An Examination: The Sentinel (1977) vs Long Weekend (1978)

Going into a movie completely ‘blind’ can be a highly rewarding experience (not Blind in the physical sense, ya friggin smart-asses!). Or it can be a highly questionable use of a couple hours of your Life…depends on the flick. So, it was a Saturday afternoon and all the domestic shit had been tended to. My lovely gal and I had parked our asses on the couch and were, as usual, going back and forth about what escapist entertainment we should turn our brains off for, when an idea hit lil ole me. I have moments where I catch myself in the mood for some Old School Horror from the 1970’s…and THIS was one of THOSE moments. There’s just something about genre flicks from THAT time that pull my attention in. I think it may have to do with the Sensibilities of Cinema noticeably changing during that era, coupled with the fact that I came into existence in the last 3, and possibly, most noteworthy years of the 70’s (The Days of Bad Hair, Stupid Clothes, Disco and Cocaine). They can be an interesting ‘snap shot’ of a distinct time that I was there for…but not really. There’s also a certain visual aesthetic that I find cool…the grain and grit of it all. SO…that being said, it occurred to me that I had a couple of unseen genre flicks hailing from THAT period waiting to be played in our current ‘line-up’. Both of these titles were brought to my attention via a couple articles I’d read a while back…the context of which is completely forgotten. The other things that were forgotten were the plot-lines of each of the movies, so the idea of a surprise intrigued me…on this chilled- out Saturday afternoon. I chose one at random…and hit PLAY.

The Sentinel (1977)

I REALLY hoped that this flick would turn out to be one of those ‘stand outs’ from the time; one from the period that would strongly resonate, much like The Classics ‘The Exorcist'(1973), ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre'(1974), ‘Jaws'(1975), ‘The Omen'(1976), ‘Carrie'(1976) or ‘The Fury'(1978). Oh, and of course a personal favorite…’Alien'(1979)…even though it could be argued that THAT one was SO ahead of it’s time that it COULD be seen as an 80’s flick. If THOSE titles were in a gang…and wimpy lil ‘The Sentinel’ wanted to join…they would boot-fuck the shit out of this flick and leave it bleeding in the gutter!…and deservedly so. This one was hilariously bad!
We start off with what seemed like a blatant rip-off of ‘The Exorcist’, where it sets up a main ‘personality’ (or ‘lack thereof’) in a specific industry. In THAT film, we were introduced to ‘Chris’ (Ellen Burstyn) on the Georgetown University-based film set of her latest movie. HERE, we meet ‘Christina’ (Alison Parker), a moderately successful fashion model through a VERY 70’s montage of her during various ‘shoots’. Right off the bat, I could tell the ‘dating’ might be an issue with this one. Anyway, after we take in this montage (which includes hints of a young Jeff Goldblum!…how exciting!!) and marveled at the cast (Beverly D’Angelo?! Christopher Walken?!!…awesome!!), the story settles in. We meet ‘Christina’s fella ‘Michael’, a young Chris Sarandon (‘Fright Night’), rockin a sleazy lil mustache. He seems intend on marrying the already dim witted-seeming model…only she keeps getting cold feet every time he brings it up. Somehow, this necessitates her seeking out her own digs, somewhere in New York City. She’s brought to a multi-story tenement by an over-the-top real-estate agent (Ava Gardner) and finds the MASSIVE (and suspiciously cheap) pre-furnished apartment to her liking. It’s brought to her attention, along the way, that there’s an old blind priest (naturally) on the top floor, who creepily sits perched by his window for all below to see. So she moves in…despite some small occurrences that already suggest that all is not what it seems (this is where the flick seemed to switch from ‘Exorcist’ to ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ mode). She soon meets a group of other eccentric tenants and shit gets weird…and stupid.

(face palm) Oh, where to begin.

It’s not too often that I can look at a bad movie and instantly pinpoint piss-poor Directing as a leading culprit. But here…it was painfully obvious. The director was no slouch (a quick glance at his filmography will attest to that), but here, he clearly forgot how to make his actors bring a script to life. EVERYTHING is SO awkward!! The performances, the line deliveries (hell, the lines themselves!), the pacing, the compositions, the editing and the overall subject matter. There was NO finesse to be found here! It was mystifying as to how and why this script was shot and cut the way that it was. So, yeah, shit direction is Issue #1…but it ain’t the only one!
The Music was gawd-awful! It was there in EVERY scene and seemed to lack a specific ‘flavor’. It was like they had a bunch of generic, VERY 70’s score floating around that they just opted to shoe-horn into EVERY scene in the damn flick! It was SO distracting! Clearly no one told director Michael Winner (undeserved last name, given how this pile of shit turned out) that sometimes, SILENCE can be a horror movies best friend. Scenes that MAY have been effective if they’d played out quietly were robbed of their tension because this lousy score kept intruding. It verged on maddening.
The cast was genuinely intriguing, as the names spooled past in the Opening Credits, but soon we realized that either they all sucked, back in the day, or this director didn’t know what to do with them. Alison Parker had all the personality of a store-front mannequin and was a baffling choice as Leading Lady. She must’ve blown the right Producer to get this gig…as it’s the only way I can honestly understand her scoring the headlining role. Chris Sarandon was probably the most ‘fleshed’ out…too bad his role felt like an after-thought. Jeff Goldblum, obviously at the beginning of his career, came off like a douchebag (which may have been intentional, as he did play The Big Fashion Photographer). Beverly D’Angelo was an intriguing name to see (I ALWAYS associate her with the ‘Vacation’ movies), but the intro of her weird, mute lesbian gymnast (or whatever the hell she was) openly playing with her girl-parts on meeting ‘Christina’ for the first time came off as crass and stupid. What was even funnier was that my girlfriend half-jokingly suggested this would probably happen in the scene….and it did!! We were both a lil dumbfounded by that one. And then there was Mr. Christoper Walken. We both love the guy. He’s so totally entertaining to watch…in pretty much everything he does. Except this. It became a running joke for us, guessing if THIS scene was going to be the one where his ‘window dressing’ cop character was actually going to deliver ANY dialogue. Mostly, he just lurked in the background, looking like he should have a line or two, and…nothing. The Guessing Game did help liven up the dreary experience of sitting through this wannabe crap.
It was supposed to be a horror movie, but the horror elements were handled really badly and there was almost no shock or originality to any of them. The constant 70’s-heavy score didn’t help either. There’s a couple visuals that may have played out ‘creepy’ if they’d been edited better or with a different, more tonally-appropriate music cue but unfortunately they weren’t, so the shock value was lost.
Regarding the horror elements, I’m sure that they also would’ve worked better if the story and characters had made more sense. There was something about a ‘sentinel’; some religious guardian lineage that ‘Christina’ was somehow pulled into, to protect the world, or New York, or a basket of puppies or something, from some kind of great evil. There was something about ghosts of past ‘sentinel’ eligibles haunting her into killing herself and a collection of ghastly physical deformities…for some reason. Looking back (I only watched it last night), I really can’t detail much more about the plot…as it’s mostly lost on me already. Not a good sign.
All in all, ‘The Sentinel’ was a serious disappointment. When the credits rolled, in spite of myself, I burst out laughing at the Waste-of-Time that we had just endured. It was comical! That we were able to poke some fun at the flick as it played out did elevate The Entertainment Level, but still, as a movie to be judged on it’s own merits…the one doesn’t have many. There are FAR better genre films from the 70’s out there…and luckily one of them was next on our list.

Long Weekend (1978)

Now THIS one, I really did know almost nothing about. I knew that it was an Australian film from the late 70’s that somehow came to my attention after a favorable mention in some article on some website that I’d read at some time. That’s about it. Pretty much NOTHING. So, as I hit PLAY, I really hoped that it would be at least marginally better than ‘The Sentinel’. We needed SOMETHING to help scrape the bitter after-taste of that cinematic dung-heap from our palettes.

I was not disappointed.

‘Long Weekend’ opens with a bare-bones introduction to our two Main Characters, ‘Peter’ (John Hargreaves) and ‘Marcia’ (Briony Behets), a married couple who are evidently a sentence or two away from a divorce. The animosity between them is tangible and sometimes tough to watch (‘Marcia’s a bitch when she wants to be!). ‘Peter’ is intent on getting them away for a secluded long weekend together, presumably to help patch up the marital difficulties. The cause of the friction is hinted at by mention of a recent hospital stay for ‘Marcia’, but no solid details are given right away. After they pack up…they head out. Evidently, this region of Australia is new to them and they get curious looks from some red-neckish types in a road-side bar/service station where ‘Peter’ asks for directions to a certain, allegedly-nearby beach. Judging from the eerie, lingering looks the customers give (especially one in particular), I thought I knew where the story was going (Slasher flick!). Nope. Didn’t have a clue. SO, ‘Peter’ and ‘Marcia’, after a creepy night drive along a winding, Nature-choked trail, arrive at the beach. They set up camp…and get to camping. As the two of them dance around the troubles in their marriage, we see them sitting around reading, walking on the beach, swimming, throwing back cold ones, puffing on a joint and making what could be construed as progress in their relationship. It all seems pretty mundane…and then ‘things’ start to happen. Bad ‘things’.
I don’t know if this was budget-enforced or intentional, but ‘Subtlety’ reigns supreme here. Numerous times, seemingly small things happen (character actions, odd sounds, strange findings or sightings etc), but they’re played so deftly that I wasn’t sure of the relevance to the eventual outcome of the story. They never came right out and spelled out their significance for the audience and I very much appreciated that. The story was stripped-down and the eerie atmosphere spoke for itself. There’s definitely an air of ‘unease’ the permeates this narrative.
The Main Characters went a long way to carry this film on their shoulders and I feel that the actors did a commendable job. I knew nothing about either of them and that, as usual, helped them convincingly inhabit the ‘skin’ of the characters. The two of them mostly felt like Real People. Sure, we see them be assholes to each other, but there are also moments that seemed surprisingly tender; scenes that actually had me rooting from them to patch up their differences (even though her affair and secretive abortion may be a bit much to easily forgive), and to overcome the ‘nasty’ that emerges from Nature around them.
One of the things I really liked was that when it became apparent what was plaguing them, you realize that the hints about the catalyst have been ‘in your face’ the whole time. Little things the characters did, like tossing a cigarette into dry grass or hurling an empty beer bottle into the ocean for target practice, suddenly took on all new significance when the Antagonist reared it’s ugly head.
In complete contrast to the first movie of this Double Feature, ‘Long Weekend’ made excellent use of quiet moments; moments punctuated by the questionable sounds of nature. The creaking of wood in a breeze. The roar of the surf. The nerve-jangling cry of some intimidating creature out among the trees. None of it was bolstered by lame-ass, in-your-face score (that I remember). The sounds spoke for themselves and became key to the establishment of the unnerving tone.
All in all, ‘Long Weekend’ was a breath of fresh air (especially when compared to ‘The Sentinel’) and is a film that I would enthusiastically recommend to more patient Movie-Goers who want a little something different, even though the story may not, at it’s core, be the most original. It’s the competent direction, effective use of subtlety, slick sound design, believable, not-totally-likable characters and the ability to shock and surprise, that calls on me to give this one a positive ‘shout out’. It apparently bombed in Australia on release, but I’d say that Time has been it’s friend. It may have come out only a year after ‘The Sentinel’, but given the story and the way it was told, the gaudy trappings of the era aren’t any where near as prevalent or distracting as that disgraceful example’s. ‘Long Weekend’ is a good thriller that knows how to ratchet up the tension and suspense to a boiling degree…culminating in a ‘punch-in-the-gut’ finale’. Search it out and check it out!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s