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A Movie A Day: Quint is THE SENTINEL (1977)
She went to a party with eight dead murderers!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day. [For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.] Let me run over this cast… John Carradine, Martin Balsam, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, Burgess Meredith, Jerry Orbach, Beverly D’Angelo, Arthur Kennedy, Eli Wallach and Ava Gardener. Amazing, right? Now imagine them in a sloppy, poorly filmed, but adequately disturbing horror film and you get an idea of what THE SENTINEL is like.

I can only imagine the reason for this film was pitched and pushed as a way to take advantage of THE EXORCIST’s success. There’s a heavy religious, specifically Catholic, thread in this film. The film is the story of a model with a very troubled past. She attempted suicide as a young girl, but has finally settled down with a lawyer (Chris Sarandon). He himself isn’t an angel, but he seems to care for this girl. There’s something wrong between them, a shadow that hangs over their relationship. We uncover pieces as the movie goes on, but the main gist is that she was having an affair with him when he was still married. His then wife died under mysterious circumstances, leaving him free, but that hangs over the relationship. The model, Alison (played by Cristina Raines), is apartment hunting, ignoring Sarandon’s pleas to get a place for the two of them. She wants the freedom and that takes her to a little place in Manhattan where the story takes roots. I’m going to go into some spoilers with the rest of the piece because the finale is part of what makes the movie work… in fact, it’s the whole reason why I would even recommend this movie. I usually avoid super spoilers in these reviews in case there are readers who want to discover these films themselves, so forgive the diversion with this installment. Basically, Alison runs into other residents of this apartment building throughout the film. There’s her nutty, but seemingly harmless next door neighbor Charles Chazon, played with great kook by Burgess Meredith, who walks into her apartment holding his cat in one arm and talking to a canary on his left shoulder. Besides treating these animals like they were people (he even throws a birthday party for his cat later on) he seems to be sane enough. You can excuse a lot of his eccentricity as a result of his age. Then there are the lesbians who live on the ground floor. They’re not only extremely… public… with their lust, they also are just creepy. One’s older (Sylvia Miles) and one’s young (Beverly D’Angelo) and D’Angelo doesn’t speak… just looks longingly at Raines while rubbing her crotch. I’m not kidding. There’s an incredibly uncomfortable scene where they’re left alone together and D’Angelo double-clicks her mouse until orgasm, causing Raines to initially laugh, then look away, then run out of the room.

Watching over everything is a locked room on the top floor containing what we’re told is an old, blind priest. He’s a shut-in and his silhouette can always be seen in the window. He just sits and looks out. The filmmaking is fucking awful. Sorry, Michael Winner. I don’t know what the hell troubled this production, but they looped most of the dialogue and the canned acting really drags this movie down. That’s not the fault of most of the actors (Jeff Goldblum gets the worse treatment, playing a photographer). I can’t imagine how difficult it is to try to match what’s on the screen with the same emotion from before, especially when it seems they’re tasked not to only loop small portions, but damn near their entire performances. Add on to that a horrible lead performance from Cristina Raines and you’d think this was an unsavable mess, but that’s where the rub is. It’s a movie I would recommend and I think enough works to redeem some of the worse aspects.

The story itself is the main redeemer. This apartment building is the gateway to hell. The church owns the building and the priest in the attic is The Sentinel, chosen (I guess) by God to stand guard over the gateway. The position is very specific and we come to find out that Raines is chosen to take over for the ailing old man. In order to be a Sentinel you must have attempted suicide. Taking the position insures forgiveness for the otherwise unforgivable sin of suicide. When we find this out, we also find out that all the residents of the apartment complex weren’t actually there. The only (living) people in the building were Raines and the priest. Meredith, the lesbos and a handful of other people we meet aren’t ghosts, but demons, residents of hell trying to drive Raines crazy.

You see, the transition between one Sentinel to another is the one chance for the residents of hell to take influence things enough to permanently open the doorway between hell and earth. If they can either convince the new Sentinel to go through with a successful suicide or drive them insane enough to take their own life then the gate will be unguarded and they can come into the living world. I love that concept, I love the moral choice it forces the very conflicted lead to make. Do you live in-between hell and earth for the rest of your natural life for your redemption or do you reign in hell, joining family and loved ones (in this case, Sarandon, who we find out did murder his wife, so is damned to hell upon his death). And I just like the idea of demons trying to make you commit suicide, giving you horrible nightmares of your dead father, making you think you’re going mad. The premise is pretty awesome and the finale is great. Michael Winner actually hires real people from freakshows for the ending as the citizens of hell start flooding the apartment. There are little people, disfigured people, face-cancer people that would give Clive Barker a tingly warm feeling in the pit of his stomach, elephant man type people, lizard women, etc. I felt bad for it, but they really did add to the disturbing atmosphere of the finale. All the acting outside of Cristina Raines and her friend, Jennifer (Deborah Raffin), is fine and some of it is outstanding. Meredith can do no wrong in my book and Sarandon only sucks on some of his looping delivery. Mid-‘70s naked Beverly D’Angelo is enjoyable. Eli Wallach as a cop with Christopher Walken as his partner? I want a movie of just those two… actually, I want a series of movies… fire up the flux capacitor, Doc, and let’s get them going in the ‘70s and have it be a series that is still running.

I know I’ve invoked the dreaded “R” word in this column before, but of almost everything I’ve seen during my AMAD journey so far this one cries out to be remade the most. The lead’s acting is horrible, which hurts the movie greatly since she’s the one we’re supposed to be fearing for… she’s our connection into this story and it makes it hard to be invested in someone so half-assed. And they waste so many great actors. Ava Gardner is great as the real estate lady who knows a little more than she lets on, but like most of the other known names she doesn’t get a moment to call her own. But the story is there. The concept is there. With a better filmmaker, a better script and a competent lead, this story could make a great film. Maybe we’ll see that happen some day. If Hollywood insists on churning out horror remake after horror remake, they might as well be remaking the flawed entries into the genre. Final Thoughts: As I mentioned above, the story is there. It’s very interesting and you get some great turns by awesome character actors and some undeniably great horror imagery, but a horrible lead and crappy filmmaking keep this one from being as great as it should be.

Here’s what we have lined up for the next week: Tuesday, December 9th: HOW TO STEAL A MILLION (1966)

Wednesday, December 10th: WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT? (1965)

Thursday, December 11th: BEING THERE (1979)

Friday, December 12th: THE PARTY (1968)

Saturday, December 13th: CASINO ROYALE (1967)

Sunday, December 14th: THE STRANGER (1946)

Monday, December 15th: BROTHER ORCHID (1940)

Tomorrow we follow Tuco himself over to the ‘70s comedy HOW TO STEAL A MILLION co-starring Peter O’Toole and Audrey Hepburn and directed by William Wyler. See you folks for that one! -Quint

Previous Movies: June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose
October 22nd: Who Slew Auntie Roo?
October 23rd: Wait Until Dark
October 24th: Dead & Buried
October 25th: A Bucket of Blood
October 26th: The Bloodstained Shadow
October 27th: I, Madman
October 28th: Return to Horror High
October 29th: Die, Monster, Die
October 30th: Epidemic
October 31st: Student Bodies
November 1st: Black Widow
November 2nd: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
November 3rd: Flying Tigers
November 4th: Executive Action
November 5th: The Busy Body
November 6th: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
November 7th: Libeled Lady
November 8th: Up The River
November 9th: Doctor Bull
November 10th: Judge Priest
November 11th: Ten Little Indians
November 12th: Murder On The Orient Express
November 13th: Daniel
November 14th: El Dorado
November 15th: The Gambler
November 16th: Once Upon A Time In America
November 17th: Salvador
November 18th: Best Seller
November 19th: The Holcroft Covenant
November 20th: Birdman of Alcatraz
November 21st: The Train
November 22nd: Gunfight At The O.K. Corral
November 23rd: Mystery Street
November 24th: Border Incident
November 25th: The Tin Star
November 26th: On The Beach
November 27th: Twelve O’Clock High
November 28th: Gentleman’s Agreement
November 29th: Panic In The Streets
November 30th: The Hot Rock
December 1st: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
December 2nd: The Day of the Dolphin
December 3rd: Carnal Knowledge
December 4th: The Cincinnati Kid
December 5th: Pocketful of Miracles
December 6th: Mikey & Nicky
December 7th: Two-Minute Warning

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