Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy
Thank Heaven for Little Girls
An incredibly uneven, illogical, and spotty mystery-killer movie, Alice, Sweet Alice nonetheless manages to come out a winner because the things it gets right, it gets really right. Boasting a iconic killer (the plastic mask and raincoat are fabulously creepy), an assortment of bizarre characters (Mr. Alphonso, Aunt Annie, Alice herself), and a grim, depressing New Jersey location, Alice (also known as Communion – no, not the one where Christopher Walken is penetrated by aliens) is a well-deserved member of the genre hall of fame thanks to its assured direction, nasty killings, and influence on a subgenre that didn’t really even exist yet: the slasher.
Alice deals with the ultra-dysfunctional Roman Catholic Spages family, for whom younger daughter Karen’s first communion becomes a bloodbath of unspeakable horror! Well, not really – but it certainly isn’t the innocuous “little girls in white frocks” hoopla that it’s supposed to be. See, it seems that single mom Catherine (the absolutely divine Linda Miller, mother of megababe Jason Patric and daughter of Jackie Gleason) is having a tough time keeping the reins on Karen (a wee Brooke Shields, bravely displaying none of the acting ability that she will not be gifted with in her adult career) and her older sister, Alice (Paula E. Sheppard, who would go on to star as a predatory lesbian spoken word artist in the trash classic Liquid Sky: “My…beat…box…”). What with papa Dom (Niles McMaster of… well, not really anything) having gone off and remarried, Catherine has turned to the lovely Father Tom (the weirdly cute Rudolph Willrich) for extra assistance in guiding the girls.
While Alice is outwardly the more troubled of the two young ladies (she likes to put on freaky plastic masks and trap her sister in abandoned factories and keeps a jar of roaches in a suitcase – but hey, who doesn’t?), Karen is far more annoying – sure, her hair may be silkier, but she’s a whiny, weak little brat. Father Tom gives her a fancy crucifix (for those non-Catholics out there – and I know who you are – that’s a charming effigy of Jesus nailed to a board that little girls apparently like to wear around their necks), which sparks a jealous eyebrow-raising from Alice, leading her to steal Karen’s head-napkin (a communion veil, apparently – in case the priest wants to set his drink on the girl’s head?) and cause Karen to break down in tears.
Now, at this point I’m already on Alice’s side. For one, she seems smarter and far more interesting to hang out with than Karen, who looks like she might break if you dropped her out a window (Alice would bounce). Alice is crafty, nasty, and kinda vile – and I like that in a kid. What’s really creepy is that we’re never really told how old Alice is supposed to be – Sheppard was 19 when the film was made, but her dress and hair suggest that she’s really supposed to be more like 12. In fact, what’s with Alice’s fixation on the First Communion sacrament – shouldn’t she have received it years ago? Considering that this film is about the theft of innocence (yep – Karen’s the first one to go – thank god…), the fact that Alice is entering puberty and becoming sexual may be triggering her desire to return to a more innocent state – hence her fixation on Karen’s receiving of Communion (she even takes Karen’s place in the ceremony, to the disbelief of her mother).
But I’m getting ahead of myself here – Alice is on the rag (literally), Karen’s a brat, and during the First Communion ceremony, Karen gets strangled with a candlestick by someone in a plastic mask and yellow rain slicker, stuffed into a trunk (a bench with storage, actually – very Pottery Barn), and set on fire. Not exactly your traditional celebration of the sacrament, but there you go. The chaos that ensues after a nun discovers Karen’s blazing body in the bench is absolutely incredible, topped off by Aunt Annie’s hysterical delivery of “She’s dead! Karen’s DEAD!” to an understandably stunned Catherine. Already having drawn attention to herself by entering the church late in full view of the congregation, Alice invites further suspicion when she is found to have Karen’s fancy head-napkin in her pocket. Given that we’ve seen Alice wearing the plastic mask-slicker combo already, we are pretty sure that she’s the one who started the fondue party in the sacristy. But just wait…
Actually, you’ll have to wait quite a while, because things get a bit dry for a spell. As soon as daddy arrives on the scene, you may be kind of itching for something interesting to happen. Luckily, the disgusting Mr. Alfonso, who lives downstairs with a handful of mewling kittens, provides some titillation just by being incredibly fat and brandishing multiple skid-marks on his pants, which is always fun. His leering potential-pedophile routine is a bit tired, but boy – is he fat! And the brilliance of juxtaposing a grotesquely large individual with a litter of baby kitties is clear: he only looks larger by comparison. Anyway, shortly after Alice and her equally fat cousin Angela deliver Mr. Fat Cat an entire chocolate cake, Alice heads down to the cellar where she keeps her suitcase o’ abominations. Soon after, bitchy Aunt Annie – wait a sec…
You know, I haven’t paid sufficient attention to statuesque, vaguely drag-queen-like Aunt Annie, played with pearl-clutching fury by my new hero Jane Lowry, who sadly did little else. Aunt Annie is a drama queen of the highest caliber – her performances (and I’m talking about the character here, not the actress) at the scene of Karen’s murder and the subsequent funeral are staggering in their selfishness and poor taste – not to mention their sheer volume. Melodramatic, vicious, hypocritical, and spiteful are only a few of the words that can be used to describe this harpy, lovingly brought to life by the incomparable Ms. Lowry, who gnaws each piece of scenery like so much melba toast. Annie is to Catherine what Karen was to Alice – a royal preening pain in the ass. You will want to punch her in the face from the moment she appears on screen - God bless her!
So anyway, Alice is in the basement (mixin’ up the medicine?) after a confrontation with Shitstorm Annie, and whaddaya know - Annie gets attacked by everyone’s favorite vinyl-clad munchkin, with a series of stabs to the leg and foot in the stairway. Nasty stuff, really – a truly unsettling attack on a truly unsettling character. Annie crawls/is dragged into the rain by Catherine, who screams madly for help, which arrives in the form of yawn-inducing Dom and a kickin’ mid-seventies ghetto sled. They’re whisked off to the hospital, leaving a bloody puddle on the gray sidewalk, dissipating in the rain.
This is hot stuff here, kids – director Alfred Sole has now delivered us not one, but 2 operatic attack scenes that escalate to an admirably fevered pitch and hold for a number of minutes. This is not easy to pull off, people – most horror films are lucky to accomplish even one of these crackerjack sequences, and already we’ve got two (and there are more to come…). Unfortunately, as logic would suggest, this blissful moment of hysteria is followed by a lull – but it’s longer than is really tolerable. Back to the boring divorced-parent thing, blah blah blah – even the suspicious allegations aimed at Alice aren’t all that thrilling (save the lie-detector-test, but I’m a sucker for children giving polygraphs). Thankfully, we’re soon enough treated to another bizarre attack-scene, and this one polishes off a character worth losing: Dom. After a somewhat prolonged bait-and-chase obviously designed to lure Dom to a secluded location (he receives a call from someone claiming to be Alice), Dom is smacked in the face repeatedly with a brick (Hallelujah!), tied up, and rolled toward an open floor-length window (with a 3-story dropoff). The pint-sized killer rolls Dom slowly and painfully toward the edge, and before getting there – gasp! – removes the mask, revealing that the killer is…
Actually, it’s not – but I’m not going to give away the identity, because it’s far too much fun to blow in this case. Sure, for shit like Hide and Seek and Haute Tension, I’ll happily narc on the facts about the “big twists”, because they suck. But here the movie really is more interesting if you’re not entirely sure what’s going on. Anyway, maskless or no, the killer rolls Dom out the window and kills him, but not before he can bite the gold crucifix (the same one that was missing from wee Karen’s burnt remains) off the killer’s neck and swallow it.
From here the story changes pretty drastically (as the identity of the killer is now known to the audience) and the fun becomes whether or not they will get caught. But fear not: there’s more torment to be had, as Alice (in her creepy getup) sneaks into Fatty McFat’s apartment and opens a jar of roaches (aka “whoop-ass”) on his sleeping fatness. Oh – and did I mention that Alice strangles one of his kittens in front of him? No? That’s because it’s WRONG. Everyone knows that you drown kittens. Anyway, eventually things bring us back to the church (ah, don’t they always, and the killer enjoys an awkward moment at the altar, which sadly ends with the somewhat sexy Father Tom getting a butcher knife in his neck. Why must God always pluck the loveliest flower?!
Anyway, the ending is suitably bizarre and over-the-top for a film that seems intent on singlehandedly destroying the sanctity of the blessed sacrament for all mankind. And inasmuch, it's brilliant. It's no wonder that director Sole would go on to direct the absolutely brilliant cheerleader camp slasher spoof Pandemonium (starring Judge Reinhold, Carol Kane, Tom Smothers, Eve Arden, and Paul Reubens, of all people) -- he had a hand in inventing the genre with this nasty little ditty. Packed with great bravura sequences, nasty attacks, and a group of complex characters that are nearly unparalleled in the slasher subgenre, Alice, Sweet Alice is as good as they come -- put on your head-napkin and enjoy.
(Side-note: director Alfred Sole only directed 4 films, the first of which was a porn starring none other than Deep Throat's Doctor Monstercock, Harry Reems. After this he be came a successful Production Designer, working on such projects as the made-for-TV campfest These Old Broads, which starred the matron-on-drugs Voltron (the Ma-tron?) of Shirley Maclaine, Debbie Reynolds, Liz Taylor, and Joan Collins. In a word, fabulous.)