Wednesday, March 2, 2011

When planning your cat's birthday party, be sure to call Burgess Meredith

For anybody that ever wanted to see Beverly D’Angelo’s breasts, there is Hair. For anybody that has ever wanted to see Beverly D’Angelo’s breasts PLUS her dressed like a trashier version of A Chorus Line’s Cassie’s masturbating furiously, there is The Sentinel. 

Quick Plot: Successful but emotionally cuckoo fashion model Alison moves into a furnished apartment in Brooklyn in order to assert some form of independence from her boyfriend, played with a terrible mustache by the nevertheless dashing Chris Sarandon. There she meets a gaggle of oddball neighbors, including Doll’s House favorites Sylvia Miles (as D’Angelo’s leotard-wearing lover) and Burgess “I Was In 85% of Every Movie Made Between 1975 and 1985” Meredith (as a quirky old coot with a loyal pet bird and indigestion-suffering cat). 

After an wacko birthday party for Meredith’s feline (it’s even better than it sounds), Alison visits her landlady to complain, only to learn that (cue the horns) she HAS no neighbors. Well, there is a blind batty priest who stares out the window all day long, but all the chatty weirdos seem to be figments of the increasingly unstable Alison’s mind.

*Note to self: Check with landlords to confirm that my fellow apartment dwellers who blast Gospel music at 6AM on the weekends are, in fact, real
What’s a pretty gal in the outer boroughs to do? Why, head to church of course! There’s the minor problem of Alison’s residual guilt from committing adultery (the smooth Sarandon was previously married to a now mysteriously dead woman) and attempting to slit her wrists after catching her elderly father nakedly partying with a pair of giggling ladies that were not her mother. Can these wacky Catholics and their stylish hats save America’s next top model before her next photo shoot with a peacock and an Afghan, or will the unhappy beauty be forced to guard the gateway to hell for eternity?

The Sentinel is an odd duck, a film with a strong reputation but generally mixed reception. There’s an insanely impressive cast and truly memorable finale, even if the plot, like so many other films of its era, feels so carefully constructed to grab new Exorcist fans. The story varies from campy to creepy to overstuffed, ultimately ending on a satisfying enough note that you almost forget the stretches of blandness it had before.
High Points
You can’t argue with the infamously controversial climax, a demonic fiesta that includes a bevy of real-life amputees and disfigured circus performers
If you’ve been keeping track, yes, this film includes performances from Christ Sarandon, Burgess Meredith, Christopher Walken, Jerry Orbach, Jeff Goldblum (in an unbuttoned shirt), Ava Gardner, William Hickey (and NOT ancient!), and Tom Berenger as, and I quote the credits, “Man at end” 
Low Points
Despite a reasonable running length, there seems to be an awful lot of downtime in The Sentinel that simply mutes some of the more interesting eerie oddness developed so early on. I’ll never complain about seeing Christopher Walken or Jerry Orbach onscreen, but the many, many scenes regarding police investigations do absolutely nothing but pull momentum from Alison’s far more interesting doom

This movie features possible illicit acts with gerbils
Lessons Learned
In the 1970s, fondling your sister was one way to make a living

Ghosts are generally bad, but ghosts that turn you into blind men or women of the cloth are simply EVIL
New Yorkers only have sense for sex and money
Being caught having a threesome with a cake-eating obese woman and a cackler will do irrecoverable harm to your daughter’s mental health

I was a tad disappointed in the dragginess of The Sentinel, but it still stands as a sweet bite of genre candy that deserves to be tasted by most horror fans. There’s a little something for everyone--Sarandon suave for me, Beverly’s breasts for others, Burgess Meredith singing happy birthday to his cat for everybody--and best of all, the glory of Netflix Instant Watch for the lucky North Americans. Don’t rush out to fork down hard-earned wampum on the DVD, but definitely keep it on your radar for an eventual initiation into a slightly bizarre, incredibly ‘70s world of Catholic horror.


  1. When planning ANY kind of party, I always call Burgess Meredith....

  2. When I originally saw National Lampoon's Vacation, like when I was eight years old, my fondess memories were of Beverly D'Angelo taking a shower, and Chevy Chase asking to wash her front. Ms. D'Angelo must have memorable, cinematic breasts.

    The Sentinel is fun. I'm glad you gave this one a spin.

    I hope you're doing well; and as I've currently been reading, it would seem so. Always enjoy visiting (even if I'm too shy to comment frequently), and be cool, Emily.

  3. Andrew, Burgess Meredith is the kindly great uncle I always dreamed of having. I just adore him.

    Good to see you back Hans! I still follow your blog as well, worry not. You're responsible for many a film ending up on my queue. Always appreciate your kind words!

  4. "In the 1970s, fondling your sister was one way to make a living." Priceless.

    The slowness does make this one hard to re-watch, but after some time the urge to oogle D'Angelo just takes over. Plus there's that creepy-*ss scene in the bedroom with the ghost... yikes!

  5. I almost feel like it will fare better on a rewatch, when I'm less worried about the ebb and flow of suspense and more excited to see Burgess Meredith sing to his cat. Plus, I can ALWAYS ogle Chris Sarandon.

  6. The oogle factor is high in this one.
    This one & Manitou would make a great double bill.

    I wish they made more films like this.

  7. Damn lucky Americans! This looks really interesting..

  8. As you well know Emily, this is a favorite of mine. It's a weird little story, and now having read the original novel, which the movie sticks closely to, I can't say I have that much more clarity on it. There's something about the still slowness that puts my nerves on end. Plus you can't beat the cast.

    Oh, one extra tid bit, along with Tom as "Man at End", "Woman at End" is Nana Visitor known by Star Trek fans from Deep Space Nine, but horror fans can note that she also briefly appears as Mrs. Voorhees in the Friday the 13th Reboot.

  9. That's interesting to hear about the novel. I'm intrigued and may pick it up one day (once I shamefully pay my overdue fees, that is).

    And while I'll refrain from saying anything more angry about the F13 reboot, I will say that's one more piece in making The Sentinel the busiest cast in '70s film history!

  10. The Sentinel is one of my favorites from back in the day. I remember watching it on the old late-night movies on a now non-existent UHF tv station back when I was about ten, and it really creeped me out. It doesn't do the same since I've hot adulthood, but it does have a great atmosphere and edge to it. And the cast is excellent.

    Burgess Meredith, the man who could make an otherwise unwatchable film interesting and entertaining... while he was on-screen. He was an amazing actor.

  11. Looooove my Burgess. He had some quality that I always found instantly sympathetic. Every time I see him in a film, I get so nervous that something terrible will happen to him. Even if he's playing a bad guy, he just seems so NICE!

  12. I had no idea this was on instant. Sometimes I wonder how these things escape me...
    Still have never seen this, which seems an atrocity at this point in my film watching career. But with it being readily available, and this TREMENDOUS cast (um Burgess?!), I have to see it!
    Plus, you gave it a pretty good review. And that's good enough for me.

  13. It's all for you Christine! It's all for you...

  14. Count me in as a fan of the SENTINEL as well. Burgess Meridith played Old Scratch twice I recall, in this film and then also in TORTURE GARDEN. And lots not forget his scene stealing in GRUMPY OLD MEN.

  15. I know not of Torture Garden, but if it's got the Burgess, it will eventually be watched!