The Forgotten 1970s Horror Gem With A Star-Studded Cast Waiting To Be Discovered By Younger Generations

By Brian Myers | Published

A possibly haunted apartment building, a murder investigation, and the Gates of Hell all factor into the storyline of the 1977 horror film The Sentinel. Though only receiving mediocre box office returns and similar reception from film critics, the film stands the test of time and is a must-watch for a new generation of horror fans who are looking for a film that masterfully combines elements of Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen, adding to it its own take on the religious idea of purgatory, damnation, and spiritual redemption.

The Sentinel Slowly Turns Up The Creep Factor

The Sentinel had action and western director Michael Winner at the production’s helm. Known for Death Wish (1974), Scorpio (1973), and Lawman (1971), The Sentinel was only the second time Winner had been put in charge of a horror movie, his only other genre credit being The Nightcomers (1971). Winner worked with Jeffrey Konvitz, upon whose novel The Sentinel was based, to craft a script that brought terrifying characters to the screen.

Renting In New York Can Be Hell

The Sentinel follows New York City fashion model Alison Parker (Cristina Raines), a young woman whose career has been, at times, overshadowed by depressive and suicidal tendencies. To mark a fresh start, she moves into a Brooklyn brownstone, a three-level building that she quickly learns is full of strange characters. One such person is a blind priest, whom the real estate agent tells her is Father Halliran, who occupies the top floor and is always seen staring out his front window.

An Amazing Cast Of Familiar Faces

Alison has an uncomfortable encounter with the lesbian couple on the first floor (Sylvia Miles and Beverly D’Angelo), is pestered by another elderly neighbor named Charles (Burgess Meredith), and attends a birthday party for Charles’s cat with all the occupants (save for Father Halliran) in attendance. The Sentinel takes a weird turn as Alison complains to her leasing agent about the people, only to be told that the building is empty except for Alison and the priest.

70s Horror Movies Hit Different

The film gets more bizarre from there, as the true identities of the other “residents” are revealed and the chilling motive of the Catholic Church is brought to light. Alison and her boyfriend Michael’s (Chris Sarandon) revelations tie in both her childhood traumas and the secret that he has been hiding behind. The Sentinel continues to build until its intense and horrifying climax unfolds inside Father Halliran’s apartment.

Visceral Psychological Horror And Not Just From Seeing Young Christopher Walken

Winner employs many of the devices used by veteran horror directors in only his second go in the genre, certainly making his direction in The Sentinel seem like he was an old hand at it. The entities that fade in from the shadows, the ominous dialogue, and the real use of sideshow performers for one climactic scene are all combined with a chilling score by Gil Melle. Part visceral, part psychological horror, The Sentinel was one of the most prolific horror films made during the 1970s, a production that you can still feel in your room once the lights go out.

Even More Recognizable Stars

The Sentinel also gives audiences an early look at some of the biggest film stars in a time when they were unknown bit players. Jeff Goldblum (who Winner directed in Death Wish), a young Christopher Walken, and Tom Berrenger are familiar faces. Additionally, the production cast well-known character actors from years past, including Eli Wallach, William Hickey, John Carradine, and Jerry Orbach.

Rent The Sentinel Today


The Sentinel‘s creepier-than-Hell storyline and ominous tone set throughout help elevate it to a level of 4.0/5.0 stars. The onscreen chemistry between Raines and Sarandon leaves something to be desired, though Raines does a praiseworthy job in her own scenes. At times, her acting is so convincing that it’s hard to determine whether or not she’s really experiencing what is on screen or if she is having another emotional breakdown.

You can experience the horror of The Sentinel by renting it through AppleTV, GooglePlay, Prime, and Vudu.