Alice, Sweet Alice / Communion / Holy Terror (1977)

“God always takes the pretty ones…”

Poster3

Synopsis:
When 10-year-old Karen (Brooke Shields) is murdered right before her first communion, everyone suspects her raincoat-clad, jealous older sister Alice (Paula Sheppard) — but is Alice really the killer?

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
This cult murder mystery (notable as Brooke Shields’ debut film, though her part is small) is indeed “guaranteed to keep you tense”. Paula Sheppard is pitch-perfect in the title role, skillfully portraying a juvenile murder suspect who is either deeply misunderstood or deeply troubled; meanwhile, director Albert Sole effectively “uses the horror genre to attack Catholicism” (which does little, as Peary notes, to help its “confused, guilt-ridden, emotionally misunderstood church members”). Full of “offbeat touches and characters” — as well as many truly creepy scenes (who can forget the yellow raincoat?) — this is a surprisingly dense and satisfying horror flick.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Paula Sheppard as Alice
    Paula
  • Brooke Shields in her first silver-screen appearance (albeit a short one)
    Shields
  • Effective use of bleak New Jersey locales
    Rain
  • Quirky characters
    Offbeat
  • Many creepy scenes, and a surprise ending
    Mask
  • Stephen Lawrence’s atmospheric score

Must See?
Yes, as a beloved ’70s horror flick.

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One Response to “Alice, Sweet Alice / Communion / Holy Terror (1977)”

  1. A remarkable must.

    A genre film like ‘Alice’ (tho director Sole has always preferred his original title, ‘Communion’), is…oh, about 100 times better than it really has any right to be. If you just saw the poster, or heard the basic premise, you would never expect the very accomplished film awaiting you.

    “Dense” indeed!~which largely accounts for the film’s success and power. There is quite a complex lot going on here (including an added complication which is hinted at, I think, but not explored), and things move so quickly that you do need to pay attention. You’ll get everything the first time, but repeat viewings will increase your ‘enjoyment’ (if that word can be used in this context).

    If you do your homework with a net search, you’ll discover, among many other things, that Sole admits to many influences (including, and quite obviously, various Hitchcock films). As well, the prominent yellow raincoat – inspired by Roeg’s ‘Don’t Look Now’ – harkens back to the ending of ‘The Bad Seed’ (with Rhoda on her way back to the scene of the film’s first crime; at least I think she was meant to be in yellow; it’s a black and white film). [Side note: Sheppard’s performance also reveals more than a whisper of Rhoda.] Part of the fun of a repeat viewing may, in fact, be in picking out the various films that actually propelled Sole, an obvious film fanatic himself, to putting himself in the director’s chair for his own spin on a sociopath.

    What’s most remarkable: tho there are many influences afoot, Sole ultimately and firmly stamps the film as his own creation. Made on an almost non-existent budget (and by “calling in a lot of favors”), the end result (with generally sturdy performances, clever photography, crisp editing, spot-on production design, and a rich, evocative score by Stephen Lawrence) is a stunning achievement. [I wondered where I’d heard that kind of sigh-singing on the soundtrack before, tho: it’s used in 1973’s ‘The Last of Sheila’. And I would swear Danny Elfman saw this film; I heard a whiff of what ended up in his score for ‘Pee-wee’s Big Adventure’.]

    Sheppard turns in very solid work as Alice (you’d never believe she was 19 at the time; or that she would only make one other film – ‘Liquid Sky’ – before leaving the biz). The bulk of the cast are, indeed, “quirky”, and there is barely a wrong note to be found here – that includes the wonderful guest appearance by Lillian Roth (!!!). [Also note Mary Boylan as the Mother Superior: she was always showing up in bit parts in films – ‘The Night of the Iguana’, ‘Midnight Cowboy’, ‘Annie Hall’, ‘Bad’ – and always with that same, wonderfully odd persona.]

    It’s probably been a good 15-20 years since I last saw this film (before now). It is surprising that it’s one I rarely hear ffs mention. Sole did make a few other, less noteworthy films and, apparently, he blames studio interference for the tatters of his film career. (That can be easily understood.) Sole says, in hindsight, he probably should have stayed right where he was – in Paterson, New Jersey – and made more films there (as John Waters stayed in Baltimore). One can only wonder what gems might have come from that, if he had.
    [Today he enjoys a very successful career as a production designer for popular tv shows.]

    A final word: yes, the film is very critical of the Catholic religion. With good reason.

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