Exploring fright in black-and-white. It's enough to make your spine tingle!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Horror In Public: Satan's School For Girls (1973)

I've wanted to see Satan's School For Girls ever since I first heard the title.  I initially feared there was no way that the film could possibly live up to my expectations- and then I learned it was an Aaron Spelling production. I'm a child of the 90's and In Spelling I Trust. I will always love the man who was responsible for this:

And this:

And most importantly, this:

Yes, I love Tori. Deal with it.

Spelling doesn't disappoint with Satan's School For Girls, which boasts not one but TWO Charlie's Angels in its cast (Kate Jackson and Cheryl Ladd, credited here as "Cheryl Stoppelmoor".) The film is a 1973 Made For TV guilty pleasure. As you'd expect, this means there is little gore to be found here. But gore isn't everything and this underappreciated gem makes up for its lack of bloodshed with tons of creepy atmosphere.

                                               Cheryl and Kate in doll form

An extremely distressed Martha Sayers (Terry Lumley) commits suicide after seemingly being pursued by something menacing. Her sister Elizabeth (Pamela Franklin) is immediately skeptical and decides to enroll at Martha's boarding school, Satan's School For Girls Salem Academy for Women in the hope of discovering what led to her sister's death. She keeps her identity a secret from the students and immediately gets her Nancy Drew on. She takes classes like Behavioral Psychology with creepazoid Dr. Professor Delacroix, who is obsessed with lab rats and Art with sexy Dr. Clampett, whose lesson plans feel like Magic Eye puzzles. 'Member those?

                                     I could never see anything in these things.

Elizabeth makes friends with (future Angels) Roberta and Jody and with a weird chick named Debbie who paints a disturbing portrait of Martha in a creepy old cellar. When Elizabeth asks Debbie about the painting she appears afraid. Elizabeth later locates the cellar and conveniently there's a campus legend about eight Salem witches who were hanged in a cellar. Another suicide (Debbie's) leaves the students shaken and while investigating, Elizabeth discovers that most of the students at Salem seem to be orphans. Coincidence? Methinks not! Just as she thinks she's figured out who is behind the darkness at Salem Academy, she is betrayed by someone she trusted.

As I said, there's not much gore to be seen here- but the film manages to be effectively creepy due to the rather Gothic and claustrophobic atmosphere of the school. If you have any affection for Made for TV movies or the 70's you'll find much to enjoy here. Satan's School For Girls is campy without being too ridiculous and has solid performances by likeable actors. It's the kind of movie that is perfect for a rainy Saturday afternoon. And honestly, it's worth it just for this face:

I haven't seen the remake but it stars Shannen Doherty and Kate Jackson plays the headmistress so it's definitely on my list. You can catch the original on youtube:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Horror In Public: Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)

Catholicism is creepy. Before I get the Vatican on my case, I should clarify that I'm a card-carrying Catholic. OK, there's not really a card. But I do have rosary beads, a crucifix and a Children's Bible I received for my Holy Communion (for the record, they cut out all the "begetting"). While I have some issues with the church's stance on some political issues, I must say that I grew up in an amazingly accepting and liberal parish. That being said, I recognized at an early age that Catholic mass had a certain spook factor.  I'm sure I made my parents very proud when, at an early age I screamed "You're gonna drink Jesus' blood???!!!" I was horrified- but not nearly as horrified as they were. They signed me up for Sunday School immediately. I first saw Alice, Sweet Alice as a child and it completely freaked me out. While most Catholic horror fans I know cite The Exorcist as the main source of their nightmares, it's Alice, Sweet Alice that gets me. every. time. Director Alfred Sole did make some minor changes to the film in order to copyright it eventually and have a proper DVD release but it's original version (the one I grew up on) remains in the public domain and is available online for your viewing pleasure. It is sometimes listed as its original title Communion.

          The three faces of Alice.

Alice, Sweet Alice utilizes the ritual aspects of Catholicism to great effect. Young Karen (played by a pre-Blue Lagoon Brooke Shields) anticipates her Holy Communion and is thrilled to receive a crucifix as a gift from her priest. Karen is the perfect child- beautiful, obedient, sweet and beloved by all. Her older sister Alice, however....well, let's just say that sweet is not the first adjective that comes to mind. It's clear from the very first scene that Karen is favored by their mother and as a result Alice acts out with such shenanigans as stealing her sister's doll and scaring a housekeeper by putting on a terrifying mask. In one particularly chilling sequence, Alice lures her younger sister to a warehouse and then jumps out wearing a terrifying mask. It even made it on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments (not too shabby considering it's essentially a fake scare.)

On the day of Karen's holy communion she is brutally murdered at the church. Alice is the prime suspect, but anyone who's seen a Law & Order or two knows that the first suspect is the WRONG suspect. Alice's mother and father leap to her defense but Alice has really painted herself in a corner by turning up at the crime scene with Karen's veil (shades of The Bad Seed). As more people are attacked by this masked maniac, suspicion towards Alice continues to build.

Alice, Sweet Alice doesn't shy away from depicting tremendous violence towards a child (one of the major taboos). Karen's murder is a tremendously upsetting scene made all the more disturbing by the religious imagery. Her crucifix is ripped from her neck in her final moments and her dead body is stuffed into a pew and then lit on fire. As horrifyingly brutal as the action is, it's shot beautifully. Alfred Sole has clearly been influenced by Dario Argento and the film can almost be considered an American giallo. I've always been a fan of atmospheric horror and in this case the church setting and strong religious overtones really add to the stylized atmosphere. And of course, in true giallo fashion, the director does not hold back in terms of gore.

There are a lot of great performances here. While Brooke Shields is the major name, she's in the film for all of about 10 minutes. The strength of the film really lies in Paula Sheppard's performance as Alice. She plays Alice as an emotionally disturbed brat but there's a wisdom and sadness in her eyes that is truly unsettling (this may have something to do with the fact that Paula Sheppard was actually 19 at the time of filming.)
                                        I'm betting Paula Sheppard got ID-ed a lot.

There are great supporting performances as well, particularly Alphonso DeNoble as the creepiest landlord ever.

There's also Jane Lowry as Aunt Annie who openly dislikes Alice and basically the world at large. She overacts like crazy but her hysterical shrieks belong in the Scream Queen Hall of Fame. She also makes great disapproving faces:

I won't spoil the ending but there are some pretty awesome twists in this surprisingly well-plotted film. If you're a fan of giallo and/or religious themed horror you'll want to check out Alice, Sweet Alice. It's one of the better films to be found free online and it deserves more credit as a pretty darn entertaining slasher flick. My only gripe would be that Alice does something very not okay to a kitten at one point during the film- yes, it's Mr. Alphonso's kitten and yes, he's trying to molest her at the time (Mr. Alphonso that is, not the kitten) but as any cat-lover knows there is NO such thing as justifiable felicide.

                                           Say no to hurting kittens!!
You can find the film on google video and several public domain film sites- I chose this one:


P.S. The picture quality, as you might expect is not uber amazing- I'd be curious to hear from anyone who has the DVD, as I'm seriously considering buying it. How's the transfer?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Return Of The Living Deadbeat Blogger

Well, kids- even horror bloggers with the best of intentions occasionally find themselves distracted by other responsibilities and end up neglecting their blog- and the computer in general. As someone who used to spend the majority of my day online, I can honestly say that my six month break from the Internet was actually a much needed one. I read a lot of books, focused on my creative writing and watched a lot of Food Network. In January I took an internship at Troma Entertainment, a place I've wanted to work at ever since I was a kid. Being there has inspired me to focus on my own writing, and as a result I hadn't been watching as many classic horror movies so I felt I had little to blog about. Interning at Troma and getting to know Lloyd Kaufman has been a surreal experience and one that I hope to share with you from time to time.

That being said, I'm back for good and hope I haven't completely lost my readers. To celebrate my return to the blogosphere, I'm declaring this "Public Domain Week", where I'll be blogging about horror films that can be found online due to their public domain status. Some are recognized by most as classics, some are underappreciated gems and some are downright awful. Look for the first review to be up later tonight. Here's a hint:


And yes, I know this one is -gasp- in color rather than the black-and-white films I typically review. As the wise Pink one said, "Sometimes it beez like that". Anyway, I'm sure I have a lot of catching up to do on all of the wonderful blogs I read, so I look forward to getting to work on that. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to write my review so that I can then work on getting this terrifying image out of my brain before it's time to go to sleep.