What a treat for me, to start this month off with a movie I'd never seen before. Tonight's viewing was the 1976 classic, Alice, Sweet Alice, a film that marks the silver screen debut of Brooke Shields. In fact, the movie was originally titled Communion, and then re-released as Holy Terror once Shields became a star.
And yeah, I've got Mary B's copy of the movie. Don't even ask how I got a hold of it.
(I bought it off Amazon for a buck fiddy.)
Set in the early 1960's in a working-class neighborhood in New Jersey, we meet Karen (Shields) and her sister Alice (Paula Sheppard) as they and their mother pay a visit to Father Tom, who heads up the parish where the girls attend school.
From the get-go, we see that pretty little Karen is the favored child. Father Tom dotes on her, while Alice is all but ignored. She lashes out by teasing Karen and generally acting like a serial-killer-in-training. Alice terrorizes Father Tom's housekeeper, Mrs. Tredoni, whie wearing a creepy translucent mask (with just a hint of makeup on it) and her bright yellow school rain slicker. She takes Karen's dolls, she steals her communion veil, she leads Karen into abandoned buildings to scare her...parents of the world, here's your lesson: act like you love your children equally, even if you don't. Show no favoritism, even if one of your kids is dumb or kinda ugly. Because you know what? The unloved one will turn out to be a no-good-nik, that's what.
Alice, Sweet Alice is heavy on the religious imagery, generally the more grotesque Catholic images- you've got your sacred hearts of Mary, your bleeding Christs, your...err, handsome nuns. It's time for Karen's first communion, and as she's waiting in the wings to take her place in line, she's attacked from behind by someone in...a translucent mask and yellow slicker! In a brutal sequence (particularly considering that it's an attack on a child- not something you see too often), Karen is choked to death. If that wasn't enough, the killer stuffs Karen's body into a bench compartment and sets her on fire. Yikes. We knew Alice was the jealous type, but this miiiight be a little extreme, no?
During Karen's funeral we meet the girls' estranged father , as well as their Aunt Annie, who has decided to stay with Alice and her mother during this difficult time. Back at the family homestead, Aunt Annie starts dropping hints that she believes Alice to be Karen's murderer. After being reassured by her mother, Alice heads downstairs to drop off the rent check to the landlord, Mr. Alfonso. This guy's pretty disgusting. "Fatso", as Alice affectionately calls him, sits on his couch all day, listening to old records, surrounded by all his cats. What's so disgusting about that, you say? Well, sorry- I forgot to mention that he eats cat food and wears pants that are...soiled. By "soiled", I mean "peed in". I'm surprised Alice stopped the name-calling at "Fatso". To make him even more loathsome, Mr. Alfonso attemps to fondle Alice before she can get out of the apartment. She responds, and gets him to stop, by killing one of his kittens. We knew Alice was the "no means no" type, but this miiiight be a little extreme, no?
Alice flees to her basement lair, where she lights candles and plays with her collection of weird stuff: creepy dolls, crosses, a big jar o' roaches...and she puts on her mask and slicker.
Aunt Annie is just going out, and as she's coming downstairs, she's stabbed repeatedly by the figure in the slicker. She screams "Alice?!" during the attack, and so Alice ends up in the clink for questioning. During a lie detector test, Alice says that the killer is really Karen, back from the grave...and she's not lying! What the-? Regardless, Alice is briefly committed to a chilren's psych ward, having been diagnosed as at least a wee dangerous.
Meanwhile, Alice's dad is playing Columbo, determined to prove his daughter's innocence. He's convinced that the killer is really Angela, Alice's cousin- and Aunt Annie's daughter. Maybe that's why Annie was so hot to prove Alice's guilt, hmmm? Dad gets a phone call from a weeping Angela- boo hoo, I wanna talk, meet me at this building- and off he goes. At the meeting place, he spots the figure in the mask and slicker and gives chase. Once he cathes up, the figure stabs him, smashes his head repeatedly with a brick, and pushes him out a 4th story window. Yep, it's all as gruesome as it sounds. However, before finishing off dad, the killer takes off the creepy mask to reveal...don't read any farther if you don't want to know who it is...I mean it...Mrs Tredoni! Yes, Father Tom's housekeeper has been framing Alice. She spouts some gobbledy gook along the lines of "Sinners! Blasphemers!", implying that Karen was born out of wedlock. Yep, Mrs. Tredoni is a true Catholic Zealot- ignoring that one commandment about you know, not killing people, in order to kill people who have sex before marriage. Seems reasonable.
So now we know who the killer is, and frankly, the movie loses a little oomph at that point. The image of the tiny killer in the eerie mask and slicker is one that stays with you, and wondering if crazy old Alice really is the killer, or whether it's Karen back from beyond the grave was alot of the fun. But, alas, it's just a kooky old Italian lady.
Because Alice, while still clearly not right in the head, isn't the killer (dad was killed while she was locked away), she's allowed to leave the hospital. What's the first thing our darling Alice does? She goes home, puts on her own mask and slicker, sneaks into Mr. Alfonso's apartment, and leaves her jar o' roaches on the sleeping fatso's stomach. Then we cut to Mrs. Tredoni, putting a knife, white gloves, and a mask in a shopping bag, or as I call it, her "killin' sack". She heads off to Alice's apartment to take care of business- gettin' rid of sinners business, that is. Just as she creeps past Mr. Alfonso's door, he's just awakened to giant roaches crawling on him and is flailing around in the hallway. He spots the figure in the mask and slicker, assumes it's Alice, and tries to attack her. Mrs. Tredoni stabs him a couple of times and splits.
At this point, Father Tom and the detectives on the case have figured out that it's Mrs. Tredoni on the rampage, and set up a sting. They'll nab her when she takes communion from Father Tom during the next church services- he'll have no problem convincing her to come along with the police. Sorry, Father Tom, but you're just not that cool, and Mrs. Tredoni doesn't like you that much, I guess, because when asked to come along quietly, she responds by stabbing Father Tom in the neck! He collapses into her arms, there's chaos in the church...and here's our Alice, walking away on her own, with a glazed look on her face. And guess what? She's got Mrs. Tredoni's killin' sack...
Alice, Sweet Alice is well made for its low budget. Paula Sheppard gives a great performance as resident psycho/punkass Alice, and director Alfred Soles has filled the screen with characters that are all grotesque in one way or another. As I said earlier, the killer is one of the creepier ones you'll find- I hate those translucent masks. The film has a definite giallo feel to it, and is equal parts crime drama, religious horror, and slasher. I'll give it...8 out of 10 Catholic nutjobs.