TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE SENTINEL (1977)

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THE SENTINEL (1977)

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Flick is a prime example of the type of big studio, all star cast, horror films that came out in the 70s after the success of films like The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby. It tells the story of emotionally troubled model Alison Parker (Christina Raines), who moves into an old building in Brooklyn with a group of eccentric neighbors, including an old blind priest (John Carradine) who lives on the top floor and constantly stares out the window despite his handicap. No sooner does she movie in, that strange things start to happen. She begins to suffer headaches and strange dreams and she’s even told by the realtor (Ava Gardner) that, aside from the old priest, there is no one else living in her building. Despite these developments, Alison continues to live there and her nightmarish visions continue to worsen. It appears that the apartment is a gateway to hell and the old blind priest is it’s guardian. It’s time for a changing of the guard, though…and guess who has been chosen to watch the gateway next?

Film is written and directed by British filmmaker and frequent Charles Bronson director, Michael Winner from Jeffery Konvitz’s book. It has some genuinely creepy and disturbing moments, thought they are inconsistent in their delivery and the film takes about halfway through for stuff to really start getting spooky. Winner has a very straightforward style, so the film has a very by-the-numbers feel, though he does manage some legitimate chills here and there. There is some good gore and makeup FX from the legendary Dick Smith and the film did receive some harsh criticism for it’s use of actual deformed people as demonic minions in it’s unsettling climax. The pace is a moderate one and we get a very ominous conclusion, as was common with 70s horror flicks. It’s not a bad flick, but one that could have been a lot better with a more stylish director behind the camera to give it some life and intensity…though, again, Winner does create a memorable and atmospheric climax and some chilling moments along the way. It’s just a little stale at times.

Christina Raines is fine as the emotionally scarred young woman thrust into a nightmarish situation. She is a little wooden in her performance, but she does alright. As stated there is an all star cast in support of lead Raines. Chris Sarandon plays her high profile, lawyer boyfriend who doubts her at first, then does some investigating which changes his mind and gives us needed exposition. He is a little uncharacteristically bland in the role. Carradine has little to do as the blind priest Father Halliran and has no dialog. We also have Ava Garder as a realtor, Burgess Meredith as one of Alison’s spectral neighbors, Eli Wallach as a hard-nosed cop and Martin Balsam as an eccentric professor. We also have some rising stars such as a young Christopher Walken as a detective, Jeff Goldblum (who starred as a thug in Winner’s Death Wish) as a photographer and Tom Berenger as a new tenant.

This is a moderately entertaining 70s horror flick from a director more known for his Bronson headlined action flicks. It has some legitimate creepy moments, but takes awhile to get started. It’s basically all a set-up for it’s disturbing climax which came under fire, in the day, for using real deformed and handicapped individuals to portray it’s demonic creatures. Regardless of how one feels about that, it is very spooky and makes up for some of the film’s somewhat staler aspects. Some feel it’s a classic and while I’m not one of them, I respect that opinion as it certainly has it’s moments. Worth a look.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 spooky specters

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999)

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SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999)

This Tim Burton directed classic is another of my Halloween Favorites and I like to watch it every year at this time, when I want a bit of a rest from the more intense horrors, but still want something with plenty of Halloween spirit and all the trappings…and this film has both.

Andrew Kevin Walker’s script, from a story by he and Kevin Yagher, takes a lot of liberties with the classic Washington Irving tale, but is still a lot of ghoulish fun. This version takes place in 1799 and transforms Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) from a meek local school teacher to a meek NYC detective with an interest in forensic science that annoys his superiors, who have a much simpler view of crime and punishment. His belligerent attempts at waking his peers up to the new age of police work earns him a trip up the Hudson River Valley to the small, remote village of Sleepy Hollow. A rash of decapitations has the entire town wrapped in a blanket of fear, as they are rumored to be committed by a headless fiend riding an enormous black steed. Upon his arrival, the skeptical Crane not only comes face to face with a very real headless horseman, but witches, black magic and a conspiracy of death and murder. Can Crane get to the bottom of who holds the horseman’s reigns and somehow keep his own head on his shoulders where it belongs?

Despite wandering greatly from the original The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, Tim Burton’s ode to Hammer horror films…with more than a few nods to the Universal classics…is, if nothing else, a stunningly spooky visual feast that oozes Halloween from almost every sumptuous shot of Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography. Burton also brings dollops of atmosphere and a lot of spine tingling action, with a touch of fairy tale whimsy, as Crane overcomes his own fears to solve the mysteries around him and take on the supernatural head-hunting juggernaut. He also spatters the screen with a generous amount of the red stuff as we get quite a few beheadings, stabbings and slicings, as the undead Hessian mercenary tracks down it’s assigned prey in Terminator-like fashion. The gore FX are very well executed and there are only a few spots of CGI here and there to enhance the live effects occurring on screen. There is a great Danny Elfman score to add to the atmosphere and it’s all a great deal of fog-drenched, blood-spattered fun!

Burton also has a great cast to help him tell his tale. Depp is channeling his inner Peter Cushing as Ichabod Crane and he is a delight to watch as he takes his arrogant yet cowardly police inspector wading into supernatural territory far removed from the comfort of his science. Christina Ricci is charming and pretty as both love interest and suspect, Katrina Van Tassel. She and Depp have a nice chemistry, though I do feel Ricci could have been a bit livelier at times considering how over the top the rest of the cast is. Miranda Richardson is perfectly cast as Katrina’s step-mother Mary and Michael Gambon is properly bombastic as her father and chief suspect Baltus Van Tassel. We also get Casper Van Dien as Katrina’s jealous suitor Brom, Michael Gough, Jeffery Jones, Ian McDiarmid, Marc Pickering and Christopher Walken as the Hessian mercenary whose loss of head creates a demonic legend. Add in cameos from Martin Landau and the great Christopher Lee and you have an almost perfect cast that gets the tone of the material ghoulishly well.

What can I say, I love this flick. It drips Halloween from every frame and while it may deviate from the classic tale considerably, it is a lot of bloody fun and it has a good cast that embrace the tone of the script perfectly. It’s a great flick to watch during the Halloween season, when you need a break from the more intense horror films, but still want a movie that has everything you want in a flick for this time of year. A really fun and deviously gruesome treat.

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) horsemen!

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE PROPHECY AND THE PROPHECY II

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THE PROPHECY (1995)

Gregory Widen writes and directs this clever and often very creepy horror flick concerning a second war in Heaven spilling out onto the Earth. Jealous over the attention God has given humankind, the Archangel Gabriel (Christopher Walken) has waged a war that has lasted centuries. But if he can acquire the soul of a heinously evil human general who has recently died, it could turn the tide. Loyal angel Samuel (Eric Stoltz) has hidden the soul in a little girl, Mary (Moriah Snyder) and now it’s up to ex-priest turned cop, Thomas (Elias Koteas) and school teacher, Katherine (Virginia Madsen) to stop Gabriel from getting the soul from Mary. Complicating matters is a third party, Lucifer (Viggo Mortensen), who has an invested interest in how this situation plays out.

Widen gives this film a nice atmosphere and creatively weaves Bible scripture into this very original and effective horror, as well as, gives some very good dialog for star Walken and Mortensen’s Lucifer to chew on. He also has a nice visual style and makes good use of a small budget. He gets good performances from all the cast with Koteas really convincing as a man who has lost his faith now faced with defending the God he turned away from and Madsen making a strong willed heroine forced to stand against the unthinkable. Obviously, thought, it is Walken who takes his role and runs with it with his sinister and quirky performance as the vengeful Gabriel. But not to be overlooked, is Viggo Mortensen giving one of the creepiest representations of Satan on film. His fallen angel is dripping with evil and malice and delivers Widen’s dialog with an unsettling restraint that is a perfect contrast to Walken’s more over the top Gabriel. A witty, original, unnerving and very entertaining horror.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Walkens

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THE PROPHECY 2 (1998)

Direct to DVD sequel actually isn’t bad. Can’t compare to the original, but it is entertaining. Story has Gabriel (Christopher Walken) released from Hell and continuing his war to take control of Heaven. A loyal angel, Danyael (Russell Wong) impregnates a human woman, Valerie (Jennifer Beals) to create a nephilim, a human/angel hybrid who is prophesied to unite the angels and end the second war. Gabriel now must hunt down Valerie and destroy her unborn child before it can ruin his plans to take over Heaven.

Greg Spence writes and directs this time and doesn’t quite have the cleverness or style that Gregory Widen had, but he directs competently and gives the sequel a brisk pace and Walken is once again worth watching for his quirky and sinister Gabriel. The rest of the cast is fine with Beals giving a strong and sympathetic performance as a woman fighting supernatural odds to save her child and Russel Wong bringing a strong nobility to Danyael. Also starring Brittany Murphy as a suicidal girl Gabriel uses as his human familiar and Eric Roberts as the angel, Michael. Not bad as direct to DVD sequels go. Fans of the original will probably be entertained.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Walkens

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There is a Prophecy 3 (2000) that you may want to add to complete the trilogy, but it is far inferior to the first two and Walken’s Gabriel is more of a spectator this time around. It does sort of complete the story, but doesn’t have the same quality or entertainment value as it predecessors. Only if you have the time and are a completest or a fan of this series.

The trailer is no longer available so, this scene will have to do…

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