Films That Haunt Me (Halloween edition): THE SENTINEL

This hasn’t come up too often on this site yet, but I have a particular obsession with occult thrillers from the 60’s and 70’s. Due to the success of films like “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Exorcist,” along with a real-world paranoia of cult figures (Manson and clan), this subgenre was booming. While most offerings are not worth remembering, I was struck by a lesser-known thriller from the later 70’s, eerily titled THE SENTINEL.

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The plot is, by now, pretty familiar: a young woman moves into a spooky, low-priced apartment building that has a sinister secret. Plagued by bizarre visions and neighbors who seem more than a bit off, the woman hurries to get to the bottom of the forces surrounding her – but she doesn’t know that she has already been chosen to fulfill a destiny that determines the fate of the world.

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It’s clear to see how much this film influenced others of its time. The depiction of Hell and its inhabitants is shocking, even by today’s standards, and has been copied more times than we realize. Unique, surreal visuals and sequences permeate the film and give it an artistic quality that elevate the fear from run-of-the-mill Devil-chills to a more psychological dread. And the twists, in my opinion, are brilliantly done. The supernatural events lead up to a reveal that is, if not surprising, intensely disturbing.

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What really draws me to “The Sentinel” is its distinct 70’s atmosphere. I swear, there was something about the celluloid that makes the aura so different from any other era in film. The camera itself presents the quality of looking into a dream, which lends itself to the horrific aspect of the story and heightens it. Films like this one, along with “The Omen” and “Halloween” (amongst dozens of others), carry something incomparable in the very fact that they used this type of celluloid. This, in part, is what makes me fall in love with these types of films. And this one has everything – Catholic guilt, midnight rites, and an entrance to Hell.

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For atmosphere, visuals and a good ol’ Satanic ghost story, it’s hard to find a better offering than “The Sentinel.” It’s a celebration of all that was great about 1970s horror.

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