Horror Cinema: The Sentinel (1977)

I discovered the 1977 horror movie The Sentinel on late night tv as a teenager of the 90s. With its mix of ghosts and strangeness—like the birthday party for a cat—I was hooked. By the time I saw The Sentinel, I was already a fan of Rosemary’s Baby and the 1930s movie Freaks, so, when the movie ended with the heroine being forced into the role of the sentinel after being groomed for it like Rosemary as the mother of the anti-christ along with actors with deformities crowding the halls as the denizons of Hell, I knew that this movie would be a personal favorite. Over the years, I have revisited The Sentinel, and I always enjoy its quirkiness and creepiness.

Researching trivia on the movie, I was surprised to learn that it was fraught with problems. The story’s writer, Jeffrey Konvitz, did not like the director, Michael Winner, or what Winner did with the casting or film. Konvitz commented that Winner was “too pedestrian a director” to make the film a good horror movie like The Omen and called him an egomaniacal maniac in a bluray commentary. Konvitz did not like that the protagonist looked different than the protagonist from his story, and he would have cast an unknown in the part who looked more like the story’s character.

Winner himself was not happy with the casting. He originally wanted Martin Sheen to play the male lead, but he was told that Sheen was a “tv name,” so he could not cast him. The producer wanted Chris Sarandon because he had recently been nominated for an Oscar.

For how much I love this movie, I was also surprised to find out that it is not a popular film. In fact, most people hate it.

Despite its problems, The Sentinel tells a great ghost story with that slower pace common of 70s movies that builds toward a creepy ending.

Winner, Michael. The Sentinel, Universal Pictures, 1977.

Behind-the-scenes facts from IMDb Trivia: The Sentinel (1977).

Horror Cinema: Grave Encounters

Full disclosure: I love Zak Bagans and Ghost Adventures.

The host, Zak, is endearing and kind to others but becomes angry and dramatic around ghosts and ghost activity. I live for ghosts caught on camera, and the show has some of the best audio and video recordings that send chills up my spine. I also like that the episodes are thoughtful in their storytelling about the locations they visit, with their mix of spookiness and a reverence for the past and the spirit world.

Watching the movie Grave Encounters, I was immediately connected to the characters because they were a parody of the Ghost Adventures crew, and I felt like I already knew who they were. I love jump scares and all things ghosts, so I truly enjoyed the movie. I was particularly surprised by the turn of events in the last quarter. It was not what I was expecting, but it was everything I never knew I wanted! Grave Encounters is one of a few horror movies that I liked from beginning to end, and on multiple viewings.

A sequel was made that I did not like as much, but I would recommend it for the purists who want to see it for themselves.

The Vicious Brothers. Grave Encounters, Tribeca Film, 2011.

Seance

This 1920 “spirit photo” by William Hope claims to show a spirit hand moving the table. (Via the National Media Museum’s Flickr page)
In the 1910s, magician William S. Marriott demonstrates how he could make a table appear to levitate with his foot. (From the Mary Evans Picture Library/Harry Price)
An engraving from the April 2, 1887, edition of “Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper” shows a séance with a floating guitar and a spirit hand writing messages. (Courtesy of MysteriousPlanchette.com)
The sheet music for 1920’s “Weegee Weegee Tell Me Do” shows lovers playing with a talking board. (From the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library at Duke University)
This 1865 broadsheet reads, “These Pictures are intended to show that Modern Spiritualism of A.D. 1865 … was described and practised thousands of years since under the names of Witchcraft.” (Via WikiCommons)

Images and captions from an interesting and detailed article on spiritualism from Collectors Weekly, Ghosts in the Machines: The Devices and Daring Mediums That Spoke for the Dead.

Ireland’s Haunted Leap Castle

Built somewhere between the 13th and late 15th century, this Irish castle has seen more gruesome deaths than a Game of Thrones wedding. As legend has it, during a struggle for power within the O’Carroll clan (which had a fondness for poisoning dinner guests), one brother plunged a sword into another, a priest, as he was holding mass in the castle’s chapel. The room is now called “The Bloody Chapel,” and the priest is said to haunt the church at night. And the horror doesn’t end there. During castle renovations in the early 1900s, workmen found a secret dungeon in the Bloody Chapel with so many human skeletons, they filled three cartloads when hauled away. The dungeon was designed so that prisoners would fall through a trap door, have their lungs punctured by wooded spikes on the ground, and die a slow, horrific death within earshot of the sinister clan members above.

From Condé Naste: 15 Haunted Castles Around the World

Shiver

“Propped, or you might say sitting, on the edge of the bed was — nothing in the round world but a scarecrow! A scarecrow out of the garden, of course, dumped into the deserted room . . . Yes; but here amusement ceased. Have scarecrows bare bony feet? Do their heads loll on to their shoulders? Have they iron collars and links of chain about their necks? Can they get up and move, if never so stiffly, across a floor, with wagging head and arms close at their sides? and shiver?”
– “Rats” by M.R. James, first published in The Collected Ghost Stories of MR James (1931), from Hypnogoria: Chained Ghosts

Ghost Vision From the Middle Ages

I love learning about stories of ghost sightings from the past. I discovered an intriguing one from the 12th century on Medievalists.net: The Medieval Walking Dead. Following is an excerpt. If you like it, I encourage you to read the full story on Medievalists.net.

By Giogo – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

“One of the strangest stories to be written down in the Middle Ages comes from the pen of Orderic Vitalis, a twelfth-century monk. From the abbey of Saint Evroult in Normandy, Orderic wrote his Ecclesiastical History, offering one of the best accounts of the Anglo-Norman world up the year 1141. Orderic wrote about the reigns of the kings William I to Stephen, the political events that happened locally and abroad, and even about the news coming from his own monastery.

“At one point in Book Eight of his Ecclesiastical History, Orderic pauses from discussing the warfare between William Rufus and his rebellious count Robert of Belleme, and states, ‘I am sure that I should not pass over in silence or consign to oblivion something that happened to a priest in the diocese of Lisieux on January 1st.’ Orderic explains that the priest was named Walchelin, and ‘he was a young man, strong and brave, well-built and active.’ On the night of January 1, 1091, he was returning home after a visiting a sick man at the far end of his parish. He was travelling along the road, far from from any homes, when he heard the sounds of a great army coming towards him.” […]

“Walchelin stayed at the side of the road as he watched thousands of people walk by. First came the peasants, who were carrying across their necks and shoulders their clothes, animals, furniture and other worldly goods. To the priest they seemed to be a mob of people who were carrying off the plunder from an attack.

“Then came hundreds of women, riding side-saddle on horses, but the saddles were marked with red hot nails. As the women rode, they would jump off their saddles and into the air, and then land back on the nails, leaving them burned and stabbed. After them came a crowd of priests, monks, even bishops and abbots, all dressed in black cowls and groaning and lamenting as they passed by. ‘Next followed a great army of knights in, which no colour was visible save blackness and flickering fire. All rode upon huge horses, fully armed as if they were galloping to battle and carrying jet-black standards.’

From Illumanu

“What scared Walchelin so much was that he recognized many of these people—they were his neighbours and fellow clergy, but they had all died in recent years. There were even people that Walchelin and others thought to be good Christians, even considered saints. But they were here too, walking with this army of the dead.”

Continue reading at The Medieval Walking Dead.