Found-Again Friday: Putting The Chris Sarandon In Christmas With The Sentinel (1977)

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Why Found-Again? A few days ago I mentioned a theme month, and here we are! What I didn’t mention is that I’m going to be reviewing these in rising order of expectations. If it ticks you off that a horror classic like The Sentinel is at the bottom of my list, well, I totally sympathize. Maybe this viewing will be better.

The Premise: Alison (Cristina Raines) is a model, a bundle of nerves, and the girlfriend of a lawyer (Chris Sarandon in a terrible little mustache).

It takes a +20 Face of Handsomeness to defeat that facial hair.
It takes a +20 Face of Handsomeness to defeat that facial hair.

Once she gets an apartment of her own, she’s also the winner of the 1977 My Neighbors Are Super Weird Award—including a blind priest who inhabits the building’s top floor. When her orgy-loving, Jesus-hating father dies, Alison’s traumatic past returns to haunt her in lurid visions, and her health begins to suffer. Is she all there?

Indeed, is anybody?

Well, demons, it turns out. Guess who’s living on a hellmouth?

In a discussion about the best casts in movies, The Sentinel would be at the top of my list, and not just because it forms an important nexus in my Four Degrees of Jeff Goldblum game.

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“I’m going to have a British phase?”

Visually (and ideologically, in its ironclad faith in Catholicism), the movie is a close cousin of those other classic dark-panelled 1970s horror films, Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen. The Sentinel is also an interesting confluence of subgenres: in addition to the church-versus-Satan plot, there are traces of zombies, haunted houses and a psychological thriller lurking here—even a touch of police procedural as Sarandon’s character is investigated for murder. It’s a very powerful film. However…

The Verdict: It’s a failing of mine that I can appreciate bleak movies in a lit-crit kind of way but rarely like them, and make no mistake, The Sentinel is bleak. It’s probably perfect for what it is, though: if someone tried to turn a Hieronymus Bosch painting into a 20th-century story, this is exactly what you’d get. All the glamor, the hopes, and the humanity of the characters gets burned away in a story of ecclesiastical good against evil. I have the same beef with mortal sin as a plot device here that I do when it turns up in Hamlet, and I can’t really get over it.

You can get me to admire The Sentinel—I was much more taken with it this time around— but you can’t quite get me to enjoy it.

Might go well with: Prince of Darkness, The Omen.

J. A.

It reads. It writes. It watches. It researches. It overdoes many of those things!

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