Monday, October 5, 2015

THE SENTINEL (1977) Blu-ray Review

The Sentinel (1977) d. Michael Winner (USA) (92 min)

Seeking space from her lawyer beau (top-billed Chris Sarandon, sporting a truly hideous mustache), beautiful model Alison (Cristina Raines) rents out an NYC brownstone apartment and finds that in addition to sharing a rooftop with some decidedly bizarre neighbors, her new residence just happens to be the mailing address for a doorway to Hell, guarded by a blind priest (John Carradine) on the top floor. Things only get weirder when she starts hearing strange noises at night, losing consciousness during the day, and seeing visions of her long-dead father wandering the halls.

Jeffrey Konvitz adapted his own novel with Death Wish director Winner (the two also produced), and while the plot plays out like any number of post-Exorcist supernatural thrillers, the main attraction is the insane number of Hollywood stars on parade, making a quick cameo or an early career appearance. Ready for this cast list? Martin Balsam, Eli Wallach, Jose Ferrer, Arthur Kennedy, Burgess Meredith, Sylvia Miles, Beverly D’Angelo, Jeff Goldblum, Deborah Raffin, Christopher Walken, Tom Berenger, Ava Gardner, Jerry Orbach, William Hickey, and Star Trek: DSN’s Nana Visitor.

Highlighted by special visual effects by Albert Whitlock and Dick Smith’s makeup stunts, as well as Winner’s controversial decision to cast actual deformed performers as his denizens of Hell (which isn’t nearly as disturbing as watching D’Angelo masturbate in front of a shocked Raines). The end result is wildly uneven, but inimitably memorable.

Shout! Factory’s hi-def transfer (from the interpositive) not only looks and sounds fantastic, but deliver the shiny package armed with three – count ’em THREE – brand new feature-length audio commentaries.

The first has author Konvitz discussing his experiences working within the Hollywood studio rat race (he had previously worked on the 1972 potboiler Silent Night Bloody Night, co-writing the screenplay with Ira Teller and producing with Ami Artzi), the second gives Winner a shot to share his recollections, while the third – and reportedly least – sits down Raines for a spell. (I haven’t had the chance to listen to these personally, but apparently the actress hasn’t even seen the film; as such, her contributions are minimal at best.)

There’s also a brief interview with assistant director Ralph S. Singleton, an array of production stills and posters, and a theatrical trailer.

The Sentinel is available now from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE:


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