The Sentinel (1977)

A fashion model named Alison Parker with a shady past and an even shadier lawyer boyfriend moves into a Brooklyn apartment owned by the Catholic church and watched over eternally by an ancient, unmoving, blind priest. And now a secret wing of the Church wants Alison to be their next guardian to the gates of Hell, as a means to save the Earth and her soul for having previously attempted suicide. It sounds like fun, until you realize just about everybody is a jerk and the movie’s going to hit you with a reimagined version of Milton’s Paradise Lost.

The Sentinel pulls a lot of inspiration from other 1960s and ’70s religious horror but never quite connects, mainly because very few people come off as likable and I struggle to see who the “good guy” really is. There are some bizarre images and scenes, which range from memories of Alison’s father, to a cat’s birthday party, to her awkward night terrors of her father’s zombie and legions of demons. And the legion of demons includes the physically deformed, dead murderers, and lesbians (so heinous, the lesbians). Sex is evil, masturbation is evil, homosexuality is evil, murder is evil, physical deformity is evil, cannibalism is evil, suicide is evil, and only the Catholic Church can help you. To do it, they want to lock you in a room and drive you to blindness and near-madness in the process.

Was that the message I’m supposed to get? Because that’s the message I got. Man, why does Hell always get all the fun stuff?

I will give the film credit for just how weird it gets, but it’s also confused: am I supposed to see Michael as a villain? He seems genuinely concerned for Alison, but he’s done terrible things. Are the police who harass Michael good guys, because they do just as much to bother Alison and impede her. And what about Monsignor Franchino, who appears to make only a half-assed attempt to guide Alison into her dangerous duty. Who the Hell should I root for here? I just don’t know. I am confused by the message and the characters, though I did enjoy some of the film’s twists and turns.

Also, since we’ve gotten this far, how exactly does a blind priest stop the gates of Hell from opening anyway? I mean, is he like a doorstop or something, just blocking things by being there? If so, great, you’re now the equivalent of a paperweight. Or is he supposed to just watch and get on the phone if bad things happen? Do I really want a blind guy performing overwatch? Something about that just seems like a recipe for disaster.

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