Monday, February 25, 2002

So. The Sentinel.

What can I say about The Sentinel? It has Burgess Meredith as a potentially dead foppish dandy who carries around both a cat and a bird at the same time. It has real live side-show freaks. It has gratuitous nudity, mostly the kind you don't really want to see. It steals from the Exorcist and The Omen like there's no tomorrow. Most of all, it's just damn creepy, with some decidedly sub-par acting on display. Horror-y goodness. And I should know. I've seen more horror movies than you've had hot dinners*.

Anyway, here's my theory: 1970s horror movies were a lot better, and a lot scarier, than today's horror movies. They were full of psychological horror and didn't bother with special effects or trying to lighten things up for the kids. If The Sentinel was released today, I imagine they might have a tough time avoiding an NC-17 (or U18 for our British friends) on that bad boy. You don't get a naked octogenarian three-way in the first ten minutes of a film these days without at least raising an eyebrow or two.

There was an almost nihilistic undercurrent in 70s horror. They wanted to scare the bejeezus out of you. End of story. They didn't want to get cute and discuss semiotics or the censorship of the female gaze or anything like that. This was before the dynamic of slasher movies, before everything had been done 87 times. Think about The Exorcist. Sure, they had a jar of bees they were shaking up on the soundtrack, and they were experimenting with all kinds of subliminal techniques, but dammit, it worked! The Exorcist is one of the scariest movies ever. Don't Look Now is another good example. The suspense builds as the film goes, and becomes something more than a horror film. There's a vagueness to it that differentiates it from the films of today. Maybe these movies touch you on a deeper level, and go to the base fear of the unknown. Maybe that's why they work so well.

What am I saying? I don't know. i just know that when I see these 70s films, they pretty much always work on me better than modern equivalents.

The numero uno "scared the hell out of me when I was a kid" movie for me: Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark. And I saw this on TV. It concerned these furry little homunculus guys that lived in this woman's house. I don't remember where they were from, except that I'm pretty sure they were demons of some type. They were about the same size as a smurf (which, in case you were wondering, is three apples high (possibly six apples high. I couldn't remember so I foolishly went and asked, which when presented with a perfectly striaghtforward question like "How tall is a smurf?", predictably cannot just give you an answer. Askjeeves presents itself as an omnipotent butler, who is ready and waiting to answer your every question, from the banal to the truly esoteric. In fact, what it does is say "Well, I don't know, but there's a Smurf expert over there who might be able to help you out. As a matter of fact, why don't you just address all your Smurf-dimension questions to him in the future, instead of asking me, so I can pretend like I knew the answer all along when I am in reality just a completely and utterly superfluous middleman who no-one pays any attention to at all, or would even think about if it weren't for that goddam electric razor commerical.))


So, these Smurf-sized evil-incarnate types doodle around in this woman's house all day. That's about all I remember, except for this one scene that features three of them clambering up on her bedsheets carrying a straightrazor. Still scares the bejeezus out of me. Did I mention that the woman was in her underwear? To reiterate: the woman was in her underwear, and I think she was somehow immobilized or asleep or something. Maybe the little bastards slipped her a mickey somehow. And there's three devil-beasts either three or six apples high carrying a straightrazor up the bedsheets to slice her up into little bits. In other words: a twisted psycho-sexual agenda that I should never have witnessed at such a young age, and that 70s horror films delight in sharing with you.

It doesn't look like Don't be Afraid Of The Dark is available on DVD or video, which is probably for the best, because I'd either be gibbering in a corner watching it right now, or feeling pretty foolish when I realized how obvious the zippers were on the homunculus' suits.

And the clincher for The Sentinel? It's got Walken. It was made in 77, the same year as Annie Hall, so it was one of his first movies (Actually, maybe not). Strangely enough, Jeff Goldblum, who had a cameo in Annie Hall, is also in The Sentinel. OK, maybe that's not strange, but there you go. There's not a huge amount of Walken in this movie, though, so be warned. He's on screen for all of about five minutes, and for about 4 minutes and 38 seconds, you're feeling ripped off, because he only has one and a half lines. Most of the time he just stands there looking like Walken, which is of course just fine.

*Obviously, I don't really know you or just how many hot dinners you've consumed in your lifetime, so that was just blatant puffery on my part, but you get the idea. Or, if you don't: I've seen a lot of horror movies. I could, of course, have said that in the first place and saved both of us a little time and effort and totally needless exasperation, but - again - I did not.


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