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Underrated landmark in the horror genre,
This review is from: Alice, Sweet Alice [VHS] (VHS Tape)
AN underrated, unsettling tale of murder, suspicion and the macabre, this is a seminal horror film.
It focuses on 12-year-old Alice Spages (Paula Sheppard) who is accused of murdering her younger sister Karen (Brooke Shields) before her First Communion and then of viciously stabbing her Aunt Annie.
We view a masked killer in a yellow raincoat committing both acts and it seems obvious that Karen - who was the last person to see her sister - will be implicated as the perpetrator.
She is suspected due to problems at school, jealousy of her sister, resentment of her mother (whom she thinks favours Alice over her) and her generally odd behaviour.
Karen is questioned by police and named by her Aunt as the mystery attacker, however in its genuinely frightening conclusive stages, doubts gather as to the person who carried out both deeds. And although the person responsible is seemingly uncovered, an unforeseen climax suggests that any pre-conceived notions over the murderer's identity may have been unfounded.
It's absorbing viewing and although never positively unnerving until its latter half, Alice, Sweet Alice contains many distinctive characteristics.
The use of a religious setting and ecclesiastical imagery - which has faint echoes of both The Exorcist (1973) and in a way Rosemary's Baby (1968) - coupled with the surreal, gory nature of the killer's acts, does make for an unusually tense atmosphere.
Alice herself is a potent source of terror. Indeed it would not be an exaggeration to say that Paula Sheppard's chilling performance is redolent of Sissy Spacek's wonderfully scary display as Carrie in Brian De Palma's 1976 classic.
With her piercing eyes and fixed stare, she is monstrously creepy every time the camera focuses on her.
Alice is not the only bizarre character in the film, which is extremely well cast with a number of physically (and mentally) distorted participants, not least the obese and possibly perverted Mr Alphonso and Mrs Tredoni, who possesses a genuinely perturbing demeanour. It also marked the first screen appearance of Brooke Shields, who was nine when she played Alice's sister Karen.
Music also plays an integral part in the film, with its haunting main theme a very effective component of creating an eerie aura.
Possibly its most notable feature is the use of the masked killer, which pre-dates Halloween (1978) and adds an extra layer of intrigue to what is already a subtly fascinating premise.
It also established that the look of the killer (in this case a yellow raincoat and cherub faced child's mask) was almost as important as the actions he/she/it carried out.
And in this regard, Alfred Sole's film was to serve as a reference point and undoubted influence for many - including Friday the 13th (1980) and My Bloody Valentine (1981) - of the sometimes mis-labelled 'slasher' films that were successful largely between 1978-1983.
In conclusion, I believe that Alice, Sweet Alice is a landmark film in several aspects and should appeal to anyone with an interest in the horror genre.