I’ve always liked The Sentinel, but have had a hard time knowing what to say about it, and therefore it has never made it to this site. I felt obliged to include it, however, in my tribute to the films of 1977. This is the story of a young, troubled model (Cristina Raines) who rents a furnished apartment at a price that is too good to be true because she isn’t ready to marry her longtime boyfriend (Chris Sarandon). Of course you all know that cheap housing in a horror film means that there are evil spirits residing there, but this apartment building is even worse seeing as how it’s the actual gateway to hell.
The Sentinel was apparently the center of some controversy upon its release because the demonic creatures we see in the climactic scene were played by actors with real deformities. But, even with that notorious history, and the stellar cast which includes Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith, Jerry Orbach, and Beverly D’Angelo, it seems to be unfairly overlooked when it comes to the satanic panic canon of the 70s. It’s not that it’s particularly obscure, and by the way don’t you feel a twinge of how-dare-you when someone starts throwing around the word “obscure?” It gives me flames on the sides of my face. It even made Bravo’s list of 100 Scariest Moments, although for my level of discomfort the scariest moment was a demonic D’Angelo masturbating to orgasm fully clothed over tea while staring at Raines. Actually the movie is filled with grotesqueries, like ugly noooood hookers feeding cake to an emaciated naked old guy, a cat eating a canary, slashed wrists, a nose being chopped off, and a cop wearing a wide tie. It’s just that I don’t often see it making many best-of lists other than the Bravo list.
I admit that there are some flaws, including a convoluted plot, and I don’t agree with the major theme that suicide, or in this case Raines’s character’s suicide attempts, necessarily damns one’s soul to hell. But darn it, this movie is scary, not only because of the aforementioned moments, but for the overall story, which includes Raines socializing with neighbors who actually are demons, and a conversation at the end with a murdered Sarandon who looks normal until he calmly tells her he is already dead. *Shudder* Plus, if you needed another reason to watch this, Raines is one of the prettiest women ever to grace the screen, in my opinion. She’s a perfect example of how actresses used to be distinguishable from one another, unlike the walking real dolls movies are inundated with today. Off topic, listen to her sing what I feel is the best song, penned by Gary Busey of all people, in Altman’s Nashville.
You should see this, if you haven’t already. And if you don’t believe me, listen to Unkle Lancifer of Kindertrauma, who summed this insane but highly watchable film up perfectly by asking, “How is this not Italian?” I couldn’t have described The Sentinel any better than that.