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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Day 227: Alice, Sweet Alice

Alice, Sweet Alice
I don't know, Mitt Romney as president would scare me

“People believe what they want to believe.” That is one of the truest statements ever, not just in a horror movie. The line comes from today's review, Alice, Sweet Alice, but it could pertain to just about anything. Whether it's politics, religion, or even education, people are going to believe what suits their needs or opinions. Global warming is a prime example. We just had the hottest July on record, and I mean ever, and there are some people that still claim climate change is a “myth”. Of course, many of those people have an agenda and need to be taken with a grain of salt when they appear on a news or “news” channel. The used to be the saying “Seeing is believing,” but a more accurate statement would be “Believing is believing”. In horror, the audience is required to believe in what they're seeing, no matter how fantastic or ridiculous. That's all part of the fun.

Alice, Sweet Alice (also known as “Communion” and “Holy Terror” is a 1976 horror movie starring Paula E. Sheppard as Alice Spages and Linda Miller as her mother, Catherine. Set in New Jersey in the 1960's, Catherine's young daughter Karen (Brooke Shields, The Blue Lagoon, Suddenly Susan) is preparing for her first communion. Karen's older sister Alice is extremely jealous of Karen and begins acting out, scaring the housekeeper Mrs. Tredoni, with a bizarre mask. Alice lures Karen out to an abandoned warehouse where she scares her with the same mask and locks her in a room. When she lets Karen out, Alice warns her that if she tells anyone, she'll hide her doll. On the day of the communion, Karen is murdered by someone in a yellow raincoat and the same translucent mask that Alice had been wearing. Her body is dumped into a bench and the crucifix, given to her by Father Tom, and set on fire. Alice is seen walking into the church wearing the same yellow raincoat when a nun smells the smoke and discovers Karen's body. Alice's father Dominick returns for the funeral and reconnects with both Alice and her mother. Catherine's sister Annie also visits, but is constantly berating Alice. One day while going down some stairs, Annie is repeatedly stabbed by the same person who killed Karen. She believes Alice is the attacker, despite having no definitive proof. Alice is given a lie detector test and passes despite saying the killer is Karen. After an evaluation, she is placed in a mental institution against her will. Dom receives a phone call that someone has Karen's crucifix, so he goes to an empty warehouse to claim it. He is stabbed by the masked figure and bashed in the head with a brick. The killer is revealed to be Mrs. Tredoni, who is using her religious fervor as the basis for the attacks. Who will stop Mrs. Tredoni and what will happen to Karen?


Alice, Sweet Alice has shades of Hitchcock in it's scope and style. The movie is initially presented as a cut-and-dry slasher movie about a deranged child killing people she doesn't like. The quote from above, though, should obviously lead you to believe otherwise. The characters in the movie and the audience can't help but believe that Alice is the killer even though all the evidence is circumstantial. We want to believe that Karen is the killer because that is the simplest answer. I appreciate the misdirection, but felt a little more foreshadowing would have made the big reveal more believable. While it was a good surprise, once the killer is revealed, I feel that the movie switches gears and becomes a different movie. The heavily religious commentary didn't do much for me because there was a good chunk of the movie where it wasn't addressed. Of course, the previous movie titles “Communion” and the later title “Holy Terror” make more sense in this regard than the more popular name “Alice, Sweet Alice”.

The music used throughout the movie is wonderfully diverse, setting both the tone of the movie and, in certain scenes, juxtaposing the violence with jaunty sounds. When Dom is killed, I noticed there was no music at all, just the sounds of violence and his screams. It was truly unsettling and fit in well with a movie that, while having some scares, is far more uncomfortable than anything else. The acting is pretty good with Paula Sheppard putting in the best performance. This was also the very first movie that Brooke Shields appeared in, and while only appearing briefly, she played her part well. If you need a laugh, listen to her recent appearance on NPR's “Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me” where she discusses the movie with comedian Bobcat Goldthwait. There is a decent amount of blood and violence in the movie, made more effective by the belief that a child is committing the crimes. Director Alfred Sole is able to capture the fear and suspense very well for the movie and it's a surprise he only made one other horror movie before calling it quits.

Take that, Tom Cruise

Alice, Sweet Alice is an entertaining horror movie that gets the audience to question their beliefs in terms of how they perceive things. The religious commentary, while good, fades in and out, occasionally losing focus in favor of Alice's story. The action is solid with some good scares and plenty of unsettling moments. There is some blood and violence with enough suspense to keep the audience on edge. The music is excellent and the directing is competent, complimented by good acting. The movie is a little long and gets a little muddled once the killer is revealed, hurting the flow and momentum. Still, Alice, Sweet Alice is a fun and startling horror movie.


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