Horror Film Review: The Sentinel (dir by Michael Winner)


Here’s the main lesson that I’ve learned from watching the 1977 horror film, The Sentinel:

Even in the 1970s, the life of a model was not an easy one.

Take Alison Parker (Cristina Raines) for instance.  She should have everything but instead, she’s a neurotic mess.  Haunted by a traumatic childhood, she has attempted to commit suicide twice and everyone is always worried that she’s on the verge of having a breakdown.  As a model, she’s forced to deal with a bunch of phonies.  One of the phonies is played by Jeff Goldblum.  Because he’s Goldblum, you suspect that he has to have something up his sleeve but then it turns out that he doesn’t.  I get that Jeff Goldblum probably wasn’t a well-known actor when he appeared in The Sentinel but still, it’s incredibly distracting when he suddenly shows up and then doesn’t really do anything.

Alison has a fiancée.  His name is Michael Lerman (Chris Sarandon) and I figured out that he had to be up to no good as soon as he appeared.  For one thing, he has a pornstache.  For another thing, he’s played by Chris Sarandon, an actor who is best known for playing the vampire in the original Fright Night and Prince Humperdink in The Princess Bride.  Not surprisingly, it turns out that Michael’s previous wife died under mysterious circumstances.  NYPD Detective Rizzo (Christopher Walken) suspects that Michael may have killed her.

(That’s right.  Christopher Walken is in this movie but, much like Jeff Goldblum, he doesn’t get to do anything interesting.  How can a movie feature two of the quirkiest actors ever and then refuse to give them a chance to act quirky?)

Maybe Alison’s life will improve now that she has a new apartment.  It’s a really nice place and her real estate agent is played by Ava Gardner.  Alison wants to live on her own for a while.  She loves Michael but she needs to find herself.  Plus, it doesn’t help that Michael has a pornstache and may have killed his wife…

Unfortunately, as soon as Alison moves in, she starts having weird dreams and visions and all the usual stuff that always happens in movies like this.  She also discovers that she has a lot of eccentric neighbors, all of whom are played by semi-familiar character actors.  For instance, eccentric old Charles (Burgess Meredith) is always inviting her to wild parties.  Her other two neighbors (played by Sylvia Miles and Beverly D’Angelo) are lesbians, which the film presents as being the height of shocking decadence.  At first, Alison likes her neighbors but they make so much noise!  Eventually, she complains to Ava Gardner.  Ava replies that Alison only has one neighbor and that neighbor is neither Burgess Meredith nor a lesbian.

Instead, he’s a blind priest who spends all day sitting at a window.  He’s played by John Carradine, who apparently had a few hours to kill in 1977.

But it doesn’t stop there!  This movie is full of actors who will be familiar to anyone who enjoys watching TCM.  Along with those already mentioned, we also get cameos from Martin Balsam, Jose Ferrer, Arthur Kennedy, Eli Wallach, Richard Dreyfuss, and Tom Berenger.  There are 11 Oscar nominees wasted in this stupid film.  (Though, in all fairness, Christopher Walken’s nomination came after The Sentinel.)

Personally, The Sentinel bugged me because it’s yet another horror movie that exploits Catholic iconography while totally misstating church dogma.  However, the main problem with The Sentinel is that it’s just so incredibly boring.  I own it on DVD because I went through a period where I basically bought every horror film that could I find.  I’ve watched The Sentinel a handful of times and somehow, I always manage to forget just how mind-numbingly dull this movie really is.  There’s a few scary images but mostly, it’s just Burgess Meredith acting eccentric and Chris Sarandon looking mildly annoyed.  If you’ve ever seen Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, or The Omen, you’ll figure out immediately what’s going on but The Sentinel still insists on dragging it all out.  Watching this movie is about as exciting as watching an Amish blacksmith shoe a horse.

There’s a lot of good actors in the film but it’s obvious that most of them just needed to pick up a paycheck.  I’ve read a lot of criticism of Cristina Raines’s lead performance but I actually think she does a pretty good job.  It’s not her acting that’s at fault.  It’s the film’s stupid script and lackluster direction.

A Movie A Day #157: Pacific Heights (1990, directed by John Schlesinger)


Michael Keaton is the tenant from Hell in Pacific Heights.

In San Francisco, Patty (Melanie Griffith) and Drake (Matthew Modine) have just bought an old and expensive house that they can not really afford.  In order to keep from going broke, they rent out two downstairs apartments.  One apartment is rented by a nice Japanese couple.  The other apartment is rented by Carter Hayes (Michael Keaton).  Carter convinces Patty and Drake not to check his credit by promising to pay the 6 months rent up front.  The money, he tells them, is coming via wire transfer.

The money never arrives but Carter does.  Once he moves into the apartment, Carter changes the locks so that no one but him can get in.  At all hours of the day and night, he can be heard hammering and drilling inside the apartment.  Even worse, he releases cockroaches throughout the building.  When Drake demands that Carter leave, the police back up Carter.  After goading Drake into attacking him, Carter gets a restraining order.  Drake is kicked out of his home, leaving Patty alone with their dangerous tenant.

Pacific Heights is the ultimate upper middle class nightmare: Buy a house that you can not really afford and then end up with a tenant who trashes the place to such an extent that the property value goes down.  As a thriller, Pacific Heights would be better if Drake and Patty weren’t so unlikable.  (When this movie was first made, people like Patty and Drake were known as yuppies.)  Much like Drake’s house, the entire movie is stolen by Michael Keaton’s performance as Carter Hayes.  Carter was not an easy role to play because not only did he have to be so convincingly charming that it was believable that he could rent an apartment just by promising a wire payment but he also had to be so crazy that no one would doubt that he would deliberately infest a house with cockroaches.  Michael Keaton has not played many bad guys in his career but his performance as Carter Hayes knocked it out of the park.

One final note: Keep an eye out for former Hitchcock muse (and Melanie Griffith’s mother) Tippi Hedren, playing another one of Carter’s potential victims.  Her cameo here is better than her cameo in In The Cold of the Night.

 

What Lisa Watched Last Night #161: Under The Bed (dir by Daniel Myrick)


Last night, I watched the latest Lifetime premiere film, Under the Bed!

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Why Was I Watching It?

Well, there were a few reasons why I watched it.  First off, it was on Lifetime and, by this point, it’s kind of a tradition around these parts that I always live tweet every Lifetime premiere.  Secondly, I watched it so that I could write this review.  After all, it’s a new year and that means that it’s time for a new set of What Lisa Watched Last Night reviews!

Add to that, the film had the word “bed” in the title so I assumed there would be a lot of sex.

What Was It About?

It’s yet another Lifetime stalker film!  This one, which is apparently based on a true story, features Hannah New as Callie Monroe.  Callie’s an acclaimed journalist who has a beautiful home, a cute dog, and absolutely no love life.  She’s just broken up with her longtime boyfriend and its going to take more than winning a Pulitzer for her article about climbing Kilimanjaro to fill the void in her life!

What Callie doesn’t know is that there’s a man  (played by Pat Healy) living underneath her bed.  Seriously.  He’s broken into her apartment.  He’s put secret cameras all over the place.  And he is now literally living underneath her bed, from which he regularly sends her messages.

Say it with me now — Agck!

What Worked?

Under the Bed was directed by Daniel Myrick, who co-directed the original Blair Witch Project.  There were a few effectively creepy scenes in the movie.  I mean, just the idea of having a stranger living with you in your bedroom without your knowledge is creepy in and of itself.  You could probably argue that the success or failure of this film depended on whether or not it inspired you to look underneath your bed after watching it.  I know I did.

Hannah New gives a good and sympathetic performance as Callie and Pat Healy is appropriately frightening as her stalker.  Beverly D’Angelo also provides some good support as Callie’s mother.

What Did Not Work?

(Spoiler Alert)

Freddy the Dog dies.  Freddy is an adorable little dog that Callie owns.  Unlike his owner, Freddy understands that there’s a man living underneath the bed.  So, one day, the man puts Freddy in a bag and buries him alive.  And we see all of this happen and, quite frankly, it’s too much.  First off, there was no reason to kill Freddy.  Secondly, the burial scenes ends on a somewhat ambiguous note so you’re not really sure whether or not Freddy was fully buried or not.  I spent the entire final hour of the film waiting for Freddy to suddenly show up and it really depressed me when he didn’t.

There’s more to the thing with Freddy than just the fact that I don’t like scenes of animal cruelty.  The scene itself didn’t only feel unnecessary but it also felt incredibly mean-spirited as well.  If you want to kill the dog that badly, have him dragged off-screen and do the little whimper thing.  Instead, by having us watch as Freddy’s buried alive, it felt like the film was saying, “Look how edgy we are!  We killed the dog!”  It felt terribly out-of-place and it soured me on the entire film.

It also didn’t help that the stalker was so obvious about what he was doing that, pretty soon, you started to resent Callie for being so naive.  When Callie finally discovered her stalker and started to fight back, it never felt empowering.  Instead, I was just kinda like, “Well, it’s good that you’re finally aware of what’s going on in your apartment but this could have all been avoided if you had just happened to glance under your bed once or twice over the past week.”

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

In some ways, I could relate to Callie but — and this is the important thing — I know I don’t have to worry about anyone living underneath my bed because, between all of my scrapbooks and old magazines, there’s no room under there.

(That said, Doc Bowman does enjoy hanging out underneath my bed but I’m pretty sure he can be trusted.)

Lessons Learned

Be kind to animals, dammit.

Horror on TV: Tales From The Crypt 4.13 “Werewolf Concerto” (dir by Steve Perry)


For tonight’s excursion into televised horror, we present to you the 13th episode of the 4th season of HBO’s Tales From The Crypt!

Werewolf Concerto originally aired on September 9th, 1992.  It deals with what happens when a group of hotel guests believe that there might be a werewolf in the area.  Fortunately, Timothy Dalton is also in the area and he claims to be a professional werewolf hunter!

Or is he….?

You’ll have to watch to find out!

Enjoy!

Insomnia File #11: Summer Catch (dir by Mike Tollin)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

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Whenever I look at my cable guide, I always notice that channel 834 is listed as being “MorMax.”  For some reason, I always assume that MorMax stands for Morman Max and I’m always expecting that it’s going to show movies about Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.  But actually, MorMax stands for More Cinemax.

Anyway, last night, if you were having a hard time sleeping around midnight (though why anyone would ever try to go to sleep before midnight is beyond me), you could have turned on MorMax and watched the 2001 romantic comedy Summer Catch!

Though it may be hard to believe today, there was a time when Freddie Prinze, Jr. was a pretty big deal.  From 1997 to 2001, Prinze appeared in 179 movies.  Well, actually, he only appeared in 10 but since they were all aimed at teenage girls and played on cable constantly, it felt like 179.  (Seriously, there was a time when I could not get through an entire day without seeing at least a few minutes of She’s All That.)  For the most part, all of these films were pretty much the same.  Freddie Prinze, Jr. plays a kind of dumb guy who falls in love with a girl.  Prinze’s character was usually from a working class family and had at least one wacky friend.  The girl was usually from a rich family and had one bitchy friend who would be an ex-friend by the end of the movie.  There was usually at least one scene set on the beach or at a swimming pool, the better for Freddie to remove his shirt and his costar to chastely strip down to her underwear.  There was usually a falling in love montage and at least one big misunderstanding.  Freddie would always flash the same goofy smile whenever the misunderstanding was cleared up.  Even at the time that the films were being released, nobody was ever under the impression that Freddie Prinze, Jr. was a particularly good actor.  But he was likable, unthreatening, and hot in an oddly bland sort of way.

(Speaking of oddly bland, check out the titles of some of Prinze’s films: She’s All That, Down To You, Boys and Girls, Head over Heels, and, of course, Summer Catch.)

Summer Catch opens with Ryan Dunne (Freddie!) explaining that he’s just a working class kid from Massachusetts but this summer, he’s going to be playing amateur baseball in Cap Cod and hopefully, he’ll get signed to a professional contract as result.  (Freddie adopts an inconsistent “pahk ya cah by the bah” accent and its kind of endearing to see him trying so hard.)  Ryan, of course, is just a local guy who mows lawns for a living but he’s determined to succeed.  He just has to stay focused.

However, that’s going to be difficult because he’s just met Tenley Parrish (Jessica Biel).  The Parrishes own a vacation home on Cape Cod and they are so rich that they can afford to name their oldest daughter Tenley.  Soon, Tenley and Ryan are a couple but Tenley’s father wants Tenley to marry a rich boy and Ryan’s father is too busy being all surly and working class to appreciate Ryan’s dreams.

(Tenley’s father, incidentally, is played by Bruce Davison because all snobbish WASPs of a certain age are played by Bruce Davison.  Ryan’s father is played by Fred Ward because Summer Catch was made in 2001.)

Because every Freddie Prinze, Jr. movie needs a hyperactive and wacky sidekick, Ryan’s best friend on the team is a catcher named Billy Brubaker (Matthew Lillard.)  Billy is known as “Bru.”  There’s a lot of scenes of people saying stuff like “Yo, Bru,” and “Come on, Bru!”  After a while, I found myself hoping for a scene where Bru went crazy and started shouting, “My name is Billy, dammit!  BILLY!  DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!”  Instead, however, we get a subplot about how Billy can’t get any hits until he has sex with and wears the thong underwear of a local baseball fan.

Anyway, Summer Catch is an extremely predictable film.  It’s not surprising that this was one of Freddie’s final star vehicles because, other than his heroic effort to maintain a Massachusetts accent, even he seems to be bored with it all.  Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Summer Catch is that there’s next to no actual conflict in the film.  Oh sure, Ryan and Tenley have a few misunderstandings but it’s never anything serious.

If there’s an unheralded hero to Summer Catch, it’s the uncredited guy who we hear providing commentary during the games.  Seriously, I would have been so lost if not for him constantly saying stuff like, “This is Ryan Dunne’s chance to show what he can do,” and “Billy Brubaker needs to get a hit here…”  They should have made the entire movie about him and his efforts to remain up-to-date on all the players.

Because Summer Catch was a baseball film, I begged my sister Erin to watch it with me so that she could explain all the baseball stuff to me.  For the record, Erin says that the game scenes were okay (and I personally liked all of the totally gratuitous slow motion) but that the film wasn’t really a deep examination of baseball.  To be honest, I really wasn’t expecting that it would be.  I just wanted to make my sister stay up late and watch a movie with me.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye

 

 

Insomnia File #10: Eye For An Eye (dir by John Schlesinger)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

Eye_for_an_Eye_(1996_film)_poster

If you were awake at midnight and trying to get some sleep, you could have turned over to ThillerMax and watched the 1996 revenge thriller, Eye For An Eye.  However, the film wouldn’t have helped you get to sleep.  Eye For An Eye is not a film that you sleep through.

Eye For An Eye opens with Karen McCann (Sally Field) comforting her youngest daughter, Megan (Alexandra Kyle).  Megan is terrified of a moth that has flown into her bedroom.  “Kill it, mommy, kill it!” Megan shouts.  Instead, Karen gently takes the moth in her hand and allows it to escape through an open window.  In those first few minutes, the film tells us everything that it feels to be important about Karen.  She’s a mother.  She lives in a big house in the suburbs.  And she wouldn’t kill a moth…

But — the name of the title is Eye For An Eye and that would seem to promise killing so we know that something terrible is going to happen to change Karen’s outlook on life.

And it does!  The next afternoon, Karen is stuck in traffic and calls her oldest daughter, 17 year-old Julie (Olivia Burnette).  In an extremely harrowing sequence that is pure nightmare fuel, Karen helplessly listens as Julie is raped and murdered.

A white trash deliveryman named Robert Doob is arrested for the crime and we immediately know that he’s guilty.  First off, his name is Robert Doob and that’s a serial killer name if I’ve ever heard one.  Secondly, he smirks at Karen and her husband (Ed Harris) and, in a particularly cruel moment that was especially upsetting to this former stutterer, he imitates Julie’s stammer.  Third, Robert has tattoos and Satanic facial hair.  And finally, Robert Doob is played by Keifer Sutherland.  And usually, I find Keifer and his growl of a voice to be kinda sexy in a dangerous sorta way but in Eye For An Eye, he was so icky that he just made my skin crawl.

Robert Doob is obviously guilty but an evil liberal judge throws the case out on a technicality.  After Karen gets over the shock of seeing justice perverted, she decides to take the law into her own hands.  After meeting a professional vigilante (Philip Baker Hall, looking slightly amused no matter how grim he tries to act), Karen decides to learn how to use a gun so that she can get her revenge…

There’s not a single subtle moment in Eye For An Eye but that’s actually the main reason I enjoyed the film.  Everything — from the performances to the script to the direction to the music to … well, everything — is completely and totally over-the-top.  The symbolism is so heavy-handed and the film is so heavily stacked in favor of vigilante justice that the whole thing becomes oddly fascinating.  It may not be a great film but it’s always watchable.  It may not be subtle and it may even be borderline irresponsible in its portrayal of the American justice system but who cares?  By the end of the movie, I was over whatever real world concerns I may have had about the film’s premise and I was totally  cheering Karen on in her quest for vengeance.  I imagine I’m not alone in that.  Eye For An Eye is the type of film that elitist movie snobs tend to dismiss, even while secretly knowing that it’s actually kinda awesome.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers

Film Review: Pterodactyl Woman from Beverly Hills (1997, dir. Philippe Mora)


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I need to learn how to keep my mouth shut. Back when I reviewed Safari 3000 (1982), I mentioned this film exists. I got it from Netflix and finally buckled down to watch it. I think I may have found the Tromaville version of The Holy Mountain.

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No, not the German mountain film with Leni Riefenstahl. I mean this The Holy Mountain.

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Yes, that is The Holy Mountain I’m referring to. And yes, that is The Hall Of 1,000 Testicles. But when you don’t have the budget to make something that bat shit insane and it’s the 1990’s, then maybe you end up with something like Pterodactyl Woman from Beverly Hills. The movie begins by showing us what Beverly Hills looked like two million years ago. And wouldn’t you know it? It looks just like the movie Planet of Dinosaurs (1977).

Pterodactyl Woman from Beverly Hills

Pterodactyl Woman from Beverly Hills

Planet of Dinosaurs

Planet of Dinosaurs

Then we cut to modern day. But don’t worry, because the stock footage from Planet of Dinosaurs is seen again several times. That’s one of the meta jokes in this movie that the stock footage keeps getting in the way or is used as someone’s dreams. Well, two guys are doing a dig in the area when Salvador Dali shows up. No joke, that’s his name.

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Salvador Dali

He does the angry native bit, but has some magic to back it up. He turns one guy into a lizard and curses the other guy’s wife to become a Pterodactyl. That wife is played by none other than Beverly D’Angelo. And boy does she just go all out in this movie. I could stop writing right now and just show a serious of screenshots of her throughout the movie. But let’s talk a little bit about it.

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You young ones might not no, but back in the 1990’s, this is how we were taught about sex in the United States. That, or this is a Troma film so of course there is cock and dick humor. I’m not trying to be nasty, her husband is named Dick and they make penis jokes in this movie beyond that screenshot. In no time, D’Angelo starts acting weird.

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Yeah, just go ahead and swallow that whole thing there Beverly. People won’t remember the pictures of dicks you were pointing at only a few minutes before. They’ll just think you are swallowing a fish while Dame Edna points at you.

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Now D’Angelo turns into a Pterodactyl at night and acts weird the rest of the time. After a particularly hilarious sex scene where her husband screws her as a Pterodactyl because it’s a Troma film, we then see her in all her glory.

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Well, there goes the neighborhood. Now the family, friends, and neighbors have to come to grips with her being a Pterodactyl. Some of the neighbors get together for a meeting and this is actually a weird scene. Not because of anything they are saying, but because it keeps cutting to the back of them for some reason. Made me think of those long lingering shots of nature in A Talking Cat!?! (2013).

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And that’s not the only bizarre thing happening with the cinematography. There are frequent uses of a fish eye lens on the camera.

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I’m guessing just to remind us how weird everything is. I didn’t need that to remind me I was tripping balls because shots like this did it just fine.

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This movie moves pretty quick so that sex scene earlier means she’s pregnant. But before she has the kid, I’m guessing they felt the need to poke fun at David Lynch? That’s my best explanation for this strange sequence in which D’Angelo is slipped a “blue mickey”, dances around, then CGI’s into a Pterodactyl.

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Once that baby comes, then the film winds down pretty quick.

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The husband remembers now how all this happened and takes the family to the desert to find Salvador Dali again. This scene is loaded with stock footage, self referential jokes, lot’s of fish eye lens, and plenty of D’Angelo acting nutty. Salvador Dali even talks to the stock footage at one point calling it stock footage and telling it to go away. The Dali cures her and that’s the end.

I did leave some stuff out, but it doesn’t matter. You don’t need the play by play. It’s a bunch of stuff that is wacko. It does seem to want to have a bit of a message of acceptance. But mostly, I think it’s Troma Productions Lloyd Kaufman 101. Think up the most ludicrous, freakish, and outlandish stuff you can, figure out a way to string it together, then film it. I mean even The Battle Of Love’s Return (1971) basically followed that formula, and I believe that was Kaufman’s first Troma film. This one was done by Philippe Mora. Whereas the collection of incredibly fantastic scenes in The Holy Mountain somehow gel. In this film’s case, I think it’s a mess. I really can’t recommend sitting through this.

But I guess it was worth it for me. Gives me a good excuse to revisit The Holy Mountain.

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