Monday, November 12, 2012
The Sentinel (1977)
I've seen Michael Winner's The Sentinel so many times over the years and I never get tired of it. It's one of those 70's horror movies I always return to and I always find something new in. It still shocks me, believe it or not. Not that it's scary nowadays, but the atmosphere is so damn dirty and sleazy and odd and weird and yeah, truly fucked-up. What I understand Don Siegel was suppose to direct it from the beginning but he bowed out because of the subject and in came the biggest madman of them all, Michael Winner, and poured nudity, gore and a fuckstastic cast of character actors over us. I'm pretty sure Siegel would have made a scarier movies, but he would never even get close to the bizarreness of Mr Winner's vision.
Christina Haines plays a successful supermodel living with her dashing boyfriend Chris Sarandon. They're happy, but like all decent couples in this age of enlightenment they want some privacy and Christina finds her own apartment, where she can relax and... well, that's not gonna work, because soon she finds out that her neighbours is some weird freaks who loves her a bit too much for her own good. And what the hell is that priest doing at the window all day? Soon Christina's life is upside down and when it gets weirder and weirder in the house no one believes her of course, until it's too late...
In general I can agree with some of the criticism against the movie. Christina Raines is a bit stiff, she's not the best actress to hit the screen - especially in the more normal drama-scenes, she's a lot better when it gets weird and violent and many of the cameos has a gimmick-style over them, but we're talking about Michael Winner here, a man who always stood with one foot in serious mainstream and the other one in gratuitous exploitation. And to be honest, my favourite Chris Sarandon is a bit wooden here also, I'm the first to admit it. This also gives the movie an eerie dream-like feeling where nothing is what it seems. The FANTASTIC cast is just stunning and it's extra fun see future stars in supporting parts: Jeff Goldblum, Tom Berenger, Christopher Walken, Beverly D'Angelo and Griffin Dunne (though he's not credited on IMDB, but believe me, he's there as an extra). Even Richard Dreyfuss shows up in an uncredited appearance and he still denies it's him - I've asked him!
What's good about The Sentinel then? Oh, I lot. A
story is simple, yet brilliant and in the typical 70's way - dark and cynical.
The location and and cast - very similar to Rosemary's Baby, which makes it
even more exploitation, is wonderful and truly bizarre. Burgess Meredith is
acting like he's an old
queen, Sylvia Miles and D'Angelo has the lesbian couple, John Carradine being
grumpy in the attic, Ava Gardner being both glamorous and slightly alcoholic at
the same time - I will always love her for doing her stuff, she just got better
and better over the years! The Sentinel goes a lot further than any other
mainstream movie I've seen from the time with nudity and sex and just that
dirty feeling that's so hard to scrub off. That also goes for the violence. New York
It's bloody and graphic and all in gory, juicy close-up's. It's like watching an Italian horror production sometimes, but maybe with fewer scenes of carnage. The famous stabbing scene is there and it always surprised me because it's so damn graphic - and that whole sequence is so intense. You can also say that about the final, with an army of real-life "freaks" (sorry for using that word) playing demons around Burgess Meredith chewing the scenery like never before, and he seems to have a lot of fun! Michael Winner rarely shies away from stuff the audience don't want to see and The Sentinel has it all.
I've seen a lot of movies, more than you can ever imagine, but I can say that The Sentinel is one of the absolute favourites. It's there for me when I'm sad and it's there for me when I'm too happy and need something to bring be down. The only bad thing with it is the lack of mutant bears, just like in my second (very secret) favourite, John Frankenheimer's The Prophecy. But don't tell anyone about that, or I'll get a big bad spanking from the geek elite!