The Sentinel (1977)
This movie had been suggested to me several times and I kind of passed it by. Since I thought the Exorcist was absolutely hilarious (I'm kind of twisted that way) and Rosemary's Baby bored me to tears, I wasn't terribly eager to peruse this Exorcist wannabe but there were an awful lot of big names in it, as well as names soon-to-be-famous so I bit the bullet and tried it out. It wasn't half bad. Wasn't great, but I'd watch this ten times back to back rather than sit through Rosemary's Baby again.
And boy were there a lot of names. They almost took away from the movie 'cause as I'm watching it my husband is looking over my shoulder saying 'Hey that's... (somebody not in the movie)' at which point I'd have to pause it and explain that no, that was somebody else. It happened a lot. Oh well, he knows the stuff I don't like what kind of cars are being used. Together we almost know enough to do good reviews.
Names? The leading lady is just about the only one I DIDN'T know - Christina Raines. I guess she's done a ton of TV work but I didn't recognize her. The ones I did know were Chris Sarandon (very sexy but with one of those porno star mustaches - yuck), Burgess Meredith, John Carradine, Beverly D'Angelo (naked through most of her role - wow), Ava Gardner, Jose' Ferrer (whose son Miguel Ferrer is a favorite of mine, and oh yeah, he's George Clooney's uncle), Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken (who seemed to spend most of the movie chewing on something, he rarely spoke), Jeff Goldblum (who didn't even get a credit until the end of the movie) and Tom Berenger who had five seconds of screen time, billed only as 'man at end'.
Oh what was the movie about? Sorry about that. Seems this neurotic model wants a place of her own to get some space from her clingy boyfriend (Chris Sarandon) so in Brooklyn she finds this fully furnished apartment for some outrageously low price and moves right in. On the fifth floor she sees a man but is told he is a blind priest and never leaves his room - in fact, the whole building is supposedly owned by the church.
Not being the sharpest tool in the shed she moves right in but things get strange fast - thank goodness. This did not rely on shots of her scared and shocked face like in Rosemary's Baby - she actually moves. Her neighbors are massively weird though, from the owner of a cat who keeps showing up at her door to the two lesbians who seem to like lounging around in the buff and... doing what lesbians do I guess - at least in the movies.
We get cutaway scenes from the Catholic Church and we are let in that something big is about to happen, involving the building they own and the model who's moved into it. Her boyfriend, being a lawyer decides to stick his nose in her business, being a bit put out she wouldn't move in with him, and begins to find evidence of some sort of conspiracy.
Meanwhile the model complains to the realtor about the neighbors only to be told and shown that there are no neighbors - the apartment she went to a party in obviously hasn't been lived in for years, and the only other inhabitant of the building is the old priest. She thinks she must be going nuts - not a first for her, as her childhood was traumatic and caused her to attempt suicide. When she first met her boyfriend he was married but his wife committed suicide which made HER attempt suicide again - this chick is not the sharpest tool in the shed, as I said.
So we're supposed to believe the explanation that the building is not owned by the church, but rather by a group of excommunicated Catholic priests, and is a gateway to Hell. The blind priest is the guardian but is about to die and they need a new one - one who has attempted suicide, as all the guardians have. Wait a minute - that makes no sense whatsoever. To Catholics, suicide is instant Hellbound behavior. Ah, but since she survived, she needs to pay for being miserable by being the new guardian. Ummm... whatever.
Here's where the movie makers got themselves in quite a bit of trouble. Burgess Meredith, who played her massively nosy neighbor (and like the others is actually a dead murderer) comes at her with some 'demons' from Hell. This would all have been well and good, except for the part of the 'demons' instead of special effects they used people with real deformities and some from freak shows.
That was a major no-no. Why? Well, think about it - by doing so, they infer that those who are 'different' go to hell, right? That may not have been their intent but a lot of people saw it that way and were massively pissed.
Among these 'demons' is her boyfriend who had been murdered and because he had really arranged for his wife to be killed and have it called suicide is damned with all the others. Now here's where it's not how much money you have or the kind of people you hire but how well you use the camera that makes the movie. My long-winded speech is because at this point to show he's, uh, dead I guess, Chris Sarandon's face flies apart. One itty bitty problem though. If you stop the film just as it starts to rip, you can CLEARLY see strings on four points of his face - the four places the skin 'rips' away. Ah damn, that would have been a good effect too if they had been more careful.
They try to convince her to join them, but suddenly a priest who's been bugging her throughout the movie plus the blind priest beg her not to join the dark side - oops, sorry, I mean beg her to return to Christ. Or something like that. Does she?
Somehow, even though she now stays in the same apartment, they manage to demolish the old building and build a new one. A young couple love the place and ask if there's anyone else living there. On the fifth floor, the realtor explains, is an old nun who never leaves her room. It, of course, is the model who is now the new Sentinel.
Did any of that make sense? No? Oh well, it was still better made than most and certainly was a who's who of actors and actresses.