Sunday Nite Surreal: Queen of Blood (1966) She’s a monster!

QUEEN OF BLOOD (1966)

HIDEOUS BEYOND BELIEF… with an INHUMAN CRAVING!

Queen of Blood 1966 is one of the films made by AIP, at the time Roger Corman was working for them. They utilized a lot of Russian film footage mostly because of their superior big budget special effects (a soviet fable called Mechte Navstrechu from 1963) shooting the action scenes around the cannibalized footage finished the film in 8 days. Produced by George Edwards and directed & written by one of MY favorite filmmakers –the very original visionary Curtis Harrington, Queen of Blood possesses a dream like quality, partly due to atmosphere and colors set forth by Art Director Al Locatelli (Dementia 13 (1963), American Graffiti 1973, Star Wars IV 1977), Set Designer Leon Smith and Cinematographer Vilis Lapenieks

More Soviet footage appears in other American International’s movies, Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet and Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women.

(uncredited The Little Shop of Horrors 1960, Lapenieks worked on Harrington’s other dreamy fantasy/horror masterpiece Night Tide 1961, the underrated The Hideous Sun Demon 1958, Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet 1965, Deathwatch 1966, The Hellstrom Chronicles 1971, That Certain Summer 1972 tv movie, M*A*S*H 1972 tv series, Kojak 1974 tv series) With costume design by T. Glinkova.

Queen of Blood (1966) stars Dennis Hopper (working once again with Curtis Harrington having done Night Tide 1961)

The plot centers around 3 astronauts on the rescue mission–John Saxon as Allan Brenner, Dennis Hopper as Paul Grant, and Judi Meredith as Laura James. Included are Basil Rathbone as Dr. Farraday who heads an international space agency that receives the distress message from Mars, and a cameo by film historian, collector and founder of Famous Monsters of Filmland- Forrest J. Ackerman as Farraday’s assistant.

Queen Of Blood, aka: Planet Of Blood, USA 1966, Directed: Curtis Harrington, Starring: John Saxon, Basil Rathbone: Image Age Photostock

The year is 1900 and Earth has made contact with an Alien radio transmission. Saxon, Hopper and Meredith stumble onto a crashed spaceship on Mars that is inhabited by a mysterious sole survivor Velena (Florence Marly) who glows the most trippy verdant alien green and her hair, well– it is a marvelous killer bee bouffant

Do you remember this green gal from Lost In Space. She fell in love with Dr. Smith, but I’m pretty sure she didn’t lay jiggly red eggs and suck people’s blood!

They quickly discover that the hemophiliac Alien Queen as she is credited, crazes, no NEEDS blood to sustain herself, like a space vampire. Once upon the crew’s space ship, sets out to kill each of the members. Hopper, begins to feel attracted to the Alien Queen who has a strange and sexually deviant mesmerizing lure, eventually he realizes what she really is, “She’s a monster… We ought to destroy her right now!”

In the end Meredith is the one who manages to destroy her but cutting her and she winds up bleeding to death. Things of it is, she leaves behind an vampiric aerie of her eggs. which Dr Farraday decides like all inquiring scientific minds do putting the rest of us at risk, to take the Alien Queen’s spawn back to Earth to study. What he doesn’t realize is that she has already hidden hundreds of her eggs on board the ship. And though Allan keeps saying “We have to destroy them!” Rathbone is insistent on keeping those creepy pulsating red aspic eggs for research! Damn scientists!

Though the story may sound simplistic, Harrington brings his brand of atmospherics to each scene, injecting a sort of queer distorting sense of reality, and as Marly begins her blood feasting, the menace and the fantastical color palate permeates each frame like a nightmare set in space.

From Curtis Harrington’s book Nice Guys Don’t Work in Hollywood. He talks about the Soviet film Mechte Navstrechu in which he took footage by acquiring the American rights to the property, to work from in Queen of Blood. The Soviet version is about “the world’s natural fears of the nature of aliens…)… discovering at the end that the alien wants to be friends.”Harrington wanted to do the complete opposite of that with his film.

“I devised a tale in which the queen of the aliens–brought back to earth by a group of American astronauts –is a vampiric creature who seeks a new food source for her dying planet. The food source, as it turns out, is the human race. Some years later, it was very flattering to realize that I had created the prototype for a whole series of science-fiction movies dealing with monstrous creatures from outer space, beginning with Ridley Scott’s Alien.”

IMDb trivia –

The film was released in the United States in March 1966. Even before the release, its quality was sufficient for Universal to hire Harrington and producer George Edwards to make the feature film Games.

Director Curtis Harrington felt that Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) must have received some inspiration from his feature, saying “Ridley’s film is like a greatly enhanced, expensive and elaborate version of Queen of Blood”.

This was an ultra low budget production. The elaborate special effects were taken (uncredited) from two big budget Soviet productions, Mechte navstrechu (1963), and The Sky Calls (1959). The film is based on the screenplay for the earlier Soviet feature film Mechte Navstrechu (A Dream Come True).

John Saxon later claimed that Gene Corman had more to do with Queen of Blood than Roger. Saxon estimated that his scenes were shot in seven to eight days and that Dennis Hopper “was trying very hard to keep a straight face throughout” during the making of the film.

Czech actress Florence Marly was a personal friend of director Harrington. He later said that he had to fight with Roger Corman in order to hire her “because she was an older woman. Harrington would say, “I’m sure he had some bimbo in mind, you know? So I fought for Marly because I felt she had the required exotic quality that would work in the role.”Harrington also said Dennis Hopper “was like a part of my little team by then,” so he agreed to also appear.

Harrington had made his name with the feature Night Tide, which impressed Roger Corman enough to offer the director a film project. “Of course, I would like to do a more individual film than Queen of Blood”, said Harrington at the time, “but I can’t get the financing. However, the film is entertaining, and I feel I was able to say something within the context of the genre.”

Your EverLovin’ MonsterGirl sayin gaze into my eyes and tell me, do I look green to you?

Sunday Nite Surreal: Island of Lost Souls (1932) “Are we not men!?”

It begins where DR. JEKYLL & MR HYDE left off! A weird, fantastic adventure with a mad doctor who discovers how to turn animals into humans-but not how to control them! On a lonely tropical island he practices his black art! Changes wild beasts into creatures whose strangely human appearance and action hide raging animal passions! Something brand new in picture plots, with a specially selected cast, that will bring thrills to audiences and joy to exhibitors. Showmanship Plus!

HE DEFIED NATURE … creating men and women from animals … only to find that he could not control them!

Island of Lost Souls (1932)

Adapted from H.G.Wells 1895 novel The Island of Doctor Moreau, Island of Lost Souls was directed by Erle C. Kenton (The Ghost of Frankenstein 1942, House of Dracula 1945, The Cat Creeps 1946) Wells was not content with the film version of his story, though it’s a stunning adaptation of his novel. Karl Struss’ (Murnau’s Sunrise 1921,Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1931, The Sign of the Cross 1932, The Great Dictator 1940, Journey into Fear 1943, Rocketship X-M 1950, Limelight 1952, Kronos 1957 and yeah no laughing please… The Alligator People 1959) extraordinary cinematography constructs a perfectly smothering atmosphere though the story’s milieu is the openness of a savage jungle. With fantastical make-up effects by Wally Westmore (Sunset Boulevard 1950, The War of the Worlds 1953, Rear Window 1954, Lady in a Cage 1964, Village of the Giants 1965)

The first adaption of Well’s novel was filmed in France in 1913 called L’Ile d’Epouvante, then it was revisited in 1959 as Terror Is a Man starring Francis Lederer, and finally remade once again in 1977 starring Burt Lancaster as Dr. Moreau in The Island of Dr. Moreau, also starring Barbara Carrera as Lota and Richard Basehart as the Sayer of the Law. The 1977 version lacks the stifling ambiance that Erle C. Kenton’s film possessed.

Charles Laughton with his devilishly cherubic smile is perhaps at his most deliciously wicked as an evil scientist with a god complex the cruel, fiendish and merciless Dr. Moreau, who brandishes his bullwhip like Ilsa the Wicked Warden or me– eating chocolates when I go on a classic horror movie bender!

Dr. Moreau: Mr. Parker, do you know what it means to feel like God?

Moreau performs profane experiments, learning how to accelerate evolution by experimenting on animals turning them into hairy men-beasts by surgically grafting the organs, flesh and genes together. In order to keep his creations under his thumb, he cracks his aforesaid whip while gathering them together like a bestial congregation where they all chant the ‘laws’ set down by the Mephistophelean Moreau.

Dr. Moreau: What is the law? Sayer of the Law: Not to eat meat, that is the law. Are we not men? Beasts (in unison): Are we not men? Dr. Moreau: What is the law? Sayer of the Law: Not to go on all fours, that is the law. Are we not men? Beasts (in unison): Are we not men? Dr. Moreau: What is the law? Sayer of the Law: Not to spill blood, that is the law. Are we not men? Beasts (in unison): Are we not men?

Moreau has been banished to his faraway Island by the scientific community for his bizarre experimentation with plants. Island of Lost Souls is a Darwinian nightmarish journey -from The Monster Show by David J. Skal-“There is an evocative social metaphor here as well: the animals have been given the promise of progress and social elevation. They have dutifully played by their master’s incantatory ‘laws.’ And yet it has all been an ugly trick; their elevation is simultaneously a degradation, and a bloody revolt ensues.”

Also Skal’s book points out a really interesting fact about Laughton’s casting of Dr. Moreau-“already acclaimed for his 1928 stage portrayal of another mad vivisectionist in the Grand Guignolesque A Man with Red Hair at London’s Little Theatre. It was in that production that he learned to crack a bullwhip, a skill also required for Island of Lost Souls…)… Laughton hated the part, though it remains one of his most memorable, an epicene gentleman-monster in a white tropical suit.”

Laughton’s portrayal of Dr. Moreau as an effeminate mad scientist is also noted by David J. Hogan in his terrific book Dark Fromance-Sexuality in the Horror Film- “As filmed, the story is a particularly unpleasant Frankenstein variant, remarkable for it’s oppressive ambience and unrelieved sadism. Charles Laughton played Moreau, a plump, primly bearded genius whose fussy manner and ice cream suit suggest a eunuch, or a malevolent child.”

Bela Lugosi is wonderful as the ‘Sayer of the Law’“Are we not men?” through his hairy make-up he conveys a pathos and ambivalence that must be credited to his fine acting skills, beyond wearing a cape, hovering over nubile maidens and climbing cobwebbed stone steps.

Dr. Moreau: Have you forgotten the house of pain? Sayer of the Law: You! You made us in the house of pain! You made us… things! Not men! Not beasts! Part man… part beast! Things!

Drop dead gorgeous Richard Arlen plays Edward Parker who one his way to meet up with his fiancé Ruth Thomas (Leila Hyams) becomes shipwrecked on a remote Island when he interferes with the ships brutal Captain Davies (Stanley Fields) abusing one of the crew who is a hybrid man-dog M’ling (Tetsu Komai). Davies throws Parker overboard and Parker becomes Moreau’s unwelcome guest. Also on the island is Moreau’s reluctant assistant Dr. Montgomery played by Arthur Hohl who drinks himself numb on the road to redemption. Parker is surrounded by Moreau’s strange ‘Manimals’ servants and laborers who resemble monkey’s, bears, pigs and dogs.

Paramount conducted a nationwide search for the beauty who would play Lota The Panther Woman, which garnered a lot of publicity for the prerelease of the film. They chose a winner from each state, the prize being crowned the Panther Woman of America and the extra benefit of Charles Laughton getting to turn her into a beast!

Paramount’s objectification of Kathleen Burk and Dr. Moreau’s objectification of Lota The Panther Woman… either way she was transformed into a desirable piece of meat!

Island of Lost Souls possesses a perverse eroticism as Moreau’ cold scientific intellectualism seeing neither the animals nor men nor beast-men as anything more than ‘subjects’ of his experimentation into genetic freakery, in particular his most gratifying creation of The Panther Woman Lota, played by Kathleen Burke. Parker is drawn to Lota “You’re a strange child” but he is repulsed when he discovers her panther like claws.

 

Unfortunately not not only does Lota begin to revert back into her feral origins- Moreau exclaims- “It’s the stubborn beast flesh, creeping back! I may as well quit. Day by day it creeps back!” –But she is as smitten as a kitten with Edward Parker. And while Moreau’s curiosity pushes him to see what would happen if he mates the lusting Lota with pure speciman of an exquisite man, Edward, his jealousy can not be subverted by his systematic spirit of inquiry. Laughton conveys even through his enigmatic silences, this ambivalence as he sweats and broods about the compound watching like a voyeur their every move. Dr. Moreau: “Did you see that, Montgomery? She was tender like a woman. Oh, how that little scene spurs the scientific imagination onward.” and watching while Lota and Parker sit close together her raw sexuality spilling over into the shadows, Moreau whispers, ” I wonder how nearly perfect a woman Lota is. It is possible that I may find out with Parker.”

Ruth (Leila Hyams) and Captain Donahue (Paul Hurst) track Edward down on the island and also become prisoners of Dr. Moreau’s tropical nightmare. Eventually she is chased around the island by Ouran, the man-ape played by Hans Steinke.

Not only is Island of Lost Souls inflammatory with its deviance put forward by the idea of bestiality and the sexual attraction between Parker and Lota as The Panther Woman, one of the most provocative aspects of Island of Lost Souls is it’s dealings with the vicious desecration of the body when Moreau explores his scientific delights in “The House of Pain” the operating theatre where he performs vivisectionist orgies on these poor beasts, their screams remain in my head as something I cannot un-hear or un-see. When the ‘natives’ realize that Moreau has himself broken these laws by killing Donahue (Paul Hurst) who tries to rescue Edward Parker–their prime rule not to kill or spill blood, in the epic fatalistic climax they drag him off to his own ‘House of Pain’.

from The Overlook Film Encyclopedia-Horror: edited by Phil Hardy-“Interestingly, though, Island of Lost Souls anticipates King Kong (1933) in its embodiment of the underground spirit of revolt, a spirit extremely timely in its appeal to victims of the Depression years, who not only resented their material deprivations but were all too willing to blame a system which appeared to thrive on an arbitrary suspension of the individuals’s inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. The delirious final revolt here, with the master dragged away to the ‘house of pain’ in which he created his subservient brutes, echoes the wilder excesses of the French Revolution…)…Presumably because of its vivisectionist aspects, the film was banned in Britain until 1958. Lost somewhere among the beast-men are Randolph Scott and Alan Ladd. Also appearing as one of the ensemble of beast-men-billed as a furry Manimal is Schlitze from Tod Browning’s Freaks 1932.

From David J. Hogan-“The atmosphere of the island is heavy and foreboding. Vegetation is obscene in its lushness and fertility. Humidity hangs like a curtain. It is in this unforgiving milieu that Moreau, the loveless father, passes his undesirable traits on to his children, and ultimately suffers for it. The manimals are merely extensions of Moreau’s own unchecked cruelty.”

Your EverLovin’ MonsterGirl saying “they’re restless tonight” and so am I-hope I won’t see any of ya in the house of pain- Yikes…!!! Are we not film lovers!

Sunday Nite Surreal: Night Monster (1942)

NIGHT MONSTER (1942)

What kind of a thing is it?

Directed by Ford Beebe with a screenplay by Clarence Upson Young, with moody frames by cinematographer Charles Van Enger (Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein 1948, Bride of the Gorilla 1951) Set Design by (using sets from The Wolfman 1941 & The Ghost of Frankenstein 1942) Russell A. Gausman (Shadow of a Doubt 1943, Phantom of the Opera 1943, Touch of Evil 1958) and Gowns by Vera West.

Night Monster features Bela Lugosi in a lesser role as the butler Rolf, Lionel Atwill as Dr. King, Lief Erickson as Laurie the lecherous chauffeur, Irene Hervey as Dr. Lynn Harper, Ralph Morgan as Kurt Ingston, Don Porter as Dick Baldwin, Nils Asther as Agor Singh, Doris Lloyd as Sarah Judd, Frank Reicher as Dr. Timmons, Robert Homans as Constable Cap Beggs, Fay Helm as Margaret Ingston “How many of us are sane? You wouldn’t know, but I shall soon.” Cyril Delevanti as Torque and Janet Shaw as Milly the maid.

Janet Shaw as the waitress Louise Finch who works at the Till Two bar in Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt 1943.

Universal billed Night Monster 1942 as a companion piece to The Mummy’s Tomb. starring Lon Chaney Jr.

Ralph Morgan plays a wealthy recluse Kurt Ingston who is bound to his wheel chair never to walk again. Ingston invites to his ominous Ingston Towers, the very group of doctors who left him hopelessly paralyzed with both his legs amputated (there will be a more stunning revelation later on). There, they are assembled at his secluded estate, shrouded in a menacing fog, to witness a miraculous healing session performed by an enigmatic Swami Agor Singh (Nils Asther) who can teach “a method by which man can grow new tissues at will.” 

The sinister housekeeper played by wonderful character actress Doris Lloyd and psychiatrist played by Irene Hervey.

As Dr. Lynn Harper – “My study of the mind has convinced me how little we know of its powers.”

Agor Singh-“A little knowledge of the occult is dangerous. Unless it’s used for good, disaster will follow its wake. That is Cosmic Law!”

Margaret Ingston –“Blood… the whole house reeks of it. The air is charged with death and hatred and something that’s unclean”

Dick Baldwin-“How is that the blood didn’t dematerialize with the rest?”

Agor Singh-“There are certain details in the process that we are not allowed to explain to the uninitiated.”

Lief Erickson plays the skirt chasing chauffeur and Irene Hervey is a psychiatrist called in to tend to the unstable Margaret Ingston played by Fay Helm!

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The Swami played by Nils Asther and Bela Lugosi though receiving top billing only plays a bit part as the disagreeable butler Rolf.

Soon, one by one, the doctors turn up dead along with several meddling servants who know more than they should.

There begins the mysterious sightings of an eerie prowler who roams the fog drenched grounds of the estate. Also a guest at Ingston Towers is Irene Hervey playing the beautiful psychiatrist Dr. Lynn Harper who comes to see Langston’s unstable daughter Margaret, and mystery writer Dick Baldwin (Don Porter) who tries to solve the mystery of the murders.

Night Monster acts as an Old Dark House suspense-supernatural classical horror film that possesses an eerie otherworldly atmosphere while not filled with truly shocking moments, most of which happens within the mansion, Beebe has an instinctive touch at creating the air of peril and inducing some real palpable shudders. One of the more potent examples of this is when the terrified maid Milly Carson played by Janet Shaw is racing through the menacing fog soaked night, pursued by an unseen attacker, off screen we hear her violent screams followed by the night sounds of crickets and swamp frogs. The differentiation between the dead stillness and the nocturnal symphony that resumes is quite effective. Also a creepy touch is the skeleton that bleeds…

 

Sunday Nite Surreal: The Sentinel (1977) Even in Hell, Friendships often Blossom into Bliss!

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“THERE MUST FOREVER BE A GUARDIAN AT THE GATE FROM HELL…”

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THE SENTINEL 1977

I’ve written enough here at The Last Drive-In, to sort of feel more relaxed about letting it rip sometimes. I’m hoping you’ll indulge me a bit while I go off on a tiny rant… I hope that’s alright…

Michael Winner’s film was a failure at the box office. So what!

You will have undoubtedly read 9 out of 10 reviewers who will make too convenient a statement about The Sentinel being a Rosemary’s Baby rip off. In terms of how I experience this film there’s more too it than just a pat dismissal and a flip accusation of being derivative. I had first read Jeffrey Konvitz’s book when it was published in 1974, and then went to the movies to see his adapted screenplay The Sentinel during it’s theatrical release– I was a  ripe 15 year old who was captivated by the grotesque and eerie imagery. I also saw Rosemary’s Baby in 1968 as a double feature with The Mephisto Waltz 1971.

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Perhaps there is a conscious connection or homage made by director Winner between the devilish residents of the infamous Bramford Arms with it’s history of murderers and deviants –the facade filmed of New York Cities Dakota with birds eye view of Central Park as Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse move into their house of Hades in Rosemary’s Baby 1968, perhaps my favorite film.

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Alison Parker (Christina Raines) does come in contact with a similar Gothic building filled with oddball characters who wind up being the ghosts of murderers who once lived in the impressive Brownstone. I imagine the gateway to Hell would attract an evil ensemble of nasties. And to counterbalance Alison as the women-in-peril who must fight off the paranoia and heady mind games are the devil and his minions who toy with Alison in order to drive her mad enough to once again try commit suicide. Rosemary Woodhouse has a perseverance to keep her devils at bay and hold onto her precious baby even if he was to carry on his father’s legacy. Either way, it’s both buildings filled with eccentrics and the fog of paranoia that tie the two films together for me, but that’s where it ends.

As an amateur film buff and classic horror film aficionado I think I have some authority when weighing in on whether director Michael Winner’s The Sentinel is just derivative dreck and/or dribble.

And I discovered that it’s not just the average chimer-in nudnik on IMBd who feel the need to review this film in such a simplistic way that making the comparison to Rosemary’s Baby feels like just a cop out to me.

It is even referred to as such in writer John Kenneth Muir’s entirely comprehensive book Horror Films of the 1970s– citing two film reviews during the time of The Sentinel’s theatrical release…

Look, as far back as it’s theatrical release and the critique was, to lump all ‘devil’ in the city, good vs. evil tropes with the 1968 seminal film by director Roman Polanski based on Ira Levin’s novel Rosemary’s Baby.

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“…a crude and obvious imitation of Rosemary’s Baby, but much creepier and more bizarre. The unnerving ending obliterates the memory of the rest of the film… makes good use of several past-their prime actors in small roles but attempts at psychological insight, subtlety or believability fall flat (it’s a horror story not a autobiographical story of Aimee Semple McPherson for crying out loudbelievability.) The great special effects at the end justify the film’s faults however.” Darrell Moore. The Best, Worst and Most Unusual: Horror films, Crowne publishing 1983.

I say to that, we leave believability outside our un-conscious abject fear chamber that is our most hidden dread drenched mind when partaking in a little collective anxiety ridden purge, right Dr. Jung?

And if critic Darrell Moore is talking about Ava Gardner–a gorgeous 55 year old woman is NOT past her prime, I hate when sexism and agism rears it’s ugly head!, I’m heading toward the number, which continually amazes people, I read these kinds of misdirected comments all the time, some critic or person saying ‘she’ looks so good for her age-40ish!, does that imply that  Ava and I should be embalmed already? Geesh, but in the words of Sophia Petrillo, I digress…

February 12, 1977 from The New York Times written by Richard Eder—“The confrontations are supposed to be terrifying but the most they offer is some mild creepiness… Mr. Winner has sweetened the mess with some nudity, a little masturbation and a dash of lesbianism.”

Interesting that the one bit of titillation Richard Eder manages to pluck out is the lesbianism. In fact that seems to be of most interest to many reviewers. Well, it’s 2016 and if a lesbian pops up in a film, it’s now about as outmoded and the shock obsolete as the landline and mullets… well I have seen people still sporting mullets.

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And I’d like to say there’s more than just mild creepiness, there are absolute moments of mind jolting terror. The exquisite color palette and the eye for detail that supports the sense of mystery such as the fabulous Houdini poster in Michael’s apartment -a center piece in plain sight that one might miss though it is there to instruct us on our journey through the dark maze of the storyline

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If anything, the film lies closer in relationship to Roman Polanski’s The Tenant (1976) where another protagonist Trelkovsky portrayed by Polanski himself, is being mentally tortured by a group of people (Shelley Winters, Lila Kedrova and Jo Van Fleet) in his building that may or may not exist ultimately driving him to attempt suicide. The fact that our heroine Alison is driven to madness and suicide by her seemingly harmless yet strange and quirky neighbors, that are actually, unholy denizens of hell definitely evokes comparisons in my mind with Roman Polanski’s equally disturbing THE TENANT (1976).

The fact that the main protagonist is driven to madness and suicide by her seemingly harmless but, actually, unholy tenants brings forth comparisons with Roman Polanski’s equally unappetizing in THE TENANT (1976)

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I’d even go as far as to compare director Michael Winner and writer Jeffrey Konvitz’s film has something of a Alejandro Jodorowsky flavor to it, with the grotesque imagery and surreal processional. Or might have influenced the very hallucinatory Jacob’s Ladder (1990) that deals with a soul’s nightmarish journey through unfathomable realms of consciousness that conjures demons and angels alike.

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With The Sentinel some people are fascinated, some are repulsed and some just think The Sentinel is truly a retread of Polanski/Castle’s superior masterpiece.

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Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre (1989)

First off, my impression of classical 70s horror is that it’s hard for that decade to be derivative when it started an entire trend of moody, pseudo-violent social commentary’s that had a limitless freedom to go down an adventurous road. If 70s horror took its cue from older decades and genres, perhaps a nod to Tod Browning, Val Lewton, French New Wave cinema and the surrealists like Jean Renoir and René Clément, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Federico Fellini. But please arm chair critics that spend time comparing a 70s horror gem to a a film without the constructive reasons to support it, or to even hold it up against a contemporary film by saying it lacks a good body count and special effects, I hope I don’t offend thee, but –please!!! You’re out of your element– stick with Saw and films like The Conjuring by James Wan… You don’t understand the 70s decade of horror and it’s unique contribution. Sorry to be so snotty here…

The Exorcist

Now it’s even been compared to The Omen (1976) and The Exorcist (1973) as well. I suppose where ever the devil lurks, it’s automatically a Rosemary’s Baby, Exorcist, Omen rip-off. Well… the element of paranoia exists in the film as Alison Parker goes through a nightmarish journey through a maze of surreal events, while she devolves toward her ultimate fate. There are elements of minions from Hell that lurk and groups of diabolical characters that come in and out of Alison’s orbit. And like The Omen and The Exorcist, the film does open up in Italy with a sense of ancient religious underpinnings hinting at the inner workings of the church. It then brings us to a church in New York City where Monsignor Franchino and a colorful group of acolytes convene in a ceremony, with a quick cut to Alison posing in a post-modern sheer black flowing cape as if moving Martha Graham style, a dark looming allegorical winged bird or augury swathed in black like the angel of death.

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The juxtaposition of the old and the modern is a nice touch. BUT… that’s where the comparison ends. The film has it’s own unique story. It has been blamed for being too simplistic a story. Okay fine. Perhaps, too many mainstream contemporary narratives have gotten so convoluted and disorienting that a simple plot is not enough. Then again, there’s the complaint that it’s predictable. Well, then don’t watch it, if the journey isn’t worth the end result. Plot holes is another gripe– Well, perhaps during that simplistic story, they weren’t paying attention. The film explains as much as it can, within the visual narrative. And that’s enough…

The Sentinel is perhaps one of the most engrossing, nightmarish, surreal a horror film as any of the 1970s… with it’s origin based on the story of the Garden of Eden and the angel Uriel who was entrusted to guard the entrance from the Devil. Alison Parker (Christina Raines) has been chosen by providence and by lot for her past transgressions, her two suicide attempts–now to be groomed by the secret order of the Catholic church to redeem her damned soul, taking the place of the blind priest Father Halliran and become the new Sentinel, Sister Theresa to guard over the gates of Hell in– Brooklyn Heights.

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Dante Alighieri wrote his allegorical epic poem between 1306 and 1321. Virgil is the guide who takes the reader through the author’s examination of the afterlife, which travels through the Inferno (Hell), the Purgatorio (Purgatory), and the Paradiso (Heaven).-source wikipedia

The Sentinel 1977 is another extraordinary occult film whose ambiance benefits from being shot on location in Brooklyn Heights and Manhattan. 10 Montague Terrace in Brooklyn Heights with the Promenade off Remsen Street. The building is still there…

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As writer Jack Hunter describes in his chapter Flesh Inferno from Inside Teradome: The Illustrated History of Freak Film he talked about Federico Fellini’s Sartyicon 1969 and immediately The Sentinel floods into my mind- 
—“His vision of Petronius’ ancient Rome, Fellini willfully fills the screen with a succession of grotesqueries, images both beautiful and bestial, ghastly and gorgeous.”

Aesthetically, the scattered surrealism works, because it supports the religious mythology and dark fantasy of the oddball characters and the story. The moody camerawork by Richard C. Kratina and sense of realism within the disorienting story offered by set design Ed Stewart works to create a surreal atmosphere of anxiety and ambivalence. No one will believe that she isn’t just having another emotional crisis.  The building reveals its dark origins, the entire film is decorated with dread and kitschy late-seventies embellishments filled with hallucinogenic moments of abject agony (a la Alejandro Jodorowsky and Federico Fellini Satyricon 1969, Juliet of the Spirits 1965) soul tormenting— ominous and sinister visions and flashbacks, profanity, debauchery, cannibilistic malevolent Milton’s Inferno and Dante’s Divine Comedy as archetype and the ‘fallen woman’ as fetish.

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Dante’s Inferno is a weary journey emblazoned with fire and perdition… a landscape occupied by devil’s, lost souls and shades.

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Divine Comedy opening verse—the plaque in the basement of the brownstone that Michael uncovers reads as follows

THROUGH ME YOU GO INTO THE CITY OF GRIEF. THROUGH ME YOU GO INTO THE PAIN THAT IS ETERNAL. THROUGH ME YOU GO AMONG PEOPLE LOST… ABANDON HOPE, ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE.

Now the hint that the brownstone is the gateway to Hell and she has been chosen as the next sentinel to guard over it, as a way of redemption for her past suicide attempt cutting her wrists in a graphically bloody scene while she’s wearing her Catholic girl short plaid skirt white blouse and penny loafers, Mary Janes or black and white saddle shoes. is chosen by a secretive and distant association of Catholic priests to be the next “sentinel” to the gateway to Hell, the idea of blinding these Sentinels is to prevent their eyes to fall upon evil horrors that might induce fear and influence them away from their guardianship. All sentinels had tried to kill themselves, now priests or nuns in the files. They didn’t exist until after their attempted suicides showing up as clergy. Raines’ father is a gnarled, bony old man and he is shown so scrawny as to be suffering from pernicious anemia and putrid bile, his cadaveric screeching mannerisms like a vicious desiccated old buzzard.

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Both the operatives of good and the minions of evil, work to try and get her to either take up the mantle of guardian or try to kill herself and become another soul won over by the devil, thwarting the secretive group of the secret sect of the Vatican to protect the gates of Hell from re-opening, watching over her to keep her from being terrorized into another suicide attempt.

Writer Jeffrey Konvitz Produced and wrote the screenplay for the film Directed by Michael Winner (The Nightcomers 1971, The Mechanic 1972, Death Wish 1974) the film was scripted by Jeffrey Konvitz (Silent Night, Bloody Night 1972—-The Stone Killer (1973)) based on his 1974 novel which the film does an excellent job of paying tribute to. The story unfolds beautifully with twists and turns and an extremely creepy and campy bizarre ambience.

Composer Gil Melle created the resplendent orchestral vibe, majestic horn section,haunting woodwinds and resonant strings that cry out. Les Lazarowitz is credited as the sound recordist who creates a sonic landscape of terrifying wails, metallic splashes and waves of dark moody textures.

And Richard C. Kratina (camera work on Midnight Cowboy 1969) worked on the interesting camera angles and cinematography. Costumes and wardrobe by Peggy Farrell, Set Design –Ed Stewart. Film editors Bernard Gibble (The Man in the White Suit 1951) and Terence Rawlings (Our Mother’s House 1967, The Devils 1971, The Great Gatsby 1974, Alien 1979)

Someone on IMBd pointed out that Michael Winner’s audio commentary for the UK DVD spotlights the director regaling you with the tale of how Universal head honcho Ned Tanen rejected Martin Sheen and insisted on Chris Sarandon for the lead only to wonder who was “that awful Greek waiter.”

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Director Michael Winner, Chris Sarandon and Christina Raines on the set of The Sentinel 1977 image courtesy of Horrorpedia.

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Director Michael Winner caught a lot of flack when it was realized that he had used actual disfigured people who were born with physical disabilities instead of special effects to represent the demons rising up from the bowels of hell. Something that Tod Browning experienced when he released his film Freaks in 1932. Or consider director Erle C. Kenton’s characters adapted from the H.G. Wells story of Island of Lost Souls (1932). Why Tod Browning’s film Freaks was banned for over 30 years, when in retrospect Browning portrayed his ‘freaks’ as sympathetic heroes that we not only saw as very human but empathized with, the accusation that the film was exploitative seems unwarranted.

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Dick Smith did the make up which interspersed the real life ‘freaks’ with the make up costumed damned souls from hell. There’s a man who has testicles for a beard, I’d like to know if he was that way real life or created to as one of the denizens to shock. One of the sideshow ‘devils’ also appeared in the Thomas Tryon adapted film directed by Robert Mulligan —the incredibly atmospheric The Other (1972)

With special make up designed by legendary Dick Smith who also worked on The Exorcist 1973 and music by Gil Melle special effects by Albert Whitlock (The Birds 1963, Earthquake 1974, a few episodes of Star Trek, The Thing 1982, a few episodes of Star Trek) additional Make up by-Robert Laden —although people with real facial deformities were also utilized… -a whole crowd of real-life freaks and disabled extras as the denizens of hell.  real-life freaks (some of whom are said to have also featured in Jack Cardiff’s THE MUTATIONS [1974].

Without giving away a few secrets, I can say that the climax is riveting as the devils and damned start to pour out of Hell, unleashed by Chazen at their side.

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As John Kenneth Muir aptly puts it, about the controversial use of real life people with actual deformities to plays Hellish monstrosities “it is no doubt the strongest in the film, “The idea of physical deformity (i.e.”evil”) is one of The Sentinel’s more powerful conceits.”

The Sentinel is one of the most definitive horror films of the 1970s decade. The cast of characters, and the story-line, the imagery and the intensity play out like a grim yet colorful nightmare, without shock value for the sake of just being graphically violent.  I do have a bit of an uncomfortable time watching a certain scene with Beverly D’Angelo as Sandra who performs a sexual act on herself while Sylvia Miles goes to get the tea, in order to shock and upset Alison. I wish the scene had been more suggested and toned down, it still would have served its purpose. I understand that the idea was to be vulgar and offensive in order to express how profane these characters were to develop but it makes my skin crawl to watch it, as it’s only moments it seems to last forever until the look of ecstasy and climax washes over the beautiful actresses face. This is an extremely awkward moment for Alison and a very unusual welcome to the building to watch the couple fondle each other in their leotards and wild teased out coiffed hair.

Charles Chazen matter of fact tells Alison as he points with his own flamboyant style “This is where the lesbians live,” and exchanges like Alison asking Gerde “What do you do for a living?” She answers “We fondle each other.”

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I suppose in 1977 even the allusion to the idea that lured and sexually explosive lesbians existed on screen was in itself a titillating and provocative notion, today the use of them as a ‘fetish taboo symbol” has lost its luster to shock and tantalize..

Christina Raines plays a young model with an afflicted soul –Alison Parker. Her boyfriend is portrayed by Chris Sarandon as the smarmy mustachioed sketchy Lawyer who was marvelous as Leon -Sonny (Al Pachino’s) lover who wants a sex change so bad, Sonny’s willing to rob a bank for the money–it’s a true story also set in NYC of course I’m talking director Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975). Sarandon apparently was not happy with the film post production.

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Then there’s José Ferrer as a “Priest of the Brotherhood” Arthur Kennedy as Monseigneur Franchino , the magnificent Ava Gardner in a short cameo is sophisticated and outré Vogue as Realtor Miss Logan who I believe to be literally an ‘outside’ agent in the true sense of the word, working for the secret Catholic society trying to strategically ensure that Alison will be in place and ready to take over as the Sentinel because on the appointed date Father Halliran (John Carradine) who is now fading psychically too weak to uphold his task as Guardian over the Gates of Hell will need a successor. John Carradine looks decrepit and spooky with his fixed gaze and staring off white eyeballs, and although he has a distinctive voice we all love, he has no dialogue in the film which works.

Burgess Meredith  -Ebullient, mischievous  and intellectually charming, a little impish, a dash of irresolute cynicism wavering between lyrical sentimentalism. He’s got this way of reaching in and grabbing the thinking person’s heart by the head and spinning it around in dazzling circles with his marvelously characteristic voice. A mellifluous tone which was used often to narrate throughout his career. Meredith has a solicitous tone and whimsical, mirthful manner.

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And his puckish demeanor hasn’t been missed considering he’s actually played Old Nick at least three times as I have counted. In The Sentinel 1977, The Twilight Zone episode Printers Devil and Torture Garden 1967. He also played a malevolent character along side Eileen Heckert as Arnold and Roz Allardyce in Dan Curtis’ equally creepy Burnt Offerings (1976).

While in Freddie Francis’ production he is the more carnivalesque Dr. Diabolo–a facsimile of the devil given the severely theatrical make-up, goatee and surrounding flames… he is far more menacing in Michael Winner’s 70s non humorous gem he’s splendid as the spiffy little eccentric cultivated Charles Chazen.

Veteran supportive actor Martin Balsam the scatterbrained scholar, Professor Ruzinsky, who translates the Latin passages into English for Michael Lerman, Beverly D’Angelo plays Gerde’s girlfriend Sandra a mute pixie, the guttural Sylvia Miles (Murder Inc 1960, Naked City 1961-1963, Midnight Cowboy 1969) plays Gerde the guttural pythoness who adds that bit of titillation everyone seems to like to point out, as they are vulgarian Lesbian ballerinas lazing in their leotards.

And of course the uncomfortable scene where Beverly D’Angelo delightedly pleasures herself in front of Alison while Gerde is getting the tea. When she comes back with the tray and finds Alison getting up to scram -Gerde replies like a Diva “It’s very rude to drink and run” I particularly loved this description of the classic actress- “featuring predatory Teutonic lesbian Sylvia Miles.” I just adore both actresses!

Fred Stuthman who has appeared on more television and theatrical features than you can imagine plays Alison’s horrible, skeletal, degenerate father and an even more repulsive looking damned soul, blueish toned, white eyeballed phantasmagorical corpse.

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Eli Wallach plays the sarcastic cynical New York City homicide Detective Gatz who has believed in the guilt of Michael Lerman (Chris Sarandon) who has some secrets and sins in his life meaning he might have killed his first wife. Jerry Orbach plays a director of commercials Alison is working on. Jeff Goldblum plays Jack a fashion photographer.Tom Berenger, the wonderful William Hickey plays the a professional safe cracker Perry that Michael (knowing his share of shady characters and criminals as he’s a defense lawyer) hires to break into the church and grab the files on Father Halliran , and Christopher Walken as Rizzo, Detective Gatz’s partner, who utters this telling line “She went to a party with eight dead murderers” and Deborah Raffin plays Alison’s best friend Jennifer. Hank Garrett plays Brenner the private investigator Michael hires to dig into the back story about Father Halliran and the involvement with the Catholic church.

Kate Harrington plays Mrs. Clark who was at Jezabel’s birthday party and appears in the mug shot that Gatz and Rizzo look at. She murdered her boyfriend violently. Then there’s the Clotkin sisters, Lillian and Emma played by Jane Hoffman and Elaine Shore murderous cannibals and hedonists. All the neighbors become menacing, and nothing is as it appears on the surface. The decorated apartments, wind up being revealed as vacant shells in disrepair.

Christina Raines (The Duelist 1977, Nashville 1975) plays an afflicted soul–Alison Parker a high fashion model in New York City who also does shampoo commercials, who lives with but can’t make a commitment to her boyfriend lawyer Michael Lerman (Chris Sarandon) She craves her independents and holds Michael’s proposal’s of marriage at bay. Soon after an argument with Michael about moving out on her own Alison gets word that her father has passed away at her family home in Baltimore, which triggers memories of her childhood trauma, leading to her first suicide attempt. After the funeral she returns to the city and finds an advertisement for a lovely Brownstone in Brooklyn Heights.

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So goes to meet with the chic Realtor Miss Logan (the voluptuous Ava Gardner) unaware that she is being followed by a priest. She finds that the apartment is unbelievably reasonable for a New York rental which is owned by the Catholic church —She agrees to take the place from Miss Logan who obviously wants Alison to move in, dropping it’s price from $500 to $400 as if Alison heard it wrong the first time she complained that it was out of her price range — “I can’t afford $500.” Alison says, with which Miss Logan misses no time in saying  ”$400 is not excessive.”

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… The beautiful layout is in Brooklyn Heights right across the water from Manhattan, decorated with gorgeous Gothic furniture, high ceilings and ivy growing up the sides of the building and a blind priest Father Francis Matthew Halliran (John Carradine), who just sits and appears to be looking out the window on the top floor. Although the Brownstone was a steal, and furnished as well, somehow it managed to be lensed by Dick Kratina with a sense of eerie and dangerous foreboding.

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Alison’s response to learning that occupant of the top floor is Father Halliran a blind priest “Blind? Then what does he look at?”

Once she moves in, she starts to meet very odd and mysterious tenants who begin to give her the pip and the whim whams. First she meets the droll little character in 4B Charles Chazen…

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Alison’s sense of independence starts to deteriorate after a series of disturbing events. Charles Chazen (Burgess Meredith — or the little dapper ‘devil’) is played to the hilt by wonderful character actor Burgess Meredith who runs rampant with his nifty asides and axioms, who has a sovereign reign over his legion of “devils.”

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The door bell rings. The animated little puck like old man, which a yellow parakeet on his shoulder and tuxedo cat in his arms flashes his delightful smile at Alison…

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“Chazen is the name Charles Chazen. I’m your neighbor in 4B and this is Mortimer. Um he’s from Brazil. And this on the other hand so to speak… this is Jezebel. Say hello to that nice lady Jezebel. (Meowww) That’s it darling. She’s got indigestion.”  Alison introduces herself, “Well hi I’m Alison.” Charles Chazen-“Really, may we uh, (he enters her apartment) oh! what a lovely apartment. Absolutely lovely.” Alison-“I was wondering when I was going to meet my new neighbors.” Charles Chazin-“My, you’re so pretty. Haven’t I seen you before, on television? Now don’t tell me I know you’re in a ” Alison answers – “I’ve done some tv commercials.” Charles Chazen responds unenthusiastic–  “Oh… really, I thought you were an actress…[…] Oh my dear your taste is impeccable. I wish you’d help me redecorate my poor place someday would you, hum?…Were you waiting to go out?” Alison- “I’m waiting for a friend.” Charles Chazen-“Ahh well, friendships often blossom into bliss as they say, and speaking of bliss Mortimer loves his belly rubbed would you..” Alison-“Do you know any of our neighbors”  Charles Chazen-“Yes I know all of our neighbors and they’re very nice, except that priest who lives above me, he’s a… (waving his hands dismissively) well however he’s quiet most of the time.”

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Charles Chazen leaves a picture in a gold frame on her fireplace mantle, leaving with her some mirthful advice, “remember you eat and drink in moderation my dear.”

Alison also meets the lesbians Gerde and Sandra…

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As soon as she moves into the building her sleep is disturbed by loud footsteps and clanging sounds that make the chandelier swing back and forth. Alison meets the Realtor to find out more about the neighbors in her building, in particular the person occupying the floor above her, as their heavy footsteps and loud banging kept her up all night.

Alison goes to inquire about the tenants and the person who occupies the apartment above her telling Miss Logan about the noises that kept her up all night. Logan is shocked to hear about this as the only tenants in the building are supposed to be Alison and the blind priest, the only tenants who have inhabited the building for years. Alison is disturbed by this news and returns home to find that Mr.Chazen’s apartment is truly vacant and the dust tells the story that it’s been sorely neglected by time.

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“My dear Miss Parker aside from the priest and now of course you, nobody has lived in that building for three years.”

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Miss Logan and Alison take a cab back after having the conversation in the cafe about being kept up all night by someone making so much of a ruckus on the floor above her. Monsignor Franchino stands behind the blind priest his hand grasping a cobweb covered statue baring an insignia ring belonging to their secret sect, he tells Father Hilliran “I am here holy father I have come so that you may shed your burden in peace.” and Alison takes Miss Logan through the apartment building, showing her vacant furnished rooms that looked cob webbed and dust covered as if it has been neglected for years. Alison informs Miss Logan –“This is where the lesbians live.”- Miss Logan hands Alison the keys dropping them into her hands with a gesture of skepticism before she opens the door.- Miss Logan handing Alison the keys- “Be my guest.”

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the continual shot of the stairs leading upward seem symbolic of spiritual ascension and the death journey of the soul as in the story of Jacobs Ladder.

As Alison and Miss Logan begin to walk around the room she tells her that the furniture was different in there before. “Oh come now Miss Parker these pieces have not been touched in years.” Miss insists that she has to get back to the office, but Alison takes her to 4B where Charles Chazin lives, staring out the window she sings to herself, “Happy Birthday dear Jezebel… believe it or not, I attended a birthday party here last night… for a cat.” Miss Logan smiles with a superior air  “Sorry I missed it.”

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Then Alison urges Miss Logan to let her into Father Halliran’s apartment as she wants to see the old priest, but she tells Alison that it would be highly improper. The priest is taken care of by The Diocesen Council of New York sees to his needs. Monsignor Franchino breathing a sigh of relief that Miss Logan hasn’t let Alison into the priests apartment.

We then see Alison on a commercial shoot where she has her first fainting spell, begins to suffer from severe migraines, begins looking pale as death.

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Charles Chazen throws as sort of a welcoming party for Alison and introduces her to the rest of the odd tenants in the odd old building.

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He invites Alison to the birthday party he is throwing for his black and white cat Jezebel, before he takes her inside to meet the guests, he blindfolds her with a red scarf. Jezebel is a perfectly delicious name for a devil’s cat. “Black and White cat… black and white cake…” -quoted by the murderess Mrs. Clark -Jezebel the tuxedo cat wears a pointed birthday hat with streamers at the top, very slick element to the quirkiness of the ghostly damned tenants.

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Later on that night Alison hears more clamorous noises from the floor above her apartment which is supposed to be vacant. Alison starts to experience weird happenings in the apartment as well as her health starts to deteriorate as she begins getting striking headaches, looking paler, anemic and practically deathly.

Michael is becoming concerned for Alison’s safety and hires a private investigator James Brenner (Hank Garrett) to keep an eye on her.

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We experience her past by way of flashback. Alison has a history of emotional distress, two suicide attempts, once as a teenager, after she saw her father’s sexual antics— a bacchanalian orgy— explicit menage a trios scene with assumed ladies of ill repute and then some time after Michael’s wife apparently committed suicide though detective Gatz (Eli Wallach) has been daunting him since it happened, believing Michael had something to do with her untimely death and it might turn out to be murder!

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Alison’s strained relationship with her creepy philandering father who used to bring prostitutes home to the house and gallivant around the house with them, when Alison comes home from catholic school and finds them cavorting with cake and wine… In a protest to her religious schooling Alison’s father rips her silver crucifix from her neck and tosses it on the floor. She quickly runs to the bathroom and slices her wrists.

Since her past childhood trauma, her connection with religion and failed suicide attempts, she leaves her faith and the Catholic church behind.

Alison chases phantoms all through the building like Alice in Wonderland. It is more than mildly creepy as written, it is all out frightening as hell, and still is…

That night begins the first of horrifying visions that assault Alison’s world. Visions of her decrepit father who lurks and lunges in the shadows. Armed with a butcher knife and a flashlight she decides to go investigate the vacant apartment above her. When she sees him!

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She is suddenly smack in the middle of a nightmarish sequence as she encounters the specter of her father, a ghoulish corpse, lensed with quick cuts to project an eerie type of movement by the phantom who spurts from behind the bedroom door of the apartment upstairs first hidden in shadow then walking quickly without an awareness of her presence at first, then he appears to come after her prompting her to slash at him with her knife, the blood sputtering out of the bluish corpse.

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Slashing at her father’s ghost, she runs screaming out into the night blood splashed across her white slip, as people gather around her. Detective Gatz questions Michael the next day. Michael puffs on his Italian cigarette, “This isn’t police business” Detective Gatz “A girl running through the street at 4am saying she’s knifed her father, blood on her, that’s police business.” he shrugs staring out the window. He gives Michael Lerman a dig, making a comment an inappropriate hand gesture about his wife’s supposes suicide plunging off the Brooklyn Bridge. “The mistress of the bereaved husband took an overdose… but lived.”

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Alison is resting at the hospital unable to respond for quite as she’s been drugged to keep her calm. Back at the police station Det. Gatz is discussing the case with Rizzo “She’s in the hospital blurbing about neighbors that don’t exist… except one, a priest, and he wouldn’t know if the building burnt down.”

Yet another theme has been developing that of paranoia and the protagonist experiencing alienation and disbelief by everyone surrounding her.

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An un-credited Joe Hamer plays the detective who recognizes Anna Clark’s name. “It’s funny I know that name from somewhere.” Gatz tells him it’s one of the invisible neighbors. Cut to a book with crime history filled with murderers and a photograph headlining the infamous Anna Clark. Michael shows Alison the photo and ask if she’s seen that face before. “That’s Anna Clark she was at Charles Chazen’s birthday party.”  Michael reads, “Mrs. Anna Clark convicted murderess, sent to the electric chair at Sing Sing March 27, 1949 for the murder of her lover and his wife.” Jennifer takes the book from Michael and continues reading  “when he refused to leave his wife, she chopped them up in bed with an axe… charming.”

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The quality in terms of how powerful The Sentinel holds up to a big production like The Omen or the vastly mimicked but never successfully redone William Peter Blatty /Director William Friedkin’s striking masterwork that is The Exorcist, The Sentinel is a self contained little jewel that must be seen through a very warped kaleidoscope of horrors. It’s tropes of good vs evil, secret religions sects, and the devil in the city exists for sure, but it’s bursts of horrors from the Id and unsavory characters create a world inhabited by a different set of innocents, angels and demons.

Perhaps the most startling vision in the film aside from the climactic ending which as said I won’t reveal here, is the moment her cadaveric father lurks behind her bedroom door hidden at first by shadow, in an almost paused moment in time, as if appearing from another realm, his movements otherworldly and alien, as she recognizes this ghoulish apparition as her recently deceased bastard of a father. I know it still rattles me to this day. It’s a gruesome scene as she stabs at his face, glazed over whitened fish like eyeballs and deathly comatose stare she thrusts away slashing at him with a large butcher knife.

The night she sees the ghost of her father she also has a lucid vision of killing her recently deceased father by slicing into his face, cutting an eyeball (the surrealist short Un Chien Andalou 1929) and cutting his ghoulish blue nose off!

They find Brenner’s body dumped in a land fill, with the exact wounds described by Alison claiming she inflicted on her father. They also find Alison’s file and Michael’s name in Brenner’s office, connecting them to his murder.

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She goes to Church and seeks out counsel from the priest who has been secretly trailing her the entire time. Monsignor Franchino (Arthur Kennedy) tells her that it’s time to ‘embrace Christ’ and that the lord has a purpose for her.

Alison goes to church and lights a candle and prays. Monsignor Franchino who has been secretly trailing her comes to her side, he tells her that it’s time to ’embrace Christ’, “You came to be heard.”

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What winds up being revealed is that Alison really killed Brenner and not the apparition of her father, it was the private Brenner hired by Michael. Detective Gatz and Rizzo. (Wallach and Walken) make connections between Michael Lerman, his hysterical girlfriend and now two murders, seem to link them all together some how. During her waking nightmare, running out into the dark streets collapsing in her scant white nighty drenched in her own blood, holding the knife, she is now suspected of murder along with her boyfriend the sleazy attorney Michael Lerman.

Drawing attention to herself by screaming out in the streets all blood soaked leads police detective Gatz (Eli Wallach) and partner Rizzo (Christopher Walken) to investigate both Michael and Alison with certainty that it all somehow leads back to Michael Lerman’s first wife who supposedly killed herself. Detective Gatz  has an eternal hate on for this hot-shot lawyer who once showed him up in court regarding the whole wife’s suicide. That case is really a motivating factor is Detective Gatz’s dogged approach to finding out whose blood was really on Christina and if Michael Lerman has anything to do with it. Alison is taken to the hospital that night.

While the police do some investigating from the descriptions and names of the party guests Alison gives them. The cops uncover that one of her ‘imagined’ party guests and supposed neighbor is Anna Clark , a murderess who went to the electric chair for chopping up her boyfriend and his wife with an axe.

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Michael starts to believe that Alison is experiencing some kind of uncanny paranormal phenomena, when she returns home he begins to quiz her randomly pulling out books from the shelf of the vacant apartment 4B… As he shows her pages, she begins to fluently read Latin phrases though it appears to her as being written in English. Of course Michael is suspicious of Father Halliran mysterious blind priest on the top floor. When he tries to question him, there is no answer and the door is locked.

Back at the brownstone she shows Michael the vacant apartment, pulling select books off the bookcase, “The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendahl, Techniques of Torture by Illard.. you’ll like this one for variety, all the pages are the same.” Michael, “Alison there’s nothing strange about this book.” “What do you mean?” “All the pages are different.” “All the pages are the same… all of them!” “Alison either one of us is lying or one of us is seeing something that isn’t there now, tell me what do you see in this book” She slams the book closed… and insists “Latin, I see nothing but Latin, everything in there is Latin” Michael takes a pen out of his pocket and tells Alison to write down exactly what she sees. Michael points with his finger, words like “Though the Church and superstitious” Alison begins to write down what she sees-“TIBI SORTU…” etc. “Jesus Alison you really are seeing Latin.”

They try to get inside Father Halliran’s apartment, but the lock has been changed.

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Michael then takes the translation to the dotty absent minded Professor Ruzinsky (Martin Balsam) “You know when you phoned I thought you had a serious problem something challenging. A few word more and I’ll have it Eldridge” Michael corrects him, “It’s Lerman, Michael Lerman” Ruzinsky agrees, “Yes, Eldridge Lerman… there we are, well, -‘to thee thy course by lot is given charge and strict watch that to this happy place no evil thing approach or enter it.’-“

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“It’s been a long time Mr. Lawyer you take a high chance.”

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“William O’Roarke Father Halliran William O’Roarke disappeared July 12, 1952 after attempted suicide. “ Perry-(Hickey) says “They’re the same man. William O’Roarke became a priest named Halliran.” “Yes but why?” Perry shrugs-“I just open doors” Michael digs through each file expounding- “Before Halliran there was Father David Spinetti,who started life as Andrew Carter declared missing, Carter reappeared as Spinetti  and died the day that Halliran started life as a priest. Before him Mary Thorne becomes Sister Mary Angelica. All of these people going back for years lived ordinary lives and then became priests or nuns. All of them sometime or another… attempted suicide…. […] if these files are right Father Matthew Halliran dies the same day that Alison Parker disappears and becomes Sister Theresa.” (insert sweeping Gil Melle style strings…)

So he hires offbeat character actor William Hickey as Perry the safe cracker and ace lock picker to break into the Diocese and lift the files on the quiet Father Halliran. Before becoming a priest, he too had tried to commit suicide, just like Alison. Michael also finds a file on Alison Parker who is next in line to become Sister Theresa who is due to take over– tomorrow!

This as writer John Kenneth Muir brings out how it begs the question about redemption, does Alison have free will? Was she chosen by God to be a servant or did her fall from grace, her suicide attempt cause her to owe her life to Christ?
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Detective Gatz –“Rebecca and Malcolm Stinnet, Sandra (Narcotics Addict) Gerde Ingstrom, Emma and Lillian Clotkin, Anna Clark, all people the Parker girl said she met.” Rizzo-“All killers all dead. She went to a party with 8 dead murderers.” Gatz heartily replies- “Doesn’t everybody?”

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Michael goes on to investigate further, rummaging around the old brownstone he finds a boarded up plague in the basement that tells the opening saga of Dantes Divine Comedy revealing that the building has been built over the portal to Hell and the lost souls who wander there. Michael finally goes up the stairs to confront Father Halliran strangling him to death then he himself is struck down by an unseen figure in the shadows who cracks him over the head with a religious statue.

When Alison returns home, she finds Michael there, who proceeds to explain that she has been daunted by ‘devils’ and that she is to be the next Sentinel.

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And this is where I will leave off…

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The ending is a grotesque morality pageant that might terrify or even offend certain people, but if you’re willing to investigate a rare 70s horror story with a dark atmosphere and a visual journey into darker realms… dare enter!

John Kenneth Muir Horror Films of the 1970s
“Seventies films such as Frenzy (1972), The Last House on the Left (1972) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1973), The Hills Have Eyes (1977) were also more explicit, and far more intense, than previous horror productions had been. This was a result of the “new freedom” in cinema to freely depict graphic violence and bloodletting and a shift to the paradigm of existential ‘realism’ over the romantic ‘supernatural.’” continuing Muir writes “Seizing on this spiritual doubt and vulnerability was another blockbuster movie trend of the 1970s, the religious horror film. The Exorcist (1973), Beyond the Door (1975), The Omen (1976), and The Sentinel (1977) and many more that found stark terror in the concept of that the Devil was real, and that mankind’s eternal would was in jeopardy from demonic possession and the Antichrist, among other iconic boogeyman”

A term used called it ‘savage cinema’ and was unique to the 70s although not much anymore since the rising of the ‘torture porn’ movement.

The climax has very disturbing imagery, not unlike a parade of oddities and gruesome atrocities you’d see in a Jodorworsky (El Topo 1970, Santa Sangre 1989 or nightmarishly gory visions of hell from Lucio Fulci.

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Once again from Muir’s book he at least insightfully makes the connection between The Exorcist 1973 and The Omen 1976 by endowing the type of good vs evil films coming out of the 70s as they “set forth a conspiracy in the Church, a kind of possession by evil, the corruption of the innocent,and other common elements of 1970s Hollywood supernatural flicks. The Sentinel is not as powerful a film as either The Omen or The Exorcist, but it does feature some startling moments and is a solid horror film despite an overload of clichés. The film’s greatest power comes in its jolting, surprising revelations.”

This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying I’ll be standing watch all night long on Halloween, wishing you and yours a happy and healthy candy binge!

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Sunday Nite Surreal: Daughter of Darkness (1948) & Carnival of Sinners (1943)-The Right Hand of God/The Left Hand of the Devil

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Directed by the silent film era auteur Maurice Tourneur, (father of Jacques Tourneur Curse of the Demon 1957, Cat People 1942, I Walked With a Zombie 1943, Out of the Past 1947 ) this fantasy- horror film creates a tumultuous Mephistophelean voyage of surreal and striking imagery.  This film has fast become one of my favorite fantasy/horror films….

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Carnival of Sinners or La Main Du Diable (The Devil’s Hand) is a brilliant and hilariously dark morality play about being careful what you wish for and what is the meaning of life and the pursuit of physical pleasure and earthly desires, if you must lose your eternal soul in the end.

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With an incredible score by Roger Dumas, that lends a magical sound track to the story!

Based on Gérard de Nerval’s novel, the film creates a hallucinatory world of monochromatic imagery, with noir like edges & shadows, Gothic & theatrically macabre masks and a gruesome narrative about a disembodied charmed left hand. Palau’s amiable little grinning devil is perhaps one of my favorite portrayals of Old Nick as he reveals himself to others as a mild mannered civil servant in a bowler hat, when he is actually on a duplicitous mission to abscond with the soul’s of desperate men.

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As synchronicity often rears it’s playful head when I do companion posts Carnival of Sinners also frames a gathering of people, much like the later post’s ‘angry women villagers’ who set the tenor for both films as something fantastical

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It opens with a small village tavern filled with people who have been detained by an avalanche. These characters are comical and colorful as they all want to eat, and are suspicious of Roland, who we haven’t been introduced to yet. As they wait to be fed, a strange man dressed in black carrying a wrapped package under his left arm, his immovable hand gloved in stiff black leather storms into the tavern with a gust of secrets and urgency at this back. They immediately have mistrust of this man, as he is not amiable and does not wish to mix with them at all. He acts as if he is being pursued by the devil himself.

Well maybe he is… hhm. He is called to the phone by someone asking for him by name. Once at the phone, the lights go out, and when they come back on and the chaos settles, the package is missing. He panics of course.

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As it is a tradition at this tavern to be told unbelievable stories by Monsieur Notary. They plead with Roland Brissot to tell them what has brought him here. And so he begins to relate an incredible story…

Pierre Fresnay  (The Man Who Knew Too Much 1934, Le Corbeau -The Raven 1943) is french artist Roland Brissot, who can’t get the girl or sell a painting until one night after Irène (Josseline Gaël) storms out of the little cafe frustrated with him for not being a success and a bore,  Mélisse the cook (Noël Roquevert ) brings over a bottle of wine and offers to help the down and out painter. He tells Roland that he possesses a Talisman that he’d like to sell him for merely one sous. That it would bring him great riches, love and success!

When Roland follows him up to his room, he shows him a small wooden box, inside the curious box is an animated severed left hand. Mélisse explains to Roland that he purchased the Talisman a while ago, but he fears going to hell, and wants to save his eternal soul, so he must pass this gift onto another man who is willing to buy it full knowing the contract. Desiring to make Irène his own, and stop doing portraits of dogs. Roland agrees and pays the sous to the cook. At that moment, Mélisse’s left hand is severed and mysteriously wedded to Rolands left forearm, and he is now the new owner of the Talisman. Of course all his wishes come true and Irène comes back in total awe of her man. He becomes a great renowned painter and has riches beyond his wildest dreams. But with all these cautionary fables there is a kink in the chain. A chain that I will get back to in a short while.

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Brissot goes to a palm reader who immediately sees that he is damned… She insists that he leave… never to return

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A peculiar little man (Le petit homme– who is wonderfully enacted by Palau (Children of Paradise 1945, The Devil in the Flesh 1947, Le Corbeau 1943) is actually the devil himself who has been offering this deal for quite a while now and since it has been a year to the day that Roland made the wager of his immortal soul for the Talisman, he has come to collect.

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From the moment Roland obtains the Talisman, women flock to him, his dog runs away in fear, and Irène cannot resist him to the point that he no longer can stand her smothering love by the end.

The little man shadows his every move, playing little tricks on Roland so that he couldn’t possibly buy back his soul. He changes the time on the clock, he steals money so that Roland must scramble to put the fee together which doubles with every day that it’s come due. His life falls apart, his wife becomes less desirable to him and they become strangers, and all he wants is to be free of his left hand which is the harbinger of doom for him.

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Will Roland Brissot find the next sinner to buy the Talisman from him… or will the Devil get his due?

As the he relates his story, it unfolds like a marvelous dark fairytale, lensed with visual splendor dipped in a wonderful folkloric narrative and marvelous characters… including the other souls who lost their left hands and formed a special chain in the links of fate.

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We, the links in the chain-Joined like the fingers of a hand.
We, the links in the chain-Joined like the fingers of a hand.

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Roland’s journey is whimsical and harrowing, beautifully filmed by Arman Thirard  who photographed such masterpieces as Henri Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique 1955 and The Wages of Fear 1953 two of the best thrillers of all time!

Carnival of Sinners 1943 belongs with some of the great fixtures of ‘wagering your soul to the devil’, with William Dieterle’s The Devil and Daniel Webster 1941, and F. W. Murnau’s Faust 1926,

Roland has an enormous painting of Goya’s nightmarish diversion into hell hanging in his palatial mansion. It is the one of Colossus devouring his son. You would have to watch this film several times to catch all the wonderful details and devilish black humor!

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Continue reading “Sunday Nite Surreal: Daughter of Darkness (1948) & Carnival of Sinners (1943)-The Right Hand of God/The Left Hand of the Devil”

Sunday Nite Surreal- Eye of the Devil (1966) The Grapes of Death!

“Catherine it’s our belief in something… that makes that thing… for a moment, or forever-DIVINE…” -Phillippe de Montfaucon

EYE OF THE DEVIL (1966)

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Directed by J. Lee Thompson’s  (Blonde Sinner 1956, Tiger Bay 1959, Cape Fear 1962, The Reincarnation of Peter Proud 1975) the outre surreptitious  Eye of the Devil (1966) is an atmospheric smorgasbord of uncanny & haunting images encircled by the air of clandestine and provocative underlying forcefulness. With ease the film pulls you into an esoteric world of ancient rites and beliefs and primal fears and urges to prevail against or more aptly in honor of the pagan notion of the rule & reign of the old ways, and the dominant elementals. It’s a bit of a cryptic occult meditation on reverence, immortality, sacrifice and reaping what you sow.

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Niven urbane and resolute in his stature as Patriarch of the French family who comes home to the ancestral chateau to tend to the vineyards, (the past season’s crop has suffered) and take his rightful place during the rites of the ceremonial harvest. Phillipe must not only observe the deadly family secrets that have survived for centuries but more horrifying than that, it must continue to be passed down to his children.

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Philippe’s Aunt The Countess Estell “ Christian Caray is a very wicked boy and his sister Odile is no better”

Eye of the Devil, works so well to capture our ideologies by the throat partly because of the convincing performances by the enormously talented cast who inhabit this secret world, Deborah Kerr, David Niven, Flora Robson (Beast in the Cellar 1970 ) as Phillipe’s Great Aunt the Countess Estell, Donald Pleasence as a malefic cleric Pere Dominic with shaved head and solemnity, David Hemmings, Sharon Tate, and Emlyn Williams.

Both Sharon Tate and David Hemmings play two beautiful yet sinister figures lurking about. David Hemmings went on to do Michelangelo Antonioni‘s Blow Up (1966) and Sharon Tate whose first movie this was, went on to do Roman Polanski’s originally called Dance with The Vampires, now called The Fearless Vampire Killers, a comedic romp through the classical vampire story, though a little numb possessed a few hilarious moments. 

The film is an adaptation of Philip Lorain’s novel Day of the Arrow

Once again absolutely stunning visual frames from cinematographer Erwin Hillier

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Erwin Hillier combined with J. Lee Thompson’s directing style is tense and well focused gaze creating a closed world of authentic dis-ease. Beautifully photographed with slight suggestions of The Wicker Man. There is an intoxicating ambiance perfectly underscored by the simplistic yet alluring music by composer Gary McFarland. Hillier’s close ups capture fertile images of evil & arcane sensuality.

David Niven is the marquis Philippe de Montfaucon who is the owner of a historic Vineyard. When a dry season hits the harvest he is summoned to the castle Bellenac. Deborah Kerr plays his wife-Catherine de Montfaucon who is told to remain in Paris with the children, but she follows him anyway. And for her troubled she is assailed in the woods by very ominous figures in hoods which makes for a very potent scene… which does not cease even up to the end’s shocking climactic conclusion.

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The opening frames are quick cuts which utilize the sound of a speeding train, cut away frames between reveal shots of a sharp arrow, we hear the train sirens, a lavish cocktail party in high society, an old world looking bearded man on the train, the arrow is raised- it pierces the heart of a white dove, the woods are filled with hazy black hooded figures, eerie and ominous they stand by the trees. A cross of branches is set on fire. Close up on Sharon Tate then close up on Hemmings then the screen goes black and the credits roll…..

It’s a post modern and riveting way to open a film about an esoteric narrative …the film’s title is set against the speeding train it’s windows like eyes themselves staring back at us.

When Phillippe the Marquis arrive in Bellenac the villagers all seem to revere him, lifted their hats to him, heads downward, humbled and proud. He meets up with the cleric Pere Dominic (Donald Pleasence) the mood and furnishings give one the idea of an Orthodox Christian sect.

Some thought he would not return to Bellenac the butler knew he would return… Phillippe asks how about you father?

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“Ive never doubted the path you have chosen” Phillippe-“What makes you think I’ve chosen it?”

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The priest places an elaborate amulet on the table. Phillippe picks up the amulet Dominic tells him “I think you have chosen it Phillippe my son.”

Family friend Jean-Claude Ibert (Edward Mulhare) sits by the fireplace in Paris talking about Phillippe’s trip back to Bellenac. Catherine tells him the first time she was there after their wedding she says it was the most frightening place almost as though they were back in the Middle Ages. Jean-Claude tells her that Phillippe had always been obsessed with the place as if he was trying to solve it’s diabolical secret.

Once at the castle Philippe seems distant as if he is following a mysterious compulsion guided by the pervading force of a cult that recognizes ancient pagan rituals, and perhaps sacrificing his own life in order to save the vineyard. Catherine can do nothing to change her somnolent husband’s mind to leave and come back with her and the children to Paris.

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Both Sharon Tate as the luminous Odile de Caray and David Hemmings as the impish Christian de Caray play two beautiful yet other-worldy and sinister figures lurking about with bow and arrows. Turning toads into doves, and is fixated on the children.

Odile mesmerizes both Jacques and Antoinette She asks if they believe in magic, then she demonstrates her powers by changing a frog on a lily pad into a dove. Could she be using the art of hypnosis to create an illusion?

Catherine does not want her brother Christian killing anymore doves on the property and isn’t happy to see her influence over her children. It begins to rain. But Odile tells her that they are not life giving clouds and that it will pass quickly. Catherine asks why she is at Bellenac. Odile tells her that she and her brother come there often… Then Christian appears and shoots an arrow into a tree right next to Catherine. The siblings wander through the landscape like other-worldly minions.

Phillippe begins to pull away consciously from his wife and children, he tells her to take them and leave. She pleads with him to come home with her and that she can help him. In a sense it’s all begun and even if she tries to make a fuss afterwards, no one will either believe her or come forward to help her.

She says he must be mad, that he’s dying for nothing, walk away from this stupid evil.

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“I’m dying for what I believe.”

“No one can help me, not even you. You don’t understand you could never understand”

He is preparing for a glorious pilgrimage of the soul. He is beyond being reached. He is prepared for the festival of ‘The Thirteen Days” or rather The Thirteen Dancers…

Alain de Montfaucon (Emlyn Williams) tells Catherine that he expects to be a living God, and that Pere Dominic is more than part of it… He is all of it. He is a Pagan. And Bellenac is… A Fortress of Heresy…

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IMDb fun fact:

Originally Kim Novak was cast in the role of Catherine de Montfaucon. Filming began in the fall of 1965 in France. Near every scene had been filmed when Kim Novak fell from a horse and wasn’t able to complete her scenes. Deborah Kerr was hired to take over and every scene that featured Miss Novak had to be re-shot with her replacement.

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The film’s opening credits read-Introducing Sharon Tate
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J. Lee Thompson on the set with Sharon Tate

HAVE A SO-REAL SUNDAY NITE- FROM YOUR EVERLOVIN’ MONSTERGIRL!

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Sunday Nite Surreal: Serrador’s The House That Screamed: Elegant Taboos in the Gothic Horror Film-The Fragmentation of Motherhood, castration and the enigma of body horror

THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED (1969)

“TEACH HER TO TAKE CARE OF ME LIKE YOU DO” — Luis talking to his mother ‘Madame Fourneau

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Before there were shows like Criminal Minds, CSI or Dexter where I learned about dis-articulation, the graphic motif used in the human marionette themed Season 8 episode 10  of Criminal Minds ‘The Lesson’ directed by Matthew Gray Gubler (Meow!) not only for me, the most adorable, desirable nice guy, and brilliant quirky actor but outstanding director as well. Just watch Mosely Lane or the afore mentioned episode starring the equally brilliant….Brad Dourif as Adam Rain the Marionette Master who creates living puppets to re-enact a childhood trauma. I never heard of ‘Enucleation’- or removing the eyes with a highly sharpened melon baller until Criminal Minds.

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“The Lesson” episode of Criminal Minds directed by Matthew Gray Gubler. Starring Brad Dourif one of THE most underrated actors… It doesn’t get more jaw tightening than this-!

This is all the stuff that gives me… yes me!!!!, MonsterGirl the heebies, the pip and the whim whams and perpetually horrific nightmares for days, months even. BUT!!!

Before there was such contemporary graphic violence pouring forth from the television screen, or feature scare films deemed ‘torture porn’... that it could almost wear your psyche down to it’s raw unsheathed fibers… there was a beautiful elegant, and mind bending kind of psychological horror.

With The House That Screamed, the fear and anguish mixed with the exquisitely restrained performances by the ensemble of actors is more powerful than movies like Wolf Creek and Hostel which merely brings you excruciatingly close to realism and as violent as a trip to the slaughterhouse.

There ARE certain films that remain a haunting experience… but in a way that serves as an emotional release not a shock to your sympathetic nervous system.

The House that Screamed

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One film in particular will always be one of my favorite classical horror films of all time. The House that Screamed (1969) directed by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador  starring IMHO one of the finest actresses Lilli Palmer is rife with so many social taboos yet still maintains its elegance. Filled with images of Sado-Masochism -the archetypal Devouring Motherhood, the effects of repression, and young nubile beauties’ whose libidos are firing off sparks all over the boarding school. The untenable gap between adults and children, a brutal secret society of Sapphic sadists, an Oedipal complex brought to an eventual disturbing climax fit for modern screening.

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“This is a boarding school not a prison…” Madame Fourneau ” If it isn’t one, we’ll make it one.”

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Lilli Palmer is wearing Revlon’s “repressive salmon’ lipstick–that special color that just says–Yes I’m a ball buster and a closet lesbian to boot!

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“Don’t you understand that none of these girls are any good. By the time they bring them to me they’re already marked… Or they’ve done worse things and then they hand them over to me…{…} In time Luis, in time you’ll find the right girl, you’ll marry her. You’ll have your own home. These girls are poison… You need a woman like me who will love you, take care of you, protect you. We’ll find her… you’ll see… you’ll see.”

Lilli Palmer’s (Body and Soul 1947, Mädchen in Uniform (1958), The Boys from Brazil 1978) is Madame Fourneau, the headmistress of an all female school for ‘troubled’ or ‘unwanted girls’.

Lilli Palmer as teacher Maria Rohmer in Mädchen in Uniform, had a heady lesbian theme running through it’s narrative which here is reprised in a spanish horror film that reaches back to Grand Guignol. 

The rigid and stale institutionalized environment of The House that Screamed molds ‘good girls’. In this repressive sexual confinement it bursts wide open into a sensationalist breeding ground for the lesbian as predator trope. The repressed older woman being taken in by the beautiful innocence of a wild girl who defies her rules, pushing back against Palmer&