Alice, Sweet Alice [AKA Communion]recommended viewing

If you don't have anything nice to say, come sit by me
★★★★★
☆☆☆
Released: 
1976
Director: 
Alfred Sole
Starring: 
Paula Sheppard, Linda Miller, Jane Lowry, Brooke Shields, Niles McMaster
The Setup: 
Nasty, mean little girl appears to be nasty, mean killer!
Discussion: 

Okay! I had heard about this movie for awhile, and was promised that it would be pretty darn freaky, but it wasn't on DVD. Then a reader recommended it to me, I checked again and suddenly—it was! You know, you really have to keep checking back about those things. And not only on DVD, but in a spiffy special edition with about 10 minutes put back in [but NO special features]! So anyway, we see this girl in a communion dress as she holds a crucifix and the credits go on. Then, at the end of the credits, she raises the crucifix, but it's a knife! And we're off!

So Mom Catherine brings her little daughters over to this house attached to the church, where they meet the handsome Father Tom, who gives the younger girl, Karen, a crucifix. Karen, I'll tell you night now, is played by a very young Brooke Shields! Her older sister, Alice, who was played by a 19-year-old who really, REALLY looks 12, is not very happy about all the attention being lavished on her little sister, goes upstairs and put on this creepy mask, then comes back down and stands right where the older maid of the church, Mrs. Tredoni, was washing! The little terror!

Things get worse when they all go home to their fourth floor walk-up apartment with evocative painted tin ceiling. Mom sends Karen to go find Alice—who is playing in the local abandoned warehouse [this is in Paterson, New Jersey], wearing her creepy yellow rain slicker with translucent plastic mask. She jumps out at Karen, and there's a weird thing where Karen pulls off the young face mask and there is an old face mask underneath. Back home, Karen has gotten a nice white communion dress. Alice takes the veil from it, and when ordered to give it back, throws it down on the ground. This girl is a real terror! And they did a wonderful job with casting her, as she has a great mean look, which can easily switch into a scared, helpless girl expression. It blows my mind that this actress was 19. Oh, and guess what else? Her ONLY other movie credit is… wait for it… wait… waaaaiiiiitttt…. Liquid Sky. Her mother looks like a drag queen Brundleflied with Olive Oyl, and is a bit high-strung, to say the very least. And get this: the woman who plays her, Linda Miller, is the daughter of Jackie Gleason, and the mother of Jason Patric! WTF??? I guess Patric got the regressive "attractive" genes that accumulated over several generations. While we're on the topic of 'WTF???'-inspiring moments, suddenly the movie cuts to THIS:

WTF??? This man, this bald, mustachioed, morbidly obese man with a room full of cats and a giant, weeks-old piss stain in the crotch of his khaki pants [at least I HOPE they're khaki], turns out to be the landlord, but we just inexplicably cut to him for no reason long before we discover that fact. Long enough for him to eat cat food out of a can. Yeah, that's right. After that, you see THIS—and by the way, she's SINGING:

Okay, so it's communion, which a bunch of girls, including Karen, are receiving. Karen is last in line, and suddenly a little person in a yellow rain slicker and creepy translucent mask is strangling her with a church candle! She drags her back and dumps her in this wooden bench thing, then sets the whole shooting match on fire! And this is all WHILE communion is going on, right around the corner! There is a great panic scene at the church, then this woman runs back and looks in the smoldering bench, then fights her way back to where Mom is, grabs her and screams "She's dead! She's DEAD! KAREN IS DEAD! SHE'S DEAD!" all of which is accomplished with a little more relish than is, strictly speaking, appropriate. Ladies and gentlemen, please meet Aunt Annie.

Aunt Annie is the very SOUL of passive-aggression, and cannot keep her catty mouth shut under any circumstances. And let me tell you—I thought MOM looked like a drag queen… I seriously expected to look up this actress and discover that she was a man. Who knows—she may still be. Her name is Jane Lowry, and her only other credit is an ABC Afterschool Special. I am honestly not making this stuff up. Anyway, the father of the girls, Dom, who dumped the mother soon after and took up with the younger Julia, now returns. Annie is unable to restrain herself from saying "Well at least he was able to get here before they put her in the ground." Annie has an ineffectual husband and a fat daughter, Angela. Mom tells Alice and Angela to take one of the surplus cakes down to the obese landlord, so she does, taking some frosting and sucking on her finger in a highly suggestive way. Kids today! Or, okay—in 1976!

SPOILERS > > >
Later, Mom tells Alice to take the rent check down to the landlord, and he makes to sexually attack her. He's got her in his greedy clutches, and it looks like she's helpless, when she—the crafty little fox—reaches out and grabs one of his beloved kittens! She strangles it, tells him in no uncertain terms to LEAVE HER THE FUCK ALONE, and throws the kitten down with a nasty thud! You do NOT FUCK with Alice! Animal cruelty aside, you have got to respect this girl!

So she goes downstairs to the little shrine she keeps, which includes a candle, a picture of Father Tom [I think] in a bathing suit, and some live cockroaches. It's just the sort of wholesome, innocent thing millions of kids across the country have. Then Aunt Annie is on her way downstairs when the little person in the yellow slicker and mask jumps out and stabs her in the leg and foot with a 12-inch butcher knife. Which is way too bad, because Annie is seriously sidelined after this, and even when on has lost her verve for verbal cuntery, and we already lost little Brooke—all the interesting people are going away! I REALLY need a sequel called ALICE & ANNIE: ROAD TRIP! Anyway, Alice claims not to have done it, and Mom is totally sure she had NOTHING to do with ANYTHING, saying, rather comically, "Don't you know people believe what they want to believe?" This is a little hilarious, as it is beyond obvious that Annie is a little psycho killer—I've left out the part about her being kicked out of school for her attitude and the constant accidents that seem to surround her. Annie finally spills to the police inspector that it was Alice who attacked her, and Mom has a long, extended FREAK OUT about why she would say such a thing and what is the matter with her. If you love serious drama [not in the Masterpiece Theater sense] this movie is for YOU!

So then Alice takes a lie detector test, where the needle flies into a tizzy whenever she lies—it's very subtle—then she fixes the tester with a mean look through the two-way mirror and dumps the sensitive machine on the ground! Then she is sent to a psychologist who concludes, like everyone else, that she's bonkers. She also informs Mom that Alice is menstruating—with a bitchy "It's amazing what parents can not know about their own children." Then Mom and Dad find love again—but it's interrupted by a phone call from his new wife! So by this time I was theorizing that Alice is enacting her mother's rage against her husband, who dumped her, as well as dealing with her own lack of hunky man-figures in her life, Father Tom notwithstanding. I was thinking it's amazing that this would have followed so closely on watching In The Cut, where a daughter kills someone to psychically avenge her mother, left behind by a philandering husband. But eh—didn't turn out this way. Anyway, now Mom and Dad are accusing chubster little Angela, Annie's child, of being the killer—and she IS missing.
< < < SPOILERS END

Well, there's still about a half hour to go, but we're going to have to stop here, because the big spoiler is too unexpected to spoil, and there's really no way to talk about much more from here without going into it. Just be aware that Alice does get another chance to unleash some nastiness, those cockroaches finally get some room to roam, and someone gets a knife in the neck in a very public place. There's lots to look forward to!

Ultimately, a smash hit, just for being so goddamned bizarre and having so many delightfully mean and nasty characters. Chief among them is obviously Alice, who is just a mean, spiteful little girl—and that is SO delightful. Then there's her shrill, oblivious mom with that crazy hair, running around saying "people only see what they want to see!" when obviously SHE'S the one who needs to yank her head out of her ass with a resounding pop—although maybe not. There's pissy, ugly, spiteful bitch Aunt Annie, and let's not forget our morbidly obsese, piss-stained little child molester downstairs. Or BROOKE SHIELDS. It's a colorful cast of characters! Then you have situations like child murder mere feet away from a massive communion congregation, sublimated fury at philandering fathers, Olympic-level passive aggression, bloody murders—and so much more! Sure ultimately it doesn't make a lot of sense, but what does these days? I only wish I was more religious, in order to get more of a buzz off of all the sacrilege happening here, but you still have time—it might just be worth converting to Catholicism JUST so you can be even MORE scandalized by this movie!

Not much more to say. This one has the intoxicating combination of a bunch of bizarre characters in a compellingly psychotic situation that actually has quite a bit of genuine creepiness to it—until, suddenly, it doesn't—and Brooke Shields! MMMmmmmm, it's like a finely-prepared gourmet meal, followed by a big bowl of macaroni and cheese.

Should you watch it: 

Yes! Funny, freaky, bizarre, scary, operatic… amazing.

Comments

Am I the only one that felt the line about Alice's menstruation was meant to be an EXPLANATION for her horrible behavior? Especially after finding out the "big spoiler"?

Maybe.