Tuesday, May 15, 2012

She Was Young. She Was Beautiful. She Was NEXT.

The Sentinel (1977)
Director: Michael Winner
Seen @: Carolina Theater, Chapel Hill
Presented by Nevermore Film Fest
Rating: 7/10

That tagline is not quite as straightforward as you might think, and that's because The Sentinel is a haunted house movie with a little twist that throws it squarely into the realm of religious horror. Warning: don't read the poster too closely if you want to remain spoiler-free.

The Sentinel was the second part of the Nevermore opening double feature (Rosemary's Baby being the first) - another apartment-based horror film involving evil from hell. This marks the only foray into horror that I'm aware of for Michael Winner, who's better known for his work with Charles Bronson on numerous films, including the Death Wish series. Knowing that Winner isn't afraid to let his films get somewhat nasty if they need to made me interested to see what he'd do with a haunted house premise.

This time we're out of Manhattan and into Brooklyn. Alison Parker (Cristina Raines) is an up and coming fashion model, so of course when we're introduced to her we an obligatory fashion shoot sequence. What a great way to introduce a character, as well as show off some awesomely dated fashion. (Can we get more of these in modern movies?). Alison is looking for a place to move, and finds a great old brownstone that has been converted into several apartments.

One thing I learned from watching this (especially right after Rosemary's Baby) was that if you're ever apartment hunting and the other tenants strike you as a even just little off, find another place. The creepiest tenant here is Father Halloran (John Carradine, yes - David's father), who lives in the attic and watches people come and go from the window. The other tenants seem pretty friendly at first, but as time goes on, they begin to show a more sinister side. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that there's a scene where Alison is invited to birthday party for one of the tenant's cats. If cats wearing party hats isn't enough to get you interested, then trust me, there is much evil and hellspawn waiting for you later on. As Alison gets more acquainted with her new home, it becomes clear to her that something there wants her dead.

The Sentinel's scares are pretty effective, particularly in a nighttime dream sequence where Alison wanders around the house, encountering scenes from her past. Jump scares and things popping into and out of the frame don't work on me, with one exception: old people. Maybe it's just because it's so counter-intuitive. Old people are slow, therefore they could never sneak up on me. Right...? The old people in this movie are also not the kind that I know and love, but the worst kind of blank-eyed shamblers. Creepy as hell. The climax is also semi-notorious for its use of deformed people as demons. (Winner apparently scouted local carnivals to cast them.) Regardless of how you feel about this, there's no denying it provides a little extra kick to a story that isn't always the most original thing in the world.

There is a reason for all of the scary things going on in this apartment, and it's tied in to the nature of the house  as well as Alison's past (which is slowly uncovered by her boyfriend). In the end, I thought this was a nice ghost story, and things wrap up pretty nicely with a very cool ending. Alison herself sort of drops out of the role of main character after a while, which is a little jolting, but the story continues to move forward regardless. There's enough here to keep things interesting and relatively creepy throughout.  If that fails, you can watch for cameos by both a young Jeff Goldblum and Christopher Walken. I'd recommend checking out The Sentinel, as it's a good take on some tried and true themes.

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