Blu-ray Review: THE SENTINEL

2015/09/23 18:36:08 +00:00 | Sean McClannahan

The Sentinel was released in 1977 to a bit of controversy over director Michael Winner's decision to use real sideshow oddities for his film's conclusion—a move no filmmaker had the balls to do since Tod Browning in 1932's Freaks. Based on the 1974 novel of the same name by Jeffrey Konvitz, The Sentinel is a horror film anomaly, one that simply has to be seen to believe how truly insane it is.

The Sentinel centers on a fashion model who moves into an apartment building that happens to be a portal to Hell. The portal is secretly guarded by deprived priests and occupied by eccentric neighbors who like to host extravagant birthday parties for their pet cats, as well as a mute Beverly D'Angelo who expresses her sexuality during an awkward visit with her new neighbor over friendly morning coffee.

Starring Cristina Raines and Chris Sarandon (Fright Night), The Sentinel boasts an extremely impressive supporting cast that features the likes of Ava Gardner, José Ferrer, John Carradine, Burgess Meredith, Beverly D'Angelo, Jerry Orbach, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Berenger, and Christopher Walken, in addition to some creepy makeup effects from Dick Smith (The Exorcist). Unfortunately, due to a relatively short runtime of 92 minutes it's impossible for any of these characters to really resonate or leave much of an impact, but the real strength in The Sentinel lies in its atmospheric direction and intense buildup—one that leads to some frightening encounters on the way to a sheer maniacal climax that captures the kind of nightmarish surrealism normally found in ’70s Italian horror.

The Sentinel isn't perfect. There are some shoddy acting performances, sloppy editing and a lack of chemistry between the leads, but the film works simultaneously as a slow-burn, chilling descent into the abyss of madness and an off-the-wall, anarchical assault on the senses. Michael Winner never reaches the heights of Roman Polanski or William Friedkin, but he certainly delivers one hell of an entertaining movie with some memorable moments that will both creep you out and make you howl in delight.

Scream Factory's release of The Sentinel includes a gorgeous high definition 1080p transfer with new audio commentary from actress Christina Raines and writer/producer Jeffrey Konvitz. Also incuded is an insightful new interview with assistant director Ralph S. Singleton, along with audio commentary from director Michael Winner, the theatrical trailer, TV spots, and still galleries.

The Sentinel deserves the cult status it has earned and should definitely be recognized as a significant contribution to the ’70s horror subgenre. Very few filmmakers who tackled religious-themed horror films from that era have taken the kind of bold choices Michael Winner has with The Sentinel, and for better or worse, every odd thing that found its way into the finished product layers this film with mystique and charm.

In a strange way, The Sentinel is an example of a time and place in Hollywood when filmmakers tackling this genre could afford to be more daring and take chances that unfortunately mainstream horror movies don't often take anymore. Going to see horror films at the cinema used to be kind of unpredictable and dangerous, and The Sentinel is a great reminder of that bygone era.

Movie Score: 4/5,  Disc Score: 4/5