Sunday, April 1, 2007
#1: Alice, Sweet Alice (Alfred Sole, 1976)
Horror, for me, is so attractive because of its ability to simultaneously comfort and disturb, the way it exploits our childhood fears and plays with our expectations. It supplies a danger-free way to experience danger. It's close to our dreams and, in the best horror films, follows dream logic. Horror is a profitable genre with plenty of cliches, tropes, and conventions, but, as a genre, is much more plastic, elastic, experimental, and freeing than action movies or romantic comedies or police procedurals. Horror films at their best are also inviting homes for many of my favorite things about the movies, namely mood, atmosphere, setting, tonal changes, and great, odd, or wonderfully terrible character acting. I also like exploding heads. Except for exploding heads, everything I mention above is included in the first film on our list, "Alice, Sweet Alice." This is exactly the kind of film that should kick off our list. It's got that seedy, dirty 1970s atmosphere I love so much, some overwrought Catholic imagery that's overwrought in just the right way, a main character who is simultaneously creepy and sympathetic, some nice character roles, freaky masks, a young Brooke Shields in her first film performance, a tone that is simultaneously dreamlike and realistic, and a pervading sense of menace.
Set in a squalid-looking New Jersey, the story focuses on Paula Sheppard (whose only other film role is in another cult film, 1982's "Liquid Sky"), a disturbed girl who is bitterly jealous of her sister, her mother's clear favorite, Brooke Shields. Something horrible happens during Shields' first communion, and much creepiness ensues. Sheppard is an intensely compelling actor, and it's baffling she wasn't able to get more film work.
Alphonso De Noble (whose only other screen credits are "Blood Sucking Freaks" and "Night of the Zombies") has a great character role as the landlord, Mr. Alphonso. He plays him as a morbidly obese, effete pedophile who dotes on his cats, eats cat food, and sits around listening to opera all day in an undershirt and urine-stained pants. It sounds over the top, but De Noble plays him with a matter-of-fact directness that makes the character queasily disgusting and disturbing instead of laughable. He is probably the most revolting-looking human being I've ever seen in a movie. Take a look for yourself:
This is a very satisfying horror movie, with a consistently creepy atmosphere, solid acting, an interesting score, and some heavy-handed Catholic-bashing that brought a smile to the face of this lapsed Catholic (director Sole, a former Catholic, had recently been excommunicated for making a porno movie and had an ax to grind). I liked it a lot.
Here are the first eight minutes: