Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Sentinel (1977)

Directed: Michael Winner
Written: Jeffrey Konvitz
Duration: 92 mins.
Rated: R. For sex and violence. I don't think anyone swears in it, but there is a plethora of bloody, gory scenes and a healthy number of nipples.
Available to Own: on DVD
Genre: Supernatural Horror
Actors: Chris Sarandon, Cristina Raines, Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith, Jeff Goldblum, Eli Wallach
Comparable Films: The Exorcist, The Omen, Rosemary's Baby
Movie in a Sentence: The Gates of Hell is in an apartment in Brooklyn, and the Catholic Church wants a bored fashion model to be the next sentry, so they move her in and let the demons and ghosts convince her.
Should You Watch? Eh. Not seriously, no. It is unintentionally funny, though.
RATING: I'll go 7 out of 10, and I'm being generous because I like Burgess Meredith in this.
Walken Content: He's got maybe three minutes and most of those he's just listening to someone else. Move along, no Walken for you here.
Walken Quote: Nothing worth repeating.

An ancient, blind, albino, Catholic priest (John Carradine) stands silent guard at the The Gates of Hell, which just so happens to be located in an apartment building in Brooklyn. It's a nice place, really. Good neighborhood, close to the market, tastefully decorated. Too bad it's haunted by the ghosts of dead murderers, criminals and (gasp!) LESBIANS!! Yes, that's right: evil, monstrous, lust-filled lesbians.

Ahh! Oh, sorry, I thought you were Lesbians. Ahh!

Scary, right? This movie demonizes (literally! DEMONIZES!!) lesbians, and does it in this kind of offhand, casual manner, like 'Hello! Meet the Axe Murderer, Satan, and the Lesbians. Nice to meet you all.'   ... Well, it got a chuckle from me. And that's about the most response this late 70's horror film brought out of me, a chuckle. Sure, it was good in the way adequately "bad" movies are good: quotably awful lines, quirky characters, bits of 70s culture, and a parade of nudity, although it's not always a good parade if you know what I mean. It was interesting to see all the actors I recognize from other films, like the nefarious Prince Humperdinck from The Princess Bride, Clark Griswald's wife in the National Lampoon's Various Vacations, and Mickey, Rocky's cantankerous curmudgeonous trainer/manager. There are more, but why ruin it.

the creepy kind of nice
 But is that enough? Odd characters? Stilted lines? Nipples?

Perhaps if Walken had more screen-time I would be forgiving of the rest of it. Perhaps. But he doesn't. And I'm not.

Chris plays Detective Rizzo, a name we would not know if it didn't say so in the closing credits. Eli Wallach is the lead detective here, and Rizzo is just his shadow. Walken gets to bounce a few expository lines off of him, but nothing of substance occurs, nothing of notable charm. He wears a tie, he says a few words, and then he disappears, hardly a character at all.

Someone threw away a perfectly good Walken.

Rizzo, allegedly

I was going to talk about the horrible acting of the star, the vacuous Cristina Raines, and maybe segue that into an observation about the film's paternal and condescending attitude towards women, and its laughably Catholic outlook on sexuality, and possibly explore how those things undermine the attempt at scaring its audience.

I was going to, but the severe lack of Walken in this film has sapped my will to continue. You could watch this for Burgess Meredith's performance as the super nice but increasingly creepy eccentric neighbor. You could watch this for the brief scene where a mute, spandexed Beverly D'Angelo rubs one out to breathless climax in front of a shocked and flustered stranger. Pervert. You could be a Jeff Goldblum fan looking for his brief and bland role as a photographer. You could even watch this for Eli Wallach's Columbo-esque performance as the kooky but sharp detective trying to piece it all together before its too late. Or for the slimy skeazy sleaze that Chris Serandon slides upon so well.

Iocane powder! I'd bet my life on it!

There are other reasons, surely, but none of these 'parts' are quite compelling enough to warrant sitting through the 'whole' of this awkward mess. Watch it on fast-forward. Get medicated and/or drunk. Maybe keep a book nearby to read during the slow/dumb/confusing parts.

But don't bother if you are just looking for some more Walken. You'll just be disappointed.

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