The Sentinel (1977)

the sentinel poster 1977 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 9/10

Creepy visuals, great actors

Story is overly confusing at points and underdeveloped at other points

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Sentinel

Studio:  Universal Pictures

Genre(s):  Horror/Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s):  January 7, 1977

MPAA Rating:  R


And you thought your neighbors were weird!

Alison Parker (Cristina Raines) is a model with a troubled past and haunted by an attempted suicide.  Alison decides she needs some time away from her lawyer boyfriend Michael Lerman (Chris Sarandon) and gets a Brooklyn apartment from an agent named Ms. Logan (Ava Gardner).  There, she meets the strange tenants which include an eccentric old man named Charles Chazen (Burgess Meredith), a lesbian couple (Sylvia Miles and Beverly D’Angelo), and an elderly priest named Father Halloran (John Carradine) that no one seems to talk to.  When Alison learns that she and the priest are the only one in the building and begins suffering blackouts, she wonders if she is going crazy again.  After police detectives Gatz and Rizzo (Eli Wallach and Christopher Walken) find Alison covered in blood on the street, they question if her boyfriend who was suspected in the death of his wife is trying to kill again.  As the madness continues, Alison could uncover a dark secret.


Don’t you hate it when strange women start masturbating in front of you when you meet them…

Directed by Michael Winner, The Sentinel was based on the 1974 novel by Jeffrey Konvitz.  The gothic horror film was well received by critics and often is listed as one of the scariest films made.  The film also did stir controversy at the time of its release for the final scenes which involved real people with deformities that Winner had brought in from circus freak shows and other human oddities.

The Sentinel comes from that classic period of American horror where the films were well written, created great atmosphere and brought in great casts.  Opposed to films like The Exorcist or The Omen which also deal with supernatural horror, The Sentinel is often forgotten or overlooked when it comes to great horror.


Hey, I’ve got an idea, let’s use people with real deformities!!!

Despite being an American made film, it feels a lot like an Italian horror.  When gore happens, it is pretty intense and the look and style of the performances are almost “too strange” to be American.  This weirdness pairs well with the supernatural story that asks you to believe that after Alison discovers that all the conversations (and party) she’s had with people in the apartment building never occurred, and that she didn’t just get the hell out of there when she learned none of the people were real.

The story is interesting, but a bit convoluted at times and underdeveloped in other parts, but it has one of those great unsettling horror ending where you feel no one is a winner.  It gets a bit bogged down by the whole replacement aspect of the story and the discovery of each of the new “sentinels” was someone else…I didn’t really need that whole scene where Chris Sarandon found out because I would have preferred the priest coming to her and saying “you’re the next Sentinel” instead.  The ending with the revelation that the building is on a gate to hell leads to some creeps but story wise feels a bit anticlimactic at points…when it gets going, it just ends.


Cristina Raines’ career pretty much ended up the same…

The film has a ton of great actors, in big roles and in small.  Kate Jackson was originally targeted for the lead role which is ironic because that is who Cristina Raines reminded me of before I learned that.  Chris Sarandon’s part feels a bit lacking for a starring role (but the ending was clever).  Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith, John Carradine, Sylvia Miles, Eli Wallach, and Christopher Walken all have limited scenes but often make the most of them.  Other bit players include Jeff Goldblum (who oddly was dubbed for most of the film), Jerry Orbach, Tom Berenger, and even Richard Dreyfuss (who makes an uncredited cameo as a guy on the street).

The Sentinel is one of those films that should be sought out if you are a fan of horror.  It still looks great (ok the make-up on the priest is questionable), and the movie still is creepy if not scary.  I have to give it credit for attempting a different style of story, and it is reminiscent of some of Dario Argento’s films.  Check out The Sentinel and prepare for a strange ride.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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