Release Date(s)1977 (September 22, 2015)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B+
Michael Winner’s insane piece of celluloid The Sentinel was released in 1977 to mostly mixed reviews while others were not so kind to it. It has since become a cult classic, mainly amongst genre fans.
During that time, there was a bit of a craze in horror movies being made having to do with the supernatural, specifically the Satanic. Successes like The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Omen had lit a fire under movie studios who were out in force trying to find similar properties. They happened upon the novel “The Sentinel” by Jeffery Konvitz, which was a big seller in paperback at the time, and bought the film rights to it. Konvitz was also brought on board to write the film’s screenplay and help with producing duties. The story itself reeked of Rosemary’s Baby: a young model named Alison moves into an apartment building in Brooklyn that is inhabited by odd characters and winds up being the gateway to hell.
Michael Winner’s reputation as a director as someone who was notoriously difficult to get along with couldn’t have played a bigger part in the making of The Sentinel. The lead actress of the film, Cristina Raines, has admitted in the kindest terms possible that their relationship on the set wasn’t a harmonious one. Besides Raines, The Sentinel was also littered with acting talent from all generations: Chris Sarandon, Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith, Beverly D’Angelo, Eli Wallach, José Ferrer, Jeff Goldblum, John Carradine, Christopher Walken, and a very small part with Tom Berenger in it. Winner reportedly wanted Martin Sheen in the role that went to Chris Sarandon, an idea that was nixed by the studio, and somewhat of a sticking point for the director, even to this day.
The movie itself, as a whole, doesn’t have an enormous amount of suspense to it. Even the marketing campaign behind the film managed to give away the entire plot and outcome on the film’s poster. But what makes The Sentinel so memorable are some of its sequences and not so much its story. Alison exploring her apartment with a flashlight at night, for instance, and happening upon her dead father walking out of the darkness from behind a door is still a very creepy moment. Beverly D’Angelo’s character suddenly, um, helping herself, in front of Alison was impossible to keep from laughing out loud at. And perhaps the most infamous scene in the film, wherein the fellow tenants of hell descend upon Alison at the film’s climax. The latter scene was controversial at the time, at least amongst critics, due to Winner choosing to use true life deformed people for the scene.
Although the film plays very much like a Satanic horror greatest hits, The Sentinel does have its own flavor, which is basically everything under the sun. It’s certainly not what you’d call a typical horror movie. It’s all over the map with its ideas, but the ideas are so striking visually that you’ll be thinking and talking about them long after you’ve seen it. It’s not an overly good movie either, but it was directed within an inch of its life, and that much is obvious.
Scream Factory’s Blu-ray presentation of The Sentinel features a transfer that is excellent, but not problem-free. It has a very well-resolved grain structure, except during opticals when it tends to increase, but there’s still plenty of fine detail on display. The color palette is quite rich with some very good skin tones while black levels are fairly deep, enough to lose detail in the shadows (possibly by design). Contrast and brightness levels are good but never quite consistent. It’s a very clean print, but has some black speckling left behind, as well as an occasional line and some weak areas of the print, the latter of which I noticed in one of the film’s opening scenes. I couldn’t spot any signs of digital augmentation, but there were some very light compression artifacts. Again, it’s a strong presentation, but with some minor problems. Only a single audio track is available, which is an English mono DTS-HD track. The track itself is kind of thin, but dialogue is usually very clear. Score and sound effects don’t have a whole lot of room to breathe, but do have their moments, particularly during some of the more powerful scenes. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
There are also some very good extras to go along with the presentation, which include three audio commentaries: one with writer/producer Jeffrey Konvitz, one with writer/producer/director Michael Winner, and one with actress Cristina Raines; Working With Winner: The Making of The Sentinel, an interview with assistant director Ralph S. Singleton; the film’s original theatrical trailer; a set of TV spots; some movie stills; some black and white press photos; and a set of lobby cards and posters.
Scream Factory’s release of The Sentinel is more than welcome from me, and I was thoroughly delighted when I heard that they had acquired the rights to release it. I knew we’d get a release that one could be happy with, and I wasn’t mistaken. This is a great Blu-ray with a nice transfer and great set of extras that fans of the movie and of the genre should be very happy with.
- Tim Salmons