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  Sentinel, The Gates Of Hell
Year: 1977
Director: Michael Winner
Stars: 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, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Berenger
Genre: Horror, TrashBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 2 votes)
Review: Alison Parker (Cristina Raines) is a top fashion model who appears in television advertisements, about as far away from the world of the supernatural as you can get. However, as a sect of the Catholic church gathers in Northern Italy to discuss an upcoming crisis, Alison and her boyfriend Michael Lerman (Chris Sarandon) are working out their relationship. They have lived together for two years and Michael wishes to get married, but she is looking for more independence and opts to look for a place to live on her own as he looks for somewhere they can share. She gets her way, but her choice is a bad one...

Coming in the wake of the Satanic horror films that were kicked off in popularity by the success of Rosemary's Baby, The Sentinel was nothing if not unoriginal, and very much in the shadow of the likes of The Exorcist and The Omen. Not that writer-producer-director-editor Michael Winner was bothered about that, all he wanted to do was thrill the audience, but in his hands it was clear he lacked a real flair for the genre, often mistaking sensationalism and disgust for genuine chills, leaving an absurd and uncertain impression in the viewer.

In fact, although the plot, based on Jeffrey Konvitz's novel, makes little sense on close examination, if you cannot work out where it's all heading after the first twenty minutes then you may be among the few for whom this film holds real surprises. Alison finds her new, furnished apartment in a Brooklyn building and moves in, a little worried about the figure who sits by the top floor window staring out, though she is reassured by the estate agent he is a blind priest. Once she settles in, she discovers her neighbours are somewhat, shall we say, eccentric, and begins to be, well, unsettled.

Poor old Alison hasn't had a happy upbringing as we see in a bizarre flashback where, as a teenager, she returned home unexpectedly to stumble in on her aged father romping with two prostitutes, which landed her in hospital after trying to commit suicide with the shock. This is significant in that she has sinned against God Almighty, yet there might be a way to save her soul if she's lucky. Or unlucky. You can practically see Winner off-camera waggling his eyebrows at every significant or over the top sequence, such is the heavy hand he brings to the film.

Also notable is the number of guest stars Winner drafted in, probably for a day or two as with the Amicus horror anthologies, so here and there you get Ava Gardner as the estate agent, Martin Balsam as a professor (in a scene lasting about a minute), José Ferrer as a priest and up and coming talent like Christopher Walken and Jeff Goldblum in small roles. Star spotting may take your mind off the encroaching boredom as uninteresting Alison and her equally flat boyfriend work their way towards the big reveal. That big reveal caused controversy for using people with actual disfigurements and handicaps to represent the demons, merely the topper to a series of bad taste moments, but really The Sentinel was not worth bothering about; it's a tacky cash-in, and only Burgess Meredith's gleeful villainy lifted the mood. Music by Gil Melle.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Michael Winner  (1935 - 2013)

Opinionated British producer-director whose early comedies - You Must Be Joking, The Jokers, I'll Never Forget Whatsisname - were promising enough, but come the seventies he had settled into a pattern of overblown thrillers.

Of these, Death Wish was a huge hit, and Winner directed two similar sequels. Other films included horrors (The Nightcomers, The Sentinel), Westerns (Lawman, Chato's Land), thrillers (Scorpio, Dirty Weekend) and disastrous comedies (Bullseye!). Also a restaurant critic.

 
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