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.)
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.
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?