Reviewed by Ned Daigle
Rating: 2.5 Beans
ovie producers really should give a little bit more thought into the talent they hire for the film they are about to finance. "The Sentinel" is a very bizarre attempt at cutting-edge horror, based on the popular novel, that begs the question: How good can the movie possibly be with a director who has had exactly one good movie in his entire career, and a leading lady that has absolutely ziltch in the screen charisma department? The answer: Not very.
Would-be starlet Cristina Raines is Alison Parker, a fashion-model who decides to move out of her boyfriend's apartment. Raines is not exactly the worst actress in the world, but she was ill-equiped to handle the duties required here. Simply being able to scream loudly is not enough, you also need a personality. The boyfriend is played by dependably bad Chris Sarandon, fresh off his tour-de-force performance in "Lipstick". Parker scores points in the intelligence department with that decision. Anyway, Parker rents an apartment in a creepy old building from rental agent Ava Gardner (who looks pretty appalled to be stuck in this flick), and, of course strange things begin happening.
See, there's this priest who lives on the top floor and stares out his window all of the time, Alison begins to have incapacitating pains in the back of her head, she is unable to sleep due to strange noises in the night and she is constantly bothered by her nutty neighbors. What's a fashion babe to do? Oh, and she is also plagued by the memory of her attempted suicide. One day she accidently interrupted her elderly father having sex with two obese women. I guess since the image of her naked pop boning away was just too too horrible, she tried to slit her wrists. Hell, I'd be reaching for the Platinum Pluses myself.
"The Sentinel", inexplicably, has a star-studded cast. I'm not kidding, it's like a parade of stars of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Not only do we have Sarandon and Gardner, but also Martin Balsam, John Carradine, Jose Ferrer, Burgess Meredith, Sylvia Miles, Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken, Jerry Orbach, Beverly D'Angelo, Tom Berenger, William Hickey and Jeff Goldblum. I was stunned when every single scene contained someone I recognized. All of them must have had pretty stupid agents, or the same stupid agent. Who knows? So, who gets the prize for the biggest embarrasment of a performance by a star. It's really a tie: Sylvia Miles and Beverly D'Angelo. They play two weirdo neighbors, D'Angelo actually masturbates herself through her leotard in front of Raines, and, when asked what she does for a living, Miles replies "We fondle each other" and gropes her hands down D'Angelo's front, cupping her breast.
Raines becomes increasingly terrified of her neighbors but Gardner states matter-of-factly, "Except for you and the priest, no one lives there." You see, everyone's a ghost. Or demon I should say. The priest upstairs is actually a sentinel, a holy guardian to the gates of Hell, which the house itself stands on, and Raines is to be the next one.
Director Michael Winner (he of the "Death Wish" series, "The Wicked Lady" and "Won Ton Ton-The Dog Who Saved Hollywood) is just no good at telling this story. Too much time is spent on red herrings and plot-lines that serve no purpose, and too little time in trying to scare the pants of the audience. There are a couple of very creepy moments along the way that save "The Sentinel" from being a complete washout, but not nearly enough. And Winner completely drops the ball with the grand finale where the minions of Hell chase Raines in the building until she accepts her place as the next sentinel. Winner, for some reason, decides the best way to show minions from Hell is to have a large group of real life handicapped and deformed people dressed in rags. Is this offensive, or is it just me? I can actually picture Winner circulating mental institutions and pointing to a patient "Hey, he's got an ENORMOUS forehead, let's get him!", or "Dwarfs?...Sure!"
Throughout all of "The Sentinel"'s problems I was still holding some hope that somehow it would make up for its shortcomings with a real great ending. Not so. In the shaky world of horror films you could do a whole lot worse, but man, you could do much much better.
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