The American Bicentennial saw a lot of celebrations dealing with the USA‘s 200th birthday. It also saw the release of one of the best horror films ever made. Some may argue the point, but Alice Sweet Alice continually makes the top ten of any “Scary Movies” list.
The film is remembered for being one of the last films that ‘tragic songstress’ Lillian Roth would appear in. It also marked the screen debut of Brooke Shields. Although not much of a debut (she gets killed off in the first reel), it was enough to get her name put up higher and considerably bigger in the credits and re-released twice more after she gained notoriety in the film Pretty Baby.
The film was initially released in 1976 under the title of Communion. It was re-released in 1978 after Shields starred as the child bride in Pretty Baby and was released once more in 1981 under the title of Holy Terror. Interestingly, a book tie-in had been done with the film’s original release and it was never re-titled, despite the film having several names.
Written and directed by Alfred Soles, Communion is a gritty film with an almost suffocating religious theme. Dealing with a young girls murder before her first communion and an old widow’s ‘Fatal Attraction‘ with the young Priest she cleans and cooks for. It also deals with a dysfunctional Catholic family, ‘deadly’ sibling rivalry, paedophilia, pre-marital sex and murder.
The film is set in Patterson, New Jersey, where it was shot entirely on location. It actually had it’s premier there under the original name of Communion. *As a side note, the film’s title was altered because the ‘new’ distributors of the film (Allied Artists) demanded the name change because they thought the film’s current title would keep the audience away in droves because it sounded like a ‘religious’ movie.
The single parent Spages family is visiting their parish priest Father Tom in preparation for Karen’s (Brooke Shields) first communion. Older sister Alice (Paula Spaulding also in her film debut, but unlike Brooke, she would only act in one other film) is jealous of the attention that Karen is getting. When Father Tom gives Karen a crucifix necklace Alice acts up and puts on a scary ‘see-through’ mask and ends up frightening the Priest’s housekeeper, Mrs. Tredoni (Mildred Clinton).
Later Alice lures Karen into a deserted warehouse and scares the crap out of her. She then ‘kidnaps’ her sister’s doll with the threat that if she tells their mother Catherine ( Linda Miller), she’ll never see the doll again. Just when it looks like everything is going smoothly, Karen is viscously murdered in the church and her body set on fire.
Alice who is acting strangely, is the immediate suspect and ends up in a institution for observation. Before she gets sent off, she terrorizes her paedophile neighbour who tries to ‘touch her up’.
As body count for a ‘slasher’ type horror film goes, Alice Sweet Alice is pretty low. A grand total of four folks have the misfortune to bump into the murderous person in the yellow raincoat and ‘see-through’ mask. This rain coated fiend loves big knives and likes to make sure that her victims get the point.
When the murderer is ‘un-masked’, (this isn’t as trite as it sounds, the translucent mask really does ‘mask’ the face of the murderer) it’s a bit of a surprise. It’s also creepy as hell.
If you can get past the film’s 1960’s setting and the fact that it looks like it was made in New Jersey, you’ll be able to see why this film has such an iconic standing in the horror field. It’s worth a look just to see Brooke Shields before Pretty Baby and Blue Lagoon. But remember, look quick! The kid ain’t in the picture long.
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