The Sentinel is a 1977 supernatural horror drama based on the novel of the same name by Jeffrey Konvitz. Directed by Michael Winner, The Sentinel is about a young model (Cristina Raines) who moves into a historic Brooklyn brownstone that has been sectioned into apartments, only to find that the building is owned by the Catholic diocese and is a gateway to Hell.
Critically panned upon release, The Sentinel has been re-evaluated and lauded as classic 70s horror movie in the same vein as The Exorcist and The Omen. Not quite sure I would go as far as that but certainly, The Sentinel possesses unique qualities even if many of its flaws can be hard to take.
The basic premise is typical of 70s horror in that the protagonist is ultimately a tragic figure that has to make a sacrifice to atone for past sins and earn redemption. The religious overtones – typically overtly Catholic – are deeply embedded into the story fabric and what delivers its driving force.
The main character Alison Parker is a troubled soul having been traumatised by her father as a teenager leading to a failed suicide attempt – a mortal sin in the Catholic tradition. Her boyfriend lawyer Michael Lerman (Chris Sarandon) is suspected of murdering his wife but clearly adores her and seeks to marry her.
Parker rebuffs the marriage proposal but remains in a relationship with Lerman and decides to get her own apartment. That’s when things get very strange. Parker encounters weird neighbours that Lerman ultimately discovers are deceased murderers (!) and furthermore that Parker has been designated as the titular character to stand as guard over the gateway to Hell.
Sure, that sounds quite ridiculous, especially in the manner in which that plot point is played out in the end but getting there is half the wicked fun of The Sentinel. Seriously, when you consider that the lead characters (i.e. Parker and Lerman) get a raw deal – which they may or many not deserve – then The Sentinel may well be a Catholic wet dream!
From the perspective of an unbelieving film buff, there is enough bizarre on-screen shenanigans to justify giving The Sentinel your time of day – that parade of freaks at the film’s climax is quite unnerving. They are definitely not making movies as bold as this in 2020!
… still there’s more …