The Sentinel/Review

From The Grindhouse Cinema Database

< The Sentinel
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When it hit theaters The Sentinel (not related to the 2006 crime film of the same name) took a lot of heat for being derivative. The problem, it seemed, was the glut of devil/occult/possession-centered films released in close proximity—including The Exorcist, The Omen, Beyond The Door, The Devil's Rain and Rosemary’s Baby.

Regardless, and shrewdly, The Sentinel set itself apart from the others. It placed the narrative in New York City (and Brooklyn Heights), featured a screen legend (Ava Gardner) in a supporting role, gave viewers a peek at the fashion and commercial TV industry—(the lead character Alison [Christina Rains] is a fashion model), lewdly depicted a demented summer/winter lesbian romance, shocked viewers with an on-screen masturbation, and offered viewers a staple of disaster films like Airplane and Earthquake: an “All Star Cast”—which included Burgess Meredith, Jeff Goldblum, Jose Ferrer, Jerry Orbach (!), Tom Berenger, Martin Balsam, Christopher Walken, Eli Wallach, Deborah Raffin, John Carradine, Chris Sarandon, Beverly D’Angelo and Sylvia Miles. In almost every scene there’s a face you know.

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Based on the best-selling novel by Jeffrey Konvitz, The Sentinel tells the story of a woman who, unbeknownst to her, is chosen by forces (and close-proximity people in her life) to be the gatekeeper; “The Sentinel”: the guardian charged with standing at the passageway between Heaven and Hell.

Director Michael Winner (of the Death Wish series) does a fascinating job of incorporating a jumble of controversial ideas and images. Along with scenes of degradation, wicked revelry and incantations, there’s a bathroom orgy, a blood-drenched (and realistic-looking) suicide attempt and, most shockingly of all, the real use—or, if you prefer, misuse—of special people: real-life deformed actors—armless, legless, hideously disfigured—slithering, crawling, and/or limping through scenes as the wretched and defiled inhabitants of Hell.

Add religious symbolism, ghostly apparitions, and a modern woman’s perspective on life and living and you have an unabashed pornographic (no explicit sex but pornographic none the less) mystery/gore film that seems fresh and new and leaves a lasting impression. (Available for view in a single You Tube link.)

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Josiah Howard is the author of four books including Blaxploitation Cinema: The Essential Reference Guide (now in a fourth printing). His writing credits include articles for the American Library of Congress, The New York Times and Readers Digest. A veteran of more than one hundred radio broadcasts, Howard also lectures on cinema and is a frequent guest on entertainment news television. Visit his Official Website.
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