Sunday, June 9, 2013

"The Sentinel" (1977) d/Michael Winner

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Brooklyn residents nowadays will tell you: Hell isn't underneath one of it's brownstones, it's affording the rent for one. Still, you have to admire the originality and intelligence of the premise of tonight's feature, a well creepy little flick from the guy who brought you 'Death Wish'(1974). I remember the tv spot for this one giving me the creeps at the time, and that creepy vibe only carried over into the Jeffrey Konvitz novel (with the cool open-up cover) that my old man brought me home afterwards. Come to think of it, the whole damned affair is a memorably unpleasant experience, but in this genre, that's a compliment, isn't it. There's an all-star cast along for the ride, too, with names like Burgess Meredith, Jose Ferrer, Martin Balsam, Ava Gardner, and Arthur Kennedy topping the list, a soundtrack by Gil "Night Gallery" Melle, and one or two seriously painful-looking effects from the maestro himself, Dick Smith.

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"I no care about Burgess Meredith. You sed there wud be cheezburgrs I can haz..."
Alison Parker (Cristina Raines) is a troubled model/actress who's just moved into one of New York's historic brownstones, below an elderly reclusive priest named Halliran (John Carradine) who sits in front of his top floor window like a blind, arthritic piece of furniture, at all times. Then there's kindly old Mr. Chazen (Burgess Meredith) who holds birthday parties for his cat, Jezebel (that's odd, cat people, you can't tell me it isn't!), and a pair of oversexed lesbians named Gerda and Sandra (Sylvia Miles, Beverly D'Angelo)...Or so it would seem. Meanwhile, her clingy lawyer beau, Michael (Chris Sarandon), is getting hassled by a local detective (Eli Wallach) who's not so convinced that he wasn't involved in his ex-wife's death. Alison starts suffering from insomnia, compounded by horrifying memories of interrupting her father and two hookers during a food fetish ménage à trois involving cake (!), and her prior two failed suicide 
attempts. The noisy oddball neighbors lead the troubled girl to take matters up with her new 
landlord,  Miss Logan (Eva Gardner), who informs her that, besides the blind priest on the top floor, she is alone in the building!!!  Cue: creepy 50's theremin here.

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In a kid-free environment, Ellen Griswold shoots sexy catcher signals at Clark.
...turns out the building is situated atop the gates of Hell afterall (I'd be after a rent rebate, personally, but that's just me) and owned by a secret order of excommunicated Catholic priests, from which one is chosen to rectify his mortal sins by becoming the overseer and guardian, protecting the portal from any stray demons with designs on entering our realm of existence and it just so happens that our heroine's failed suicides make her the perfect candidate to replace ol' Halliran upstairs. She squares off against Chazen, who reveals his true evil nature, and a gaggle of lost souls (translation: actual deformed circus freaks) that includes her murdered boyfriend Michael, who had been damned for all eternity for offing his spouse. Chazen offers her a blade to finish herself off, and avoid all the unnecessary responsibility, but she chooses to relieve Monsignor Franchino (Arthur Kennedy, as an Italian, really??) and Halliran of a large burdensome cross and take her place in the window seat, instead. After the brownstone is demolished and replaced with a new apartment building, we see Miss Logan showing a young couple the place. When they ask about neighbors, she tells of only two: a violinist, and an old blind nun on the top floor...

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You should think about exchanging your reading glasses for a monocle, pal.
Even if the controversial finale of tonight's review isn't your gruesome cup o'tea, you have to admit it was more interesting than Won Ton Ton: The Dog That Saved Hollywood, director Winner's effort from the previous year. Nearly as many celeb cameos as that flick, too, when I think about it. Wallach, Berenger, Walken, Goldblum,  Orbach, D'Angelo...even a post-Jaws Richard freakin' Dreyfuss, ferchrissakes. I'd need  a separate post altogether just to tag 'em all. By no means anything exceptional here, but an enjoyably moody old school good time, none-the-less. Two big ones.
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Blinded by the light, he was revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night.
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