression if nothing else while Arthur Kennedy and Jose Ferrer are fine as the priests in the beginning. Tom Berenger, Jerry Orbach and William Hickey also have small but amusing roles here. With this many interesting characters actors popping up throughout the film, the scenes that are otherwise talky and slow are at least enjoyable to watch.

This one definitely has some pacing problems and some logic gaps but the finale is strong enough to help compensate a lot there. Solid effects, a really good score, great location photography and a killer cast… yeah, that'll all go a long way towards making this one worth seeing. Flawed or not, The Sentinel gets enough right that those who get a kick out of the occult films of the seventies should find a lot to like here.

The Blu-ray:


The Sentinel arrives on Blu-ray in a new AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.78.1 and for the most part looking quite good. There are some scenes that look a bit soft and a few spots where you might spot some minor compression artifacts but these are never serious problems. Skin tones look good if a bit pink in a few spots, while black levels are nice and deep. Detail is pretty solid throughout, though there are spots where the optical effects can play with clarity (such is the nature of the beast). There's nothing in the way of serious print damage to note, just the occasional minor speck, while grain looks nice and natural here. Compared to the DVD, this is a very nice upgrade.


The English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono mix is also fine. Dialogue is clean, clear and properly balanced for the most part, while the score and the effects work have good depth to them. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion and the score has some impressive strength to it when the movie calls for it. Optional subtitles are provided in English, there are no alternate language options or subtitles provided.


There are three commentary tracks included on this disc, the first of which features writer/producer Jeffrey Konvitz and moderator Nathaniel Thompson. This is a well-paced talk that allows Konvitz to discuss his background and how he got involved with this project, his writing process, what went into getting the film backed, what it was like working with Michael Winner and his thoughts on the picture overall. The second commentary with features the late Michael Winner himself, and he is, to say the least, quite blunt about this particular film and his thoughts in regards to his experiences here. He's not always concerned with hurting anyone's feelings when it comes to his thoughts on the acting and his penchant for calling it as he saw it is on full display here. That said, he also evidently had a very sharp memory when this track was recorded as he tells plenty of interesting stories about the film, his part in writing it, his thoughts on the script itself and quite a bit more. If you're a fan of Winner, don't miss this one. The third and final commentary features actress Cristina Raines. She talks here with a moderator about her experiences on the film, her rather tenuous working relationship with Winner, her thoughts on the film, some stories about her co-stars and a fair bit more. Each of the three tracks manages to cover enough ground that diehard fans of the movie should find much to appreciate about each one of them.

Shout! Factory has also included a twenty-four minute long interview with assistant director Ralph S. Singleton. He speaks here about how he got his start in the film industry and then goes on to discuss the specifics of his work on The Sentinel, working with Winner, his thoughts on the film and a fair bit more. Rounding out the extras are a trailer, a few TV spots, a few different still galleries, animated menus and chapter selection.

Final Thoughts:

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. Shout! Factory has done a pretty solid job on the presentation, presenting the movie in nice shape and with quite a few quality supplements as well. Worth the price for Winner's commentary on its own, this one comes recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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