Thursday, September 10, 2015

THE SENTINEL (1977)

THE SENTINEL (1977) 

Label: Scream Factory
Release Date: September 22nd 2015 
Rating: R
Region Code: A
Duration: 92 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono with optional English SDH Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Michael Winner
Cast: Deborah Raffin, Beverly D'Angelo, Christopher Walken, Cristina Raines, Burgess Meredith, Chris Sarandon, José Ferrer, Jerry Orbach, Eli Wallach. John Carradine, Ava Gardner, Martin Balsam, Arthur Kennedy, William Hickey, Tom Berenger


Young fashion model Alison Parker (Cristina Raines, Nashville) is the mistress of a shady lawyer named Michael Lerman (Chris Sarandon, Fright Night) whose wife just jumped from the fifty-ninth story of her apartment building under mysterious circumstances. He seems ready to settle in with Alison but she's looking for her own apartment, you get the feeling that maybe she might be having doubts about her taste in men, but he seems supportive of the idea. Realtor Miss Logan (legend Eva Gardner) shows her a gloomy Manhattan brownstone with a magnificent view of the ocean, the only other tenant seems to be a reclusive blind priest who lives on the third floor, the blind Father Holleran played by b-movie legend John Carradine (Seven Doors of Death). 

The ridiculously low rent-controlled price seems a bit too good to be true, but you have to strike while the iron is hot, so Alsion  moves in right away where she quickly encounters an eccentric old man named Charles Chazen (Burgess Meredith, Burn Offerings) and his pet companions, a cat named Jezebel and a yellow canary named Mortimer. Later he introduces her to a few of the other eccentric neighbors, notably a pair of sinister lesbians played by Sylvia Miles (Midnight Cowboy) and Beverly D'Angelo (the National Lampoon Vacation movies). In a very strange scene D'Angelo's character who furiously double-clicks her mouse, eyes rolling back in her head with delight, while Alison looks on in quiet horror, before dismissing herself. Now I cannot watch any of the Vacation movies with the thought of D'Angelo I think of her rubbing one out, she's also seen nude in several more disturbing sequences. 


Shortly after arriving at the brownstone Alison's father passes away, which causes her a great amount of psychic pain, including memories of walking in on her father in the act of a perverse threesome with a pair of whores when she was a teenager, the surreal scene ends with the young Alison opening up her wrists in the bathroom at the horror of the sinful sight. She now finds herself haunted by the apparition of her father who shows up inside her apartment one night, she attacks him with a kitchen knife slicing off his nose and stabbing his eye, with some gruesome special effects gore from legend Dick Smith (The Exorcist). This encounter ends with her  fleeing the apartment in only a night slip, screaming in the street, which lands her at the hospital under a suicide watch.  


Alison speaks with Miss Logan (Gardner) about her inability to sleep at nigh because of the noisy neighbors, particularly one who paces back and forth in the apartment above her own, causing the light fixtures to eerily swing back and forth. Miss Logan, to her surprise, kindly informs her that no one else lives in the apartment except for the priest, she even goes so far as to come back to the brownstone with Alison and show her the vacant apartments. Confused and shaken by the strange events Alison begins to deteriorate mentally, on a shoot for  new commercial she's off her game and faints, crashing through a pane of glass nearly ruining the shoot. 

In the background we have a few other stories happening, Alison's boyfriend Michael is being investigated by Det. Gatz (Eli Wallach, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly ) and Det. Rizzo (Christopher Walken, The Prophecy)  whom suspect his wife's suicide may have been staged, they hassle Michael and also draw parallels to the mental state of his current girlfriend Alison. To his credit Michael is not all bad, he seems to be the only one who believes that something is happening to Alison aside from a nervous breakdown, and he is the one who uncovers the conspiracy of the Catholic Church, though his fate does reveal a darker side to his nature, he is a lawyer after all. 


There's also a priest who seems to guide Alison back to the Church, her faith having lapsed years earlier, played by actor Arthur Kennedy, in a restrained but pivotal role. Something notable about the movie is what a fantastic cast of actors are present, so many familiar faces, aside from those mentioned previously we have appearances from Jeff Goldblum as a fashion photographer (The Fly), Jerry Orbach (Law and Order) as a commercial director, Martin Balsam (Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho), Deborah Raffin (God Told Me To) as Alison's best friend, Jose Ferrer (The Swarm), William Hickey (Christmas Vacation) as a cat burglar,  and if you're quick you might spot Tom Berenger (Major League) who shows up right at the end. 

Now The Sentinel is not a movie I have a lot of nostalgic fondness for, I didn't catch it until my early thirties, which is actually a lot longer back than I'd care to admit, but the point being that this '70s slice of supernatural cinema holds up without the benefit of having seen it in my youth, which is great. There's that strange seventies atmosphere and weirdness throughout it right up to that fantastic finale with her neighbor (a seething Burgess Meredith) leading the deformed minion of Hell against her, the demons are portrayed by actual circus freaks afflicted with deformity, it's unnerving stuff and brings to ind the Tod Browning classic Freaks.

The Sentinel is obviously Universal's exploitative stab at some of that fat Exorcist and Omen cash that was flowing freely through the cinemas at the time, the Italians weren't the only ones cashing in, but this does comes off more along the way of Lucio Fulci's The Beyond by way of Polanski's The Apartment, or maybe the Dan Curtis possession movie Burn Offerings, and none of that is bad, I loved it. Sure, the movies a little kitchsy and clunky, and the score is a bit of let down, but what a great cast to carry it through, it moves slower than a modern audience might appreciate but as someone who grew up in the '70s I have an appreciation for a supernatural slow-build with some truly frightening highlights, which this delivers time and time again. 

Audio/Video: Creepy classic The Sentinel 91977) arrives on Blu-ray for the first time from Scream Factory with a brand-new HD transfer from he interpositive and it looks surprisingly good with a fair bit of grain in the darker scenes and some minor print imperfection such as white speckling and scratches do show up from time to time,but all things considered this is a nice upgrade from the previous standard-def version. Colors are nice and skin tones are natural in appearance, not a lot of depth to the image but a fairly crisp presentation without any notable digital manipulation. Audio comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono with optional English SDH subtitles, clean and crisp but that Gil Melle score is pretty bland stuff.

Onto he extras on the disc we should begin by noting that while this is not one of the Scream Factory Collector's Editions, so we don't get a ton of new stuff but they do manage to squeeze quite a lot onto the disc beginning with  a new video interview with assistant director Ralph S. Singleton (director of Graveyard Shift (1990)) who speaks of breaking into the movie business working as a PA on the Captain America TV Pilot before becoming an assistant director for Michael Winner on the revenger Death Wish (1974)with Charles Bronson (White Buffalo) before joining him on the crew of this movie, he's very respectful of Winner whom he credits for helping launch his career. 

Unfortunately there aren't any other interviews but the disc is well-stuffed with audio commentaries, beginning with a somewhat candid one from actress Cristina Raines moderated by Sean Chains of the Hill Place Blog, here she reveals to having not ever watched the movie before, owing it to the awful experience she had onset with director Michael Winner, she goes out of her way not to be overly negative but it becomes clear she was not happy on-set and has a very low opinion of the man, at the end implying if she had to do it over again, she would not. 

The second commentary comes from writer/producer Jeffrey Konvitz who wrote the novel the movie is based on and whom co-wrote the screenplay with director Michael Winner. The commentary is moderated by Nathaniel Thomspon of Mondo Digital, and Konvitz also comes across as not being a fan of the director and many of the casting and directorial choices he made. He speaks about writing the novel and the follow-up novels, which thus far have not been made into movies, but he holds out hope that since the remake rights for the movie have been optioned something will happen shortly, including writing a new entry in the series. 

Director Michael Winner offers a solo commentary and it's a bit on the dry side with a lot of talk about his career and more of an observational commentary, it was the driest of the three options and the one that put me to sleep. I would have appreciated more of an informed fan commentary to be honest, someone from the outside with a more horror-nerd perspective that from he inside, this must not have been an easy set to work on, at least that's what I gathered from the commentaries.

Extras are finished-up with a a scratchy full frame theatrical trailers, an assortment of TV spots and three still galleries featuring movie stills, lobby cards and posters, plus black and white press photos. Unfortunately no new video interviews with stars Christina Raines, Chris Sarandon or Beverly D'Angelo, the latter of whom I would have loved to hear discuss her infamous masturbation scene!

Special Features:
- NEW 2015 High Definition transfer of the film from interpositive!
- NEW Audio Commentary by actress Cristina Raines
- NEW Audio Commentary with writer/producer Jeffrey Konvitz
- NEW Interview with assistant director Ralph S. Singleton (24 Mins) HD
- Audio Commentary with director Michael Winner
- Theatrical Trailer (3 Mins) 
- TV Spots (3 Mins)
- Movie Stills Galleries (3 Mins) 
- Black and White Press Photo Gallery (3 Mins) 
- Lobby Cards and Posters Still Gallery (3 Mins)

The Sentinel is truly one of my favorite supernatural slices of cinema, for those of you who haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and check out this cult-classic now. This is a movie I've been wanting on Blu-ray since the format emerged and Scream Factory have done a nice job with the HD presentation, highly recommend for fans of supernatural '70s cinema. 3.5/5


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