Friday, July 6, 2007

Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)

Alice, Sweet Alice (also known as Communion and The Holy Terror) has recently been re-released on DVD by Hen’s Tooth Video. After hearing about the creepy killer in this film so many times over the years, I couldn’t get my hands on the DVD quickly enough!

Alice (Paula Sheppard) is a sullen, plain girl who is jealous of her younger sister Karen (a very young Brooke Shields). Karen is obviously the favorite, getting new clothes from their mother, a special veil for her first communion and even a gold cross necklace from their priest, Father Tom. Alice, on the other hand, is a troublemaker. She frightens Father Tom’s housekeeper, Mrs. Tredoni, by wearing a scary translucent mask and yellow rain slicker, steals Karen’s dolls, yells at her mother and teases the creepy and overweight pedophile landlord.

At Karen’s first communion, someone in a yellow rain slicker and translucent mask strangles Karen, places her inside a pew and lights her on fire. Suspicion falls on Alice, especially after her Aunt Annie starts accusing her of killing Karen.

When someone in a yellow rain slicker and mask attacks Aunt Annie, violently stabbing her in the foot and putting her in the hospital, suspicions of Alice only deepen. Alice is already a strange child, preferring to play in the dank basement with her jar of roaches, pilfered dolls and jewelry, and, of course, her yellow rain slicker and creepy translucent mask. It doesn’t take long before she is subjected to a lie detector test by the police, where she claims that Karen is back from the dead and responsible for the killing. To the adults, this is crazy talk and she is placed in a children’s psychiatric hospital.

Meanwhile, Alice’s estranged father doesn’t believe Alice is the killer and sets out to find the real culprit. His search leads him to believe Alice’s cousin is the murderer and he is lured to investigate an old abandoned building. He indeed discovers the killer’s identity (as do we), but only just before he is killed.

Alice is released from the hospital and the film takes a slight turn for the worse now that we know who the killer is. The climactic and suspenseful ending makes up for the premature revelation of the killer though!

Alice, Sweet, Alice is a pretty solid horror film from 1976. It starts off great, with some very memorable characters (including the sleazy and gross landlord) and some great red herrings and twists. Unfortunately, it loses some stream when the killer is unmasked and it goes off on a religious zealot rant. Still, the ending is more than adequate with a pleasant surprise and the rest of the film is also very well done.

Alice, Sweet Alice almost plays like a giallo film – it has a mysterious killer, many red herrings and a more grown-up, crime/family drama feel than most typical slashers. It also tackles some weighty issues, such as the transformation from a girl to a woman through puberty and menstruation, pedophilia and religious zealotry/guilt within the Catholic Church.

The direction by Alfred Sole is gritty and very realistic. There are many shots of the Catholic Church and its icons. This is definitely not a flashy film, but the straightforward shots give it a raw sense of realism. Sole also co-wrote the script (along with Rosemary Ritvo), and with the exception of kind of losing it during the second part of the film, they’ve done a fantastic job, especially with the character development and many sub-plots.

If you’re looking for a film that’s equal parts crime drama, slasher and heavy on the religious iconography, I suggest Alice, Sweet Alice. The shocking child murder and creepy translucent mask was enough to sell me!

Buy Alice, Sweet Alice

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