01 November 2014

The Sentinel (1977)
Contributed by Lesleh Donaldson

Lesleh Donaldson is a Toronto-born actress who appeared in a number of memorable horror movies including Funeral Home (1980), Happy Birthday to Me (1981), Deadly Eyes (1982), and Curtains (1983). Her television work includes appearances on the genre series Friday the 13th (1987), guest spots on Night Heat (1988), Adderly (1986), and Street Legal (1994), as well as voice work on Star Wars: Ewoks (1986) and Star Wars: Droids (1985). Donaldson is also an accomplished stage actress who is proud of her theater performances in The Diary of Anne Frank and How Could You, Mrs. Dick? These days, she enjoys writing and continues to act -- most recently in the forthcoming indie anthology horror Tales of Poe (2012).

Ghost movies. I'm a huge fan of ghost movies and always have been. It's one of my favorite subgenres.

To that end, I watch the Ghost Hunters shows. I watch Ghost Adventures. I know they're fake but I'm such a sucker for those. I can't resist them. I saw Grave Encounters (2011) and I thought that was really well done.

Anything having to do with ghosts or the supernatural, really gets to me. I find those kinds of horror stories the most fascinating. I think it must be because I believe in the existence of that stuff, on some level.

So with that in mind, I'd have to say my pick for favorite early horror film memory is Michael Winner's The Sentinel (1977). I remembering seeing it when I was about seventeen or eighteen years old. I didn't see it in a theater. I watched it during a network airing on television.

Just look at all the actors in this one! Christopher Walken, Chris Sarandon, Eli Wallach, Burgess Meredith, Beverly D'Angelo, Martin Balsam...and Ava Gardner!

The big scene in The Sentinel and the one that's stayed with me forever (I've had nightmares about it as well) is the sequence where Alison Parker, played by Cristina Raines, wakes up in the middle of the night and the chandelier is shaking. She hears footsteps, so she gets up to investigate, and finds the cat eating a bird in the hallway. Alison goes up the stairs holding the knife...the door closes behind her...and you see the shadow of her father in the corner.

Then she sees the two women her father had been with. They're lying naked on the bed. Her dad comes out of the darkness and she starts stabbing him. The next morning, a private investigator is found murdered. So the big mystery is, did she kill him? If not, who did?

Hands down, that scene freaked the holy crap out of me!

And that ending where all the deformed people come out? Completely unnerving. It was like watching Freaks (1932) for the first time. I remember thinking, "Who are these people? Are these real folks they hired to do this?" The makeup just seemed too good, too real. Of course, it turns out they used actual people with real deformities. It was really disturbing and unsettling.

Some of the more straightforward horror stuff -- whether it's splatter, or the documentary-style movies, like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre -- are certainly scary.

But for me personally, ghost films -- and supernatural possession pictures, such as The Exorcist (1973), or even The Changeling (1980) -- that kind of horror is truly the scariest.

In fact, I'd almost have to give The Changeling an award as runner-up to The Sentinel, since it's one of my all-time favorites. Most people cite "the ball rolling down the stairs" as the most frightening scene in The Changeling.

I would go with the seance scene. The moment where the medium is writing everything down fervently, everything she's hearing, and George C. Scott is recording the whole thing. He comes in later and plays the tape back, and hears the medium ask the kid: "What's your name?"

And then he hears the voice of the child's spirit, whisper: "Joseph..."

Terrifying!

Recently, somebody said something interesting about ghosts, something to the effect of: "Ghosts don't know they're dead. So they don't know they're haunting people."

And I thought, "Jesus, dammit, if there *is* such a thing as a ghost and I was one, I want to KNOW I'm dead so I can actually have fun haunting someone!" Really, do you want to be dead and not know it, and can't even enjoy who and what you are?

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