Film Review: The Sentinel (1977)

Also known as: Hexensabbat (Germany), De Watcher (Netherlands)
Release Date: January 7th, 1977 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Michael Winner
Written by: Jeffrey Konvitz, Michael Winner
Based on: The Sentinel by Jeffrey Konvitz
Music by: Gil Melle
Cast: Chris Sarandon, Cristina Raines, Martin Balsam, John Carradine, José Ferrer, Ava Gardner, Arthur Kennedy, Burgess Meredith, Sylvia Miles, Deborah Raffin, Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken, Jerry Orbach, Beverly D’Angelo, Hank Garrett, Nana Visitor (as Nana Tucker), Tom Berenger, William Hickey, Jeff Goldblum

Jeffrey Konvitz Productions, Universal Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“It’s all right. Listen, listen. I know everything now. The Latin you saw in that book was an ancient warning from the angel Gabriel to the angel Uriel.” – Michael Lerman

The Sentinel came out in a decade that was packed full of religious themed horror movies after the successes that were 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby and 1973’s The Exorcist. So it’s easy to see why it may have gotten lost in the shuffle. However, in my opinion, it is one of the better ones out there.

The film also has a really great cast, even if most of the parts are fairly small, except for the two leads: Cristina Raines and Chris Sarandon. Sprinkled throughout though are Martin Balsam, John Carradine, José Ferrer, Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith, Sylvia Miles, Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken, Jerry Orbach, Beverly D’Angelo, Nana Visitor (of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Tom Berenger, William Hickey and Jeff Goldblum. Needless to say, there’s a lot of great talent here and the film truly benefits from it, as just about every scene includes someone of note and none of them are simply dialing in their performance.

The plot revolves around a young woman with a pretty screwed up past, wanting to live on her own for awhile. She moves into an old building near the water in New York City. However, the attic apartment has an old blind priest that just sits in the window 24/7. The place is also full of bizarre residents and as the film rolls on, we come to learn that these people are ghosts. We also learn that the building is a gateway to Hell and the old priest sits there to keep the evil from escaping the walls of the house.

The story almost feels like it’s ripped from a ’70s Italian demon movie. But also like Italian demon movies, this is eerie as hell and really effective. It’s just creepy as shit in the greatest way possible.

I like how the story evolves and brings in the detectives played by Eli Wallach and Christopher Walken. I like both of those actors tremendously and they were great together in this. In fact, I kind of wished they had their own film as two NYC detectives in the gritty ’70s.

The real scene stealer for me was Chris Sarandon. I’ve loved the guy since I first saw him in Fright Night when I was a little kid. He’s just solid in this and I like what they do with his character over the progression of the story.

I was definitely pleasantly surprised by this movie. I’ve known about it for years but never got around to seeing it. Had I known how many great actors were in this, I probably would’ve watched it years earlier.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other religious horror of the ’70s.