A decent supernatural-horror flick released, alongside myriad others, in the wake of The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976), this spookfest benefits from a lean running time and an onslaught of gruesome imagery, but the plot withers on close inspection. Worse, lead actress Cristina Raines lacks anything resembling the dramatic power required to make this silly story credible. Based on a novel by Jeffrey Konvitz and directed and co-written by Michael Winner, who generally thrived in action films (such as the Death Wish series), The Sentinel revolves around Alison Parker (Raines), a New York fashion model who relocates from Manhattan to a Brooklyn brownstone because she needs space from her boyfriend, Michael (Chris Sarandon). Immediately upon arriving in her new home, Alison discovers, Rosemary’s Baby-style, that her neighbors are aging weirdos with an inappropriate level of interest in her private affairs. Leading the gaggle of crazies is Charles Chazen (Burgess Meredith), who seems to have special plans for his lovely new neighbor.
Hewing to the nonsensical paradigm of undercooked horror movies, Alison decides to investigate her bizarre new home instead of simply moving to someplace safer, and, of course, digging for questions seals her gruesome fate. It’s hard to discuss the plot without giving away the big secret, although most viewers will figure out what’s happening very early in the film’s running time, but in lieu of spoiling surprises, it’s sufficient to say that The Sentinel drags largely because of Raines’ limitations. An alluring brunette with spectacular cheekbones, Raines looks amazing throughout the picture, but she hovers somewhere between baseline competent and truly vapid, so it’s hard to get invested in her character’s plight—particularly since her character makes countless such stupid decisions.
Nonetheless, The Sentinel is slick and suspenseful, with several unsettling moments, and the supporting cast is impressive: The main stars beyond Meredith, Raines, and Sarandon are Hollywood veterans Martin Balsam, John Carradine, José Ferrer, Ava Gardner, and Arthur Kennedy, while minor roles are played by then-emerging talents including Tom Berenger, Beverly D’Angelo, Jeff Goldblum, Sylvia Miles, Jerry Orbach, Deborah Raffin, and Christopher Walken. The sheer amount of talent on display is almost reason enough to explore the dark recesses of The Sentinel.
The Sentinel: FUNKY