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The Sentinel (1977)

October 26th 2014
Intro by Lisa Rae Bartolomei
Cinemaniac board member

Hi Everyone, tonight I’m going to talk about the role of the devil in 70’s horror films. My first introduction to the satanic sub genre was watching the Omen and its sequel Damien: The Omen II on TV in the late ‘80s. I had a taped VHS copy of the Damien: The Omen, which I watched religiously as I had a pre- teen crush on Jonathon Scott Taylor. The conflicted teen Anti-Christ who struggles and eventually accepts the destiny bestowed upon him by fate. It’s a story that many teenagers can relate too, the struggle to assert their own identity in the face of the pressures of their family, religion and social class to define who they are. One of the core ideas in the Omen films and other “Satanic Panic” films of the era such as “ THE CHOSEN “ made in 1978 is the rise of Satan through the corridors of political and corporate power. Based on the last book of the BIBLE “THE REVELATION” which predicts the rise of the antichrist, in a morally bankrupt, sexually corrupted and profit hungry world. These films reflected the paranoia of the Right wing religious conservative element of the US and other Western countries which began their backlash against the free love , left leaning liberal politics dominant in the 60’s and would usher in the return to the conservative Christian Values of the 1980’s with the rise of leaders such as Ronald Regan and Margaret Thatcher in 80’s. In fact I would argue, the right’s relentless greed is fantastically illustrated in DAMIEN OMEN II by the Thorn corporations desire to control the food supply and destroy the lively hood of small farmers all in a bid to maximise profits. One only has to peruse the plethora of mad conspiracy bloggers on the internet to find most of the worlds ills explained by some kind of overreaching Satanic conspiracy, which usually exposes the writers own fears, prejudice’s and social anxieties. At a psychological level, the devil is often associated with carnal desire and a representation of man’s animalistic nature, which must be suppressed by the civilizing authority of church and state. For thousands of years the idea of eternal damnation in the fiery pit of hell was the great social motivator to keep the masses in line. In the first half of the 20th century, the devastation of two world wars and the rise of consumer orientated middle class in the 50’s gave rise to youth culture. Suburban teenagers on mass began to rebel against their parents and the repressive and hypocritical institutions of the church and state. The invention of contraception meant that people were free to begin exploring sex without fear of pregnancy for the first the first time. By the time the 60’s arrived a generation of teens believed they could change the world. The Hippie movement explored free love and drugs and paganism. Repressed Minorities rose up giving birth to the Feminism ,Civil Rights and Gay rights movements , university campuses exploded with revolutionary fervour. Anton le Vay began his church of Satan as a reaction to the hypocricy of the Catholic church advocating materialism and the indulgence of earthly desire.

In Hollywood the restrictive Hays Code was lifted in 1968 allowing a new generation of film makers to explore taboo subjects such as sex, occultism and death in a graphic detail never seen before. 1968 also saw the success Roman Polanski’s “ROSEMARY’S BABY “. Rosemary and her husband Guy move into a Manhattan apartment and next to interfering and peculiar neighbours, Rosemary falls pregnant and is convinced her child is the product of a Satanic Ritual and is demonic. Throughout the film we are unsure if Rosemary is hysterical and anxious about her pregnancy or if the conspiracy she perceives is real. Themes common to many of the 70’s horror films emerge. The Faustian pact between Guy and the neighbours for power and wealth the idea of the “hysterical” woman and paranoia about the other (in this case the neighbours) manipulating fate for their own ends Anxiety about childbirth and the corruption of children by the devil are tropes continually repeated in the Satanic Panic Film. The success of Rosemary’s Baby ensured the Devil a prime position in the films of the next decade.

The end of the 60’s saw the hippies dream of free love die. The Love in of Woodstock turned into the violence and murder of the infamous Rolling Stones, Altamont concert . The Manson Family Murder’s made the general public fearful of hippies and youth culture labelling it as “Satanic”. This fear of Satanic Hippies could be seen onscreen in such films as 1972’s The DEATH MASTER ,

1971’s WEREWOLF ON WHEELS featuring Satanic bikie gangs, 1971’s I DRINK YOUR BLOOD where a coven of Satanic hippies are infected with rabies as revenge for their rape of a young girl Eventually, rabies infects the whole town Which plays into the notion of society being corrupted by the satanic forces in their midst.

The ideological war between the conservatives and liberals in the 70’s played out in cinematic representations of the devil. Films such as The 1971 French Film Don’t Deliver us from Evil , the only film to ever be banned in France for blasphemy and Ken Russell’s “The Devils” 1970 banned in several countries were both highly critical in their depictions of Catholicism. The Devils based on Aldous Huxley’s book the Devil of Loudon tells the true story of a reported mass possession of nuns in the 17th century. Father Grandier a sexually adulterous priest is accused of witchcraft and held responsible for the Nun’s possesion by the church authorities. The possession is depicted as a form of mass hysteria born from sexual repression and a pretext for the state to seize power from local authorities and destroy the cities fortifications. In Don’t Deliver us from evil two teenage girls rebel against their rich and neglectful parents and their Catholic upbringing to serve Satan, commit sin and define their own fate against the repressive environment that surounds them. Both Films are explicit in their use of blasphemous imagery, such as nuns masturbating with crucifix’s humping statues of jesus and the young girls whipping a mock Christ and throwing communion hosts in the water. I would argue that both these films are highly critical of Christianity and are representative of a generation that uses Satan as a metaphor for liberation against the social and sexual control of the church. Horror Explotation and Pornographic Films also used the idea of the Devil as a form of sexual liberation in such films as Ted Mikel’s Blood Orgy of The She-Devils, the porn film THE DEVIL IN MRS JONES, THE MONK, jean Rollin’s Les Demoniaques ASULYM OF SATAN, and Mexico’s ALUCARDA.

Christmas Eve 1973 saw the release of the scariest film of all time “THE EXORCIST”. My first introduction to this film was at years old when my mother a fervent atheist told me lots of people found this film terrifying I didn’t really but you should watch it”. Again the protagonist is a young girl in the grip of adolescence, some could argue that female sexuality is long depicted as the domain of Satan and it no coincidence that Regan’s possession coincides with her passage into Womanhood. In the height of her possession she is sexually lewd and provocative. Reagan is also the child of divorce. Her mother, Chris McNeil is a representative of the “new woman”. Who is independent and defining her own destiny and in control of her own life and finances without assistance from men. The Exorcist depicts a world where the whole world is corrupted. The priest Damien Karras has lost his faith and the devil is able to take possession of the innocent. Some people have argued that Chris brought about this possession by her rejection of male authority which must be restored by renewing her faith in the priesthood and patriarchal authority represented by the priests. Reagan also has no agency over her own body it is up to the priests to save her from then devil In that way the Exorcist can be seen as a conservative film that re-establishes the role of the Church as the protector from the demonic forces of the world. Without the church even the most innocent would fall victim to the Devils temptations and vices. I would also argue that the Exorcist is also about love conquering evil. A mother’s love for her daughter and Father Karras’ sacrifice is the ultimate act of love that saves Reagan’s Soul. The EXCORCIST was a massive success and spawned many imitators such as “ABBY” the blaxplotation Exorcist , Hammer studio’s “To The Devil A Daughter, Beyond the Door, the Turkish Film Seytan. Mario Bava’s surrealistic nightmare Lisa And the Devil set in a Spanish Villa was disastrously recut for release in the US as “The House of Exorcism” with Reaganesque possession sequences added into the film.

Michael Winner the director of the Sentinel was reknown for his conservative values. It was his only horror film. He was known mainly as an action director and his most famous film Death Wish can be read as a reaction by the conservative upper middle class against the poor. A feminist reading The Sentinel can be seen to enforce stereotypes about the role of women. The main character Alison is a model wishes to assert her independence by moving out of her boyfriends house into her own apartment. By rejecting male authority she literally opens the door to hell in her life. Much like Rosemary’s Baby in content the sentinel depicts Alison as hysterical, delusional woman lost in surrealistic nightmare whom despite her initial act of independence plays little role in her own destiny. She has a choice accept the role of the church and patriarchal authority and sexual repression or give in to her suicidal urges and unleash hell on earth. Again sexuality is seen at the root of the devils influence. Alison’s “neighbours” are lesbians, and murderers. Michael Winner controversially chose to real life freaks depicting the legions of hell. This plays into the idea of “The Other” that which is strange, inexplicable or different as being strongly linked to the Devil, during the early modern period Strangers people of different ethnicities and deformities where often linked with Witchcraft and devil worship and this fear of the other and deviant behaviour is often at the root of racism, and bigotry in society.

How we view the Devil, defines what we believe to be good and evil in the world.

The role of the devil defines the Society as a whole and our place in it. There are many different ways to interpret what the devil means in these films and that differs greatly from person to person and ts all part of the magic of cinema . I’d love you all to think about what the old goat means to you and how its coloured by how you were raised. I hope you all enjoy the film and Hail Satan!