Alice, Sweet Alice (Alfred Sole / U.S., 1976):
(Communion; Holy Terror)

The opening credits establish the style and state the theme -- the ominous liturgy of hushed prayers, a cunningly filled widescreen, a crucifix raised like a dagger. Playing the title's schoolgirl-hellion (and potential murderer), Paula E. Sheppard lays out the camp hostility to be later cemented into immortality in Liquid Sky; Brooke Shields is the pretty younger sister in her Roman Catholic household, favored by Mom (Linda Miller) and thus terrorized by Sheppard, who locks her in abandoned factories and scares her with freaky masks (her plastic visage is lifted, and an old man's mug is subliminally glimpsed). Shields' first communion is on everybody's mind, but when the moment comes Shields is busy getting strangled in a corner of the church, then crammed inside a chest and set ablaze; Sheppard is found in her place by the altar, her tongue out waiting for purification. Did she? Could she? Newly menstrual and under the continuous glare of religious statuary, she tends to the film's expressively viscous Gothic distortions as she would to a doll, with cockroaches grown in a jar and a kitty (kiddy?)-loving Jabba the Hut for a neighbor, Alphonso DeNoble with a damp crotch listening to "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man." The free-geysering hysteria, swung as high or as low as the camera angles, blurs sexual and religious anxieties, though Mario Bava may be the presiding divinity in Alfred Sole's lurid horror jewel -- every composition is more ornate than at first expected, the overhead shot of the sidewalk with a puddle of blood dissipating under the falling rain, or an upwards pan from a dilapidated building to a downwards one of the church tower. "Great faith" leads to "death as resolution," doomed priest Rudolph Willrich assures, but to the agonized souls here seeking it, divine purity remains a painfully unattainable notion, its grim unfeasibility feeding straight into the troubled psyches tangled in feverish '70s horror tropes, from Don't Look Now to Carrie and Martin. With Mildred Clinton, Niles McMaster, Jane Lowry, Michael Hardstark, Gary Allen, Tom Signorelli, and Lillian Roth.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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