The Sentinel - Jeffrey Konvitz

I've said this before, but it's worth mentioning again - my husband is a 70's-80's horror junkie. Halloween bingo has been great fun for me the past two years because it gives me a good reason to dive in and read some of his favorites that have been sitting on our shelves staring at me for years. Some of them literally staring at me. Horror covers, right? When my youngest was a toddler, he used to pull this book called "The Dark" off the shelf all the time. No other book. Just that one. There is NOTHING more freaky than finding this book in random places around the house. The worst part was that we'd never see him actually do it - and there was no limit to what he'd hide and where we'd find it but never any other book. Here's the book he liked to surprise us with - imagine finding this under your couch blankie when you're finally trying to relax for the evening.

 

The Dark

 

Anyway. Where was I? Oh, yes! The Sentinel. Did you know this book was made into a movie? When I finished the book last night, my husband asked me if I wanted to try to watch the film again. I said, "again?", as in, I had seen it before? As in, a second viewing? I was fairly sure I'd never seen this movie before (and until that moment didn't even know it was a movie). He informed me that way back in our beginning days it was one of the first movies he tried to share with me. Apparently after agreeing and sitting and watching a bit, I incredulously uttered, "Oh my God, what are we watching?". I'm sure I was perfectly polite about it and didn't flail and scream like he seems to remember, but as I have no memory of this event you'll have to decide for yourself how that all went down.

 

My overall thoughts of the story are this - it was a disturbing slow burner with a right frightening ending.

 

From the top:

 

Beautiful model, Allison Parker, decides she needs to live on her own before committing to the happily ever after with her lawyer boyfriend, Michael Farmer. Though she loves him, she hasn't really had any space since her attempted suicide of two years prior. She finds a perfect old brownstone, fully furnished, and right her in her price range. The only downside is the creepy blind priest that lives on the top floor who spends day in and day out staring out the window.

 

I'm going to spoil this now, so read no further if you think you'd like the joy of discovery here. This quaint old brownstone is actually the entrance to hell.

 

Once she moves in, Allison gets to party with her neighbors (well, they're actually denizens of hell and disturbing as all get out, but they do offer her coffee and cake and who can say no to that type of hospitality?) and for her friendliness she gets migraines, fainting spells, and some very wacky hallucinations. After 'stabbing' her dead father during one such episode, she moves back in with her lawyer boyfriend who tries two different tactics to healing Allison. Firstly, beating her about the face, and secondly, actually investigating the building and its tenants.

 

He finds that Allison is actually the next Sentinel, God's chosen one who will guard the gate of hell to keep the evil dead from invading the Earth. She's to replace the creepy fifth floor priest who will never answer his damn door, who doesn't party with the neighbors and literally never leaves that window.  Michael sleuths this out by breaking into the Archdioceses and looking through their files for clues about the priest and then by tearing the brownstone apart (literally tearing paneling off the walls to reveal the words of Dante inscribed there. If you haven't already rolled your eyes about how NYC holds the gateway to hell, or the fact that there's paper files lying around in the Archdioceses office that basically explains all this mega-level supernatural crud, the Dante thing is a good time to start). 

 

The thing I notice about most of these 70's and early 80's horrors that I've read is that I hate everyone. I never really wanted the devil to win here, but there was a point where I just needed Allison to go ahead and assume crucifix clutching, glassy-eyed stare already so I could be done with the axe murderess and other psychos. It's saying something when the girlfriend beater is the second best character in the book- luckily, any guilt there is assuaged when he's bludgeoned to death and joins the legion.

 

I read this pretty quickly and had a moment of genuine fright (and a some disgust), so I think it did its job.