When she was bad
ALICE, SWEET ALICE
“If you survive this night… Nothing will scare you again.”
A.k.a. Communion; Holy Terror
Director/Writer: Alfred Sole / Writer: Rosemary Ritvo / Cast: Linda Miller, Mildred Clinton, Paula Sheppard, Niles McMaster, Jane Lowry, Rudolph Willrich, Michael Hardstark, Alphonso DeNoble, Brooke Shields, Gary Allen.
Body Count: 4
Laughter Lines: “My mother thought you could use some cake, fatty.”
You know that meme of the little girl almost smiling in front of a burning house? That’ll come to mind when the credits roll here.
I grew up in a very religious environment – church every Sunday, although instead of a church, it was some outhouse in a guy’s garden known at The Tabernacle where sermons or whatever lasted 2-3 hours every week. Sounds more like a cult now that I write it down.
Nothing turns a kid away from religion (and into the liberating arms of horror movies) quicker than having it forced upon you, so it’s no surprise now I don’t categorise myself as having any belief. Agnostic, I suppose. I believe in nature, rather than a sentient higher power that cares deeply about our every thought or notion.
Seems like maybe Alfred Sole had a similar thought process about Catholicism as evidenced by the quite anti-organised religion sentiments at work in Alice, Sweet Alice, a quirky, plot and character driven pre-Halloween production that draws some inspiration from the Italian giallo subset.
“Parents so often don’t know their children as well as they presume,” says a shrink of Catherine’s troublesome oldest, Alice (Sheppard, who was 19 playing 12), who is mean to her little sister Karen (Brooke Shields in her debut), and runs around their rooming house with a creepy plastic mask on, torments the obese, predatory landlord, and is known for explaining away the messes she gets into as accidents.
This excuse might not fly when good little Karen is murdered before she can take her first communion by a figure in the uniform yellow rainmack all the parishioners of their church have and Alice’s creepy mask. Where was she at the time? Why is she such a little bitch? Hang on, is this 1961!??
Yes. It is. Took me a while to notice it, but the film is set in 1961, making it that über rare non-contemporary slasher movie. Catherine’s ex-husband returns to mourn his daughter and stick around until the cops can work out who is responsible. When his squawking, shrill sister-in-law is attacked ‘by Alice’, the girl is carted off to a children’s hospital for observation as she’s now the chief suspect.
The film takes the unusual step of revealing who the killer is the next time they strike and it’s a genuine surprise, affording the remaining ~40 minutes to pivot between their deteriorating psychosis as they try to justify what they’ve done in the name of their beliefs, and the tail-end of the investigation, with a few more stabbings thrown in for good measure.
I underrated this film for some time and my recent re-watch showed that the attention to characters and (for its era) interesting photographic setups are where its appeal lies. It’s almost as if Catherine and her ex (with whom she is amicable – a nice change) are the only sane people in a world where pomp and ceremony are prioritised over psychological well-being. Alice is an undeniably strange little kid who evokes little sympathy for her plight given her sadistic behaviour, which provides the ultimate commentary on the motivation of the actual killer, who feels they have more right to forgiveness than a divorced mother who married after she got pregnant.
It’d be nice if subsequent slasher movies had as much to say on deeper issues, rather than dance around the edges claiming to be nihilistic protests over censorship. This is clearly a standout American film, one that deserves a lot more recognition than it ever got.
Blurbs-of-interest: Alfred Sole later directed the slasher parody Pandemonium.