How is it going my apartment dwelling friends? This summer has certainly shed its warmth upon us. Here in Chicago, we have already had days of severe heat. (Note: At the time I wrote the beginning of this article, it was hot. I assume no responsibility for any unusually cool weather that may have transpired since then). I hope all of you have functional air conditioning, especially you folks in the upper-floor apartments. If not, I feel for you. But know this – matters could be worse. Sure, an apartment that is at the mercy of the heat index makes for some uncomfortable living conditions, but imagine if your cozy little abode was at the mercy of the souls bound to Hell! These souls could tell you a thing or two about bearing conditions in an overheated environment, believe me! Heat or no heat, an apartment haunted by the souls of the damned just doesn’t cut it when it comes to creating that “homey” experience. It gives a new meaning to an event called “the house warming party.” Just ask Alison Parker. She is the protagonist in Jeffrey Konitz’s novel The Sentinel, as well as Director Michael Winner’s movie of the same name. She can tell you what it’s like to live with such “hellish” neighbors.
Welcome to the second review of this summer’s theme: Haunted Apartments. The introductory article can be found here. As mentioned in the preceding paragraph, the subject of this article is The Sentinel, both the book and the film. Back in 2016, I wrote a review for the movie only. The article can be found here: The Sentinel –A Film Review. At the time of press (Hee Hee, I am using newspaper terminology for my Blog. Hee hee!), I had not yet read the book. That has changed. I have since learned that the book is better (which is not always the case), and it has helped to shed light on some of the confusing parts of the film. The film isn’t bad, by the way, but it’s “not great”. How does “good” sound? Goodish? I’ll explain later. Anyway, this article couldn’t be more timely, for on Thursday, June 28, Thorne and Cross (a two-person author team whose books I’ve reviewed) will interview Jeffery Konvitz on their weekly podcast called Haunted Nights Live. I’m looking forward to this interview and I’ll present more details on this later.
Let me outline this article for you. I shall begin with a plot summary. WARNING: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS! When it comes to analyzing, which goes beyond reviewing, spoilers are almost unavoidable. And…I will be analyzing, as well as comparing and contrasting the two mediums (book vs. film). Therefore I must delve into the weeds of the plot, including it’s hidden treasures (to tell you the truth, I have already revealed a spoiler: the neighbors = Hellbound souls. This isn’t apparent and the beginning of the story. OOOPS!) After the plot summary, I will present what I call “A Review of My Review.” In addition to reading the book, I have revisited the film again. In fact, I have watched it twice since I wrote the initial review. Have things changed? A little bit. I’ll explain as I revisit that review. Then, I will detail some of the major differences between the film and the novel and explain why the book is better. After this juxtaposition, I’ll say a thing or two about the real apartment building that was used in the film. Finally, I’ll present more details on that Konvitz interview, and wind things down with a joke or two. Sound good? But of course it does! So let’s get down to business!
Alison Parker is a successful model in New York City. However, she has a lot of emotional baggage, and her ability to take care of herself is questioned by her boyfriend the lawyer, whose name is Michael Farmer in the book, but goes by Michael Lerman in the film. He pressures her to marry him and insists that it would be best to let him take care of her. However, Alison is an independent woman and insists that she must live alone, at least for a while. She finds an apartment building that is surprisingly affordable. She is curious about the old man that continuously sits by the window of his top-floor apartment, staring out onto the streets below. The realtor tells her to pay him no mind. The man is a retired priest named Father Halloran. He is blind. The realtor suggests that he is senile. The Archdiocese of New York looks after him. But there is nothing to worry about. He is harmless.
Alison is a survivor of two suicide attempts. The first attempt occurs when she is a teen, shortly after she accidentally witnesses her father participating in an orgy with two prostitutes. The second occurs after the mysterious death of Farmer/Lerman’s wife. See, Alison’s relationship with him began as an affair. Supposedly, the wife took her own life, heartbroken over her husband’s affair. Feeling guilty , Alison had tried to take her life as well. These suicide attempts are important plot points regarding the resolution of this story.
Alison’s neighbors are flamboyant to say the least. There is Charles Chazen, who prances around with a bird on his shoulder. There are the two women who are lovers. One of these women openly masturbates in front of Alison. At the apartment complex, Alison attends a party for a cat. Mostly she is amused by all this (but not so with the masturbating woman), but she will not tolerate the noisy neighbors that live directly above her. In the middle of the night, they shuffle about, shaking the lamp that hangs from the ceiling above her bed. She visits the realtor to complain, only to find out that she has no neighbors aside from the blind priest. All the apartments she had visited are vacant.
Alison confides with Michael about this. In response, he hires a private detective to watch her. Meanwhile, Alison continues to hear noise coming from the upstairs. Possessed with the keys to the apartment above her (I forget how she came upon these keys), she enters the place and sees her dead, naked father running toward her. She stabs him. There is blood.
In reality, Alison had stabbed the detective (the film barely makes this clear), prompting an investigation from Detective Gatz. It turns out, Gatz and Farmer/Lerman are arch enemies. Gatz had investigated the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of Farmer/Lerman’s first wife (remember I had used the word “supposedly” when I wrote that she had taken her life). He was convinced that Farmer/Lerman had her killed by hiring that private investigator as a hitman, the PI that was stabbed by Alison. But he failed to provide the proof. Gatz now has a second chance to pin a murder on Farmer/Lerman; the murder of the detective.
Meanwhile, Farmer/Lerman investigates the apartment complex that Alison lives in. He discovers that the Archdiocese of New York owns it. More compelling, he discovers, is that the Father Halloran, the priest that sits by the window, is a “sentinel”. He was never a priest. He was a man that had attempted suicide. To atone for that sin, he is forced to guard the gates of hell and prevent the souls of the damned, including Satan himself, from entering into our realm.
At midnight on a certain date, there is to be a changing of the sentinel. Halloran is to retire and Alison is to take his place, atoning for her sins (the suicide attempts). By the story’s end, Alison is surrounded by the souls of the damned. Michael Farmer/Lerman is among them. He perished at the hands of another priest who was protecting Halloran from Farmer/Lerman, who was trying to kill him. Farmer/Lerman is now bound to Hell, not only for his attempt on the life of the sentinel, but for the killing of his wife.
Led by Satan, who is Charles Chazen, the evil souls of hell try to get Alison to take her life. For, if at the time of the changing of the guard, they can convince the “sentinel-elect” to take his/her life, then Hell wins and the evil spirits can roam free into this world. But Alison accepts her duty. God wins, Hell Loses. At the story’s end, it is now Alison, that sits at the window, dressed in a nun’s garb, looking old and frail. She too is now blind. This legion of sentinels and the ritual of the changing of the guard have been going on since the days of The Garden of Eden. All sentinels are people who have attempted suicide. Sentinel duty is a way for them to atone for attempting this grave sin.
(As a side note: the book mentions the first sentinels were angels that guarded the gates of The Garden of Eden. I can’t help but wonder, were they put on guard duty before or after Adam and Eve were evicted. If before, they didn’t do a good job keeping the Devil out. But it’s understandable. Satan came in the form of a snake. He could have slithered between the legs of the angels and under the gate while the angel/s were having a cigarette or something)
A REVIEW OF MY REVIEW
Wait! Come back! It’s okay for you to tread into this section of this article. This line is from “Inferno”, the first canticle of Dante’s three-part poem The Divine Comedy. (I have the Divine Comedy in hard cover, classic bound style. I started reading it. I should finish in about, oh..twenty years or so. I’ll keep you posted!). According to this fourteenth century epic, this is a warning posted at the gates of Hell. Michael Farmer/Lerman uncovers this inscription on a wall within the apartment complex, which was previously hidden behind a wooden panel or some kind of covering. Does this mean the apartment hides the gates to Hell? Yes and “mostly yes.”
In my first review, I placed this story under a category I define as “houses that serve as a portal to some other dimension.” The inscription Farmer/Lerman finds seems to justify this claim. While I argue my claim remains true, this matter in a bit more complex. Upon further reading, it seems that “gates of hell” are not confined to this one location: an apartment building in New York City (although that would explain all the unsavory elements that populate the streets of New York!) The souls of the damned will gather at whatever location the sentinel happens to be stationed. See, throughout history, the sentinel did not need to sit before this one window at this one apartment complex in this one city. Perhaps in the otherworldly dimension, there is a fixed guard station as well as a stationary entrance/exit to Hell. But here on earth, the locations of these places vary throughout time. Who knows, maybe in the heyday of the Roman Empire, the sentinel stood guard at a building in Rome with the gates of Hell nearby. Likewise, while the sentinel’s living body sits or stands at a fixed location, his/her soul is free to roam.
Most of the info above comes from Konvitz’s sequel, The Guardian. I apologize for treading into areas that belong in a separate review, but I felt it necessary to explain, as it does impact my claims stated in my first review. While the apartment building does serve as portal to another location (i.e. Hell), this “portal” is transient based on the structural layout of civilizations at any given time.
In my first review, I criticize the performances of the two main actors; Christina Raines (Alison Parker) and Chris Sarandon (Michael Lerman,) For Sarandon (former husband of Susan Sarandon), I lay it on thick: From the original review:
“Unfortunately, this former husband of Susan Sarandon has a lot of screen time. Too much! Large chunks of the movie revolve around him as he confers with police and priests. See, he is using his skills as a lawyer to research the haunted apartment complex and discover more about the strange blind priest. Oh God, I wish he didn’t! I found myself shouting at the TV, “Just stay out of it Mr. Mustachio Douchebag! (he dons a cheesy mustache. I don’t know if he has “that other thing”) I want to see more of the neighbors and the haunted complex and less of you and your research!”
These seniments remain. However, “the stuff” of “Mr. Mustachio’s” research and his interactions with characters outside the apartment complex are actually important to the overall story. I learned this from reading the book. However, the way the film presents all this – Meh! This will be explained in more detail in the next section: Book Vs. Movie.
THE BOOK VS. THE MOVIE
As previously mentioned, I prefer the book to the movie. I have already alluded to the whys and wherefores. Are you ready for more details that will back up my preference? But of course you are! Simply stated, the book devotes more time to certain story details than the film. In past book vs. movie articles, I defend any given film’s omission of certain plot points by citing the “200 page/2 hour reel” ratio. I invented this ratio; maybe one day I’ll be inducted into the mathematical hall of fame, I don’t know. But what I mean is that by the very nature of each medium, there is more opportunity for story and character development in a book than a film. Films cannot be expected to cover all the information that is in a book. But gosh darn it; the details that the film omits are important! A large chuck of the film is hard to follow, due to the sparse attention to important points. For instance:
1) The Death of the Private Eye
In the book, Farmer has connections with a shady detective (his name escapes me). Quite possibly, Farmer had hired him to kill his first wife – this is back-story. In the main story, Farmer hires her to spy on Alison. He does so, occupying in the same abandoned apartment rooms that Alison investigates when she sees her the soul of her dead father attack her. Alison stabs the spirit, but in reality she stabs and kills the private eye.
The film barely touches upon this. The film shows the private eye on the street when Alison roams the apartment rooms. Later, it shows Detective Gatz, who has it in for Farmer, finding the body of the detective in a junkyard. Viewers are left to wonder how he died, and just what in the heck his murder has to do with the story.
2) Farmer/Lerman’s Nefarious Ways/Conflict with Detective Gatz
Sure the film touches on this, but it was a soft touch. A little nudge? The book explains how Gatz had tried to bring conspiracy of murder charges on Farmer for the suspicious death of his wife, and fails miserably, embarrassing himself and his department. Now there is a new unsolved murder – the death of the Private Eye, who was, mostly likely, hired by Farmer kill his wife. But he must tread cautiously, for he does not have the backing of his superiors due to his past failures on any cases involving Farmer.
Toward the film’s end, when the ghost of Farmer/Lerman is in league with the hell-bound souls, it is explained that he is there (in Hell) on account of his attempt on the blind priest’s life. Oh but his misdeeds go way beyond that! The attack on the priest was an act of sudden rage, temporary insanity if you will. And he fails to kill him. So when watching the film, it seems odd that his violent confrontation with the blind priest has earned him this spot in hell. According to the book, he also had his wife killed, and had done other nefarious deeds. A much better telling/explanation of Farmer/Lerman’s final fate.
With all these film plot holes surrounding Farmer/Lerman, and add to that Sarandon’s poor acting skills, the parts of the movie that poorly dwell on all this, are confusing and boring. The supporting actors save this film! John Carradine as Father Halloran Ava Gardner as Miss Logan the realtor, Arthur Kennedy as Monsignor Franchino (More on him in the next paragraph), Eli Wallach as Detective Gatz, Burgess Meredith as Charles Chazen, a.k.a. The Devil (he is the best part of the film!), Sylvia Miles and Beverly D’Angelo as the lesbians – great, great great! Here’s some irony for ya – in the film, the neighbors try to seal our heroine’s fate to an eternity in hell. Outside of the film, it is Sarandon (Lerman) and to some extent Raines (Alison Parker) that “try their best” to drag this film “down”. But the actors that play the hellish souls are the ones that save this film and bring it “up” when things go “low”
3) Monsignor Franchino and the Protection of the Conspiracy
Arthur Kennedy has a significant amount of screen time as Monsignor Franchino, protector and facilitator of the duties and rituals involving the protection of the sentinel and the changing of the guard. A welcome presence he is, for is acting is good. However, his duties in the book go beyond his duties in the film. He is a “fixer”. In the book, he is the one that removes the body of the Private Eye from the apartment and dumps it in a trash compound. After all, one cannot have a crime scene in an apartment where the sentinel stands guard. It would ruin everything.
4) Real Estate Transactions
The realtor that leases the apartment to Alison secretly works for the Church. When Farmer/Lerman seeks her out to question her about the hapenings in the apartment complex, he can’t find her. The Church has hidden her. This is NOT made clear in the film.
A lot of film bashing going on in this article. But the truth is, I like the film. It has major flaws but the supporting actors save it.
Do I have any criticisms over the book? Minor ones. The first has to do with the overall story, both in the film and book. And it’s not really a criticism per say, more of a disclaimer. Much of the story is based on “truths” as according to the Catholic Church. In this story, homosexuality and suicide are treated as grave sins. Those that engage in such sins are portrayed either as evil or in need of some serious redemption. The two women lovers seem to be cast to Hell on account of their same-sex relationship. This runs counter to today’s standards, where the rights of LGBTQ are being fought on a daily basis, with many successes as of late. Also, “suicide” is now perceived as an unfortunate outcome of a mental illness. It is generally not considered as an act deserving of an eternity in Hell. Remember, the film and book came out in the 70s. Perceptions were different then. Leaving aside these anachronisms, the story is still a good one.
Now here comes a minor criticism of the book: It lacks section dividers. Three paragraphs might describe the events of certain characters in the apartment complex, and all of the sudden, the fourth paragraph takes us to a new character in a new setting. This is confusing. But as a reader, I got used to this. Mostly. In the end, this style is forgivable.
THE “REAL” SENTINEL BUILDING
This article would be remiss if it didn’t cover the set location – the real apartment building that was used in the film. That building, according to OnTheSetOfNewYork , would be a Brooklyn brownstone located at 10 Montague Terrace, Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn. The apartment was used in both exterior and interior shots.
According to 6sqft.com, there is a co-op up for sale. It can be yours for the measly price of $1.15 million. Check out the rooms!
Well, this article is coming to a close. Please check out Thorne and Cross’s Haunted Nights Live on June 28 for their interview with Jeffery Konvitz. Every Thursday night, they interview a different author. Here is the link to this week’s show:
Tune in at 7:00pm Central Time!
I would like to have had written a review of Konvitz’s sequel to The Sentinel – The Guardian – before this interview, but alas, it will to come after.
Now, I wonder if “The Sentinel” is roasting in the top-floor apartment on those hot summer days. Did Father Halloran have air conditioning? It gets awfully hot in a top floor apartment. And since he guards the gates of hell, he has other heat to contend with.So to all you apartment dwellers w/out AC, it could be worse. Be thankful you are not the sentinel. If you were, things would really get hot, hot, hot!