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.

Film Review: City On Fire! (1979)

Also known as: La Cité en feu (Canadian French title)
Release Date: May 24th, 1979 (Germany)
Directed by: Alvin Rakoff
Written by: Jack Hill, Dave Lewis, Celine La Freniere
Music by: Matthew McCauley, William McCauley
Cast: Barry Newman, Susan Clark, Shelley Winters, Leslie Nielsen, James Franciscus, Ava Gardner, Henry Fonda

Astral Bellevue Pathé, Astral Films, Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC), AVCO Embassy Pictures, 106 Minutes

Review:

“All it takes is one man, could be anybody… your neighbor, my neighbor… one man to destroy a city.” – Chief Albert Risley

How can a movie that boasts the talents of Henry Fonda, Shelley Winters, Ava Gardner and Leslie Nielsen be absolutely abominable? Well, if it’s an all-star ensemble thrown into a ’70s “made for TV” disaster movie, there’s your answer.

These things were rarely good. Actually, I don’t think they were ever good. Now some disaster movies are fun but those were the big Hollywood blockbusters for the big screen and only the first few at the beginning of the 1970s obsession with urban apocalypse pictures.

This one sees some disgruntled worker deliberately cause a fire at an oil refinery, which is apparently enough to burn down an entire city. Well, if you can suspend disbelief and watch this thing unfold like an unfunny version of Curb Your Enthusiasm where the city is Larry and the fire is spread by everything going wrong that could possibly go wrong at every turn.

City On Fire! is a compilation of brain farts captured on celluloid. There isn’t much about it that is worth anyone’s time and it has no redeeming factors. It’s boring, dumb and you’ll only feel sadness for the talented actors wedged into this flaming shit show.

But hey, it was lampooned on the first season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 when it was still on local TV in Minnesota. They never resurrected this once the show went national on Comedy Central or the Sci-Fi Channel and that’s probably for the best. It was alright to sit through once and didn’t need to be dusted off and replayed like a few other films from that inaugural season.

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: other terrible “made for TV” disaster movies.

Film Review: The Killers (1946)

Also known as: Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers, A Man Alone
Release Date: August 28th, 1946
Directed by: Robert Siodmak
Written by: Richard Brooks, Anthony Veiller, John Huston (uncredited)
Based on: Scribners Magazine short story The Killers by Ernest Hemingway
Music by: Miklós Rózsa
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Ava Garner, Edmond O’Brien, Sam Levene

Mark Hellinger Productions, Universal Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“If there’s one thing in this world I hate, it’s a double-crossing dame.” – Big Jim Colfax

In the 1940s, Robert Siodmak made some of the most memorable film-noir motion pictures. The Killers is considered to not just be one of Siodmak’s best but one of the best films of the noir style and of the decade.

The Killers is really high up on a lot of the noir lists I have looked at from top critics, blogs, books and magazines. I thoroughly enjoyed it but I wouldn’t say that it was my favorite Siodmak noir, as of now, that honor goes to Criss Cross. However, I still haven’t seen Phantom Lady or The Dark Mirror yet.

I have enjoyed Siodmak’s work for a long time but as a kid it was primarily in the form of Son of Dracula and The Crimson Pirate. I was much more into horror and swashbuckling back then but my experience with those films had me enthused when I realized that the guy who directed both of those films, had a handful of noir movies wedged between them.

This film stars Burt Lancaster, a regular of Siodmak. This was also his debut on the big screen and for a first time performance, Lancaster knocks it out of the park. He was teamed with film-noir regulars Edmond O’Brien and Sam Levene. However, it was his scenes with the elegant and fascinating Ava Gardner that helped to set this guy’s career on a long and fruitful career that saw four Academy Award nominations and a win for his part in Elmer Gantry.

The Killers is based on a short story by Ernest Hemingway. However, the Hemingway story only really comprises the first twenty minutes or so of the movie, which shows the contract killers arrive and murder Burt Lancaster’s “Swede” Anderson. Where the film begins to follow Edmond O’Brien’s Jim Reardon, as he investigates the murder, the plot is wholly original and works as an expansion on Hemingway’s story. It was said, by Hemingway’s biographer, that The Killers “was the first film from any of his works that Ernest could genuinely admire.” John Huston, also an accomplished film-noir director, contributed to the script. He wasn’t originally credited for his contribution due to his contract with rival studio, Warner Bros.

With crime dramas running rampant in the 1940s, this is one that wasn’t a cliché on celluloid. While I love film-noir and I honestly have a hard time trying to find truly bad ones, sometimes the rehash of tropes, over and over and over again, can get mundane. The Killers, like Siodmak’s Criss Cross, is one of the films that lifts the cinematic style to a higher level. Plus, with a score composed by Miklós Rózsa, you can expect a lot of energy, excitement and a real soul within the film.

I love The Killers, it is hard to deny its greatness between the solid direction, iconic performances and its pristine look.

Rating: 8/10