The Sentinel (1977) – or – The Penguin and his freaks.

Without knowing very much about The Sentinel, I started watching under the assumption that it was a typical haunted house flick. This one is so much more than that. With an impressive cast list, and some visuals that bring up memories of Lucio Fulci, The Sentinel is a great classic that everyone should watch.

The story follows Alison Parker (Cristina Raines), a model with a troubled past. She lives with her boyfriend Michael (Chris Sarandon), but has decided to get a place of her own. Before Alison can find a new apartment, her father passes away. This brings up some disturbing memories that continue to haunt her after she moves to Brooklyn Heights.

Is Alison slowly losing her grip on reality, or is there something more sinister at work?

There’s something very dirty and disturbing about a lot of horror films from the 70s. Typically, they aren’t as violent as horror movies can be now, but they frequently have a skin crawling effect that is currently lacking in the genre. The Sentinel is uncomfortable for most of its running time. From the very strange neighbours in Alison’s new apartment building, to her terrible memories of the past, to an ending that you just won’t expect, almost every moment will leave you with chills.

Alison's neighbours seem normal enough, but don't let that fool you.

The Sentinel is stocked with an impressive cast, including Chris Sarandon, Burgess Meredith, Ava Gardner, Beverly D’Angelo, Jerry Orbach, Jeff Goldblum, and Christopher Walken. Burgess Meredith plays Charles Chazen, a neighbour of Alison, who seems to be at the head of the crazy apartment dwellers. There’s the blind priest who sits at his window and never leaves his room, and the lesbian couple, including Beverly D’Angelo as Sandra, on the first floor. Believe me, if these were your neighbours, you’d never go outside. Charles has a birthday party for his cat, which is kind of cute and creepy all at the same time, and when Alison goes to introduce herself to Sandra and her girlfriend, Sandra begins masturbating right in front of her. That’s just the normal things that the other tenants get up to.

There are some things that you shouldn't do in the living room, especially when you have guests.

The only problem the film really suffers from is a few pointless subplots. They eventually work into the story, but nothing would have changed without them. It just seems like wasted screen time. Had they explored them a bit further, they could have added a bit to the overall story. Instead, they only serve to distract you from what’s really going on. That really could be the point though. You’ll spend so much time thinking about the motives of each character that the ending seems to come out of left field.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie with such a crazy ending. It’s full out insanity. An endless stream of madness, each moment building on the previous one. It’s grimy, dirty, disturbing, and terrifying. It truly is something that could only come out of the 70s. One scene even made it into Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments, and it’s not hard to see why. If I had watched this one at night, I’d probably still be checking behind all the doors. I’m certainly not going to a birthday party for a cat after this one.

Under the marquee – Will

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