I first discovered The Sentinel as a teenager before I had seen anything like The Beyond or other 70s occult films. I fell in love with it’s curious cast and unnerving psychosexual atmosphere intertwined with Catholicism. When I found out Scream! Factory was releasing it felt that same excitement all over again.
The Sentinel follows Alison Parker (Christina Raines), and up and coming actress who’s tired of doing commercials and feeling smothered. As an attempt to get some sort of freedom to figure herself out, she decides to move out of her boyfriend Michael’s (Chris Sarandon) apartment and into her own. Michael is skeptical, he wants to marry Alison and despite her desire to move out they still are deeply in love. Finally, she finds a beautiful historic building with an opening for only $400 a month and jumps on it. Just one catch, though, the building hides a portal to hell that is guarded by a mysterious old man who is protected by the Vatican.
Once moved in, Alison begins to meet her neighbors starting with Burgess Meredith as Charles Chazen who carries around various animals and insists upon inviting Alison to his cat’s birthday party, which I imagine wouldn’t actually be all that weird today. Her other neighbors aren’t quite as friendly. In one scene, she is invited in by two strange sister/friends who proceed to masturbate in front of her. We soon realize the priest on the top floor is not long for the world and only Alison can replace him, against her will of course.
The Sentinel is an unsettling film that, for its time, was pretty radical. Grotesque orgy scenes and incredible makeup effects from Dick Smith pack a punch that still stays eerie even in today’s market. Each scene focusing on the crazy neighbors leave me wanting more from their history. Given we are in the middle of a horror TV boom, I’d love to see a prequel done in a serialized form letting us in on the neighbors’ past lives and even other Sentinels.
The Tech Specs:
Scream! Factory’s transfer looks great as is the sound. There are several interesting commentaries including one with Christina Raines as well as two featuring the writers, producer, and director.
The rest of the special features are somewhat lackluster, we get the original trailer, some black and white stills, and an admittedly boring interview with Assistant director Ralph S. Singleton.
The Sentinel is often overlooked when it comes to both the apartment horror and occult sub-genres, which is why I’m incredibly happy Scream! took the care to fix it up and re-introduce it. Whether you’ve seen it or not, especially if you haven’t, I highly recommend picking your copy up now.
And I should also mention, this flick has the widest array of actors featured. Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Walken, Jerry Orbach, Burgess Meredith, William Hickey, John Carridine, Beverly D’Angleo, and Ava Gardner just to name some.