Friday, March 6, 2009

Day Thirty-Six: The Sentinel (1977) - Rank 3.5/5


Over the years, I've become somewhat of a fan of Italian horror. Admittedly, I have more of a penchant for Dario Argento that others, but I'm still familiar with the works of other directors such as Lamberto Bava and Lucio Fulci. It may seem off topic, but I'm leading up to this: upon watching "The Sentinel," I got a feeling of been there, seen this. The reason being is that its plot greatly resembles Fulci's "The Beyond." I assumed that the similarities of the plots (an individual moving into a large mysterious residence, only to be surrounded by paranoia, odd characters and death) were due to Michael Winner watching Fulci's gory, B-horror prior to filming. To my surprise, I found that "The Sentinel" precedes "The Beyond" by almost five years.

Granted, while both flicks focus on a residence serving as, for lack of a better word, a "Hellmouth," they aren't identical. In "The Beyond," a major focus is on the chaos once reserved to the home spreading across the city. "The Sentinel's" emphasis is more on the mystery of why new tenant, Alison Parker (Cristina Raines) was "chosen" to become a resident at the apartment. The complete explanation behind the film's mystery is choppy (I had to rewatch the last half hour again to ensure that I hadn't missed anything), but the appeal to the film is certainly the unsettling atmosphere Winner creates. Corpses of relatives attack Alison and disappear without a trace, she resides below the apartment of a blind priest who does nothing but stare out a window, she falls prey to strange trances and her apartment building is populated with eccentric characters...or is it?

Burgess Meredith hams it up as one of Alison's neighbors, later throwing a birthday party for his cat in a Polanski-inspired scene. A very young Beverly D'Angelo is another resident of the strange building - she's seemingly a sex slave to her dominatrix-like roommate and haunts Alison's dreams by dancing in the nude. That last bit of information, while not imperative to the plot, deserves mention for obvious reasons. In fact, the film contains as many cameos as it does corpses with Eli Wallach, Jeff Goldblum, Martin Balsam, Christopher Walken, Ava Gardner, Jose Ferrer and John Carradine rounding out the cast. The downside to this is the performances of Cristina Raines and Chris Sarandon (who plays her husband) become overshadowed and I felt like anyone could have pulled off the roles just as well (if not better). All in all, though, a fun way to kill time that definitely smacks of Winner's style of filmmaking.

Watch the Trailer

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