Alice Spages is a withdrawn 12 year old girl who lives with her mother, Catherine, and her younger sister, Karen. Karen gets most of the attention from her mother, and Alice is often left out of the spotlight. But when Karen is found brutally murdered in a church before her first holy communion, all suspicions are turned towards Alice. But is a twelve year old girl really capable of such savagery? As more people begin to die at the hands of a merciless killer, Alice becomes more and more likely of a suspect. Written by
Put that knife down. You might as well just use a crucifix.
When young Karen Spages is strangled and set on fire in a Catholic Church at her first communion, her disturbed older sister Alice is the central suspect, because of her jealously towards her. Her estrange father Dominick arrives in town for the funeral. Catherine her mother and Dominick believe Alice is an innocent victim, but when her Aunt Annie is attacked by someone in a yellow slicker and plastic doll mask, she believes it's Alice. The police take Alice in, where she tries to convince them that Karen is alive and stabbed Annie. And their lie detectors goes on to prove it. Dominick with the help of father Tom try their best to investigate just who might be behind the actual attacks.
Alfred Sole's effectively accomplished direction, atmospheric handling and astutely symbolic, psychological tampered plot really do go real long way to covering the flawed aspects of the commendable production. In what might have damage other films, only goes on to be a minor quibble here because there are so many glowing factors, which are amazingly pulled off for an impressive low-budget effort. This is one of my favourite 70's horror oddities, which breaths a fresh air in its premise's circuitously glum layout, an ominously nasty streak, purposely stinging jolts and being filmed on authentic locations in New Jersey.
What makes the unusually cunning and certainly unpredictable plot compelling, is that so much can be read from it, like it's penetrating thoughts on Catholicism too the prolific character developments involving the hardships of family life, but there's no lying about its true intentions, which did kind of got mingled with the baffling conclusion. Making repeat viewings a must, to pick up on those minor details. Some fundamental devices in the plot show up; the usual police investigation is the glaring one, but it never draws away from the main focus and adjustably installs itself into the material. There are some odd and eccentric characters written in also, which catch onto the emotional ride. Some might think the tension will evaporate, as just after halfway through the killer is unmasked, but the story's slow rising sinisterness early on eventually leads to a brooding intensity that actually seems to fester up, for the thrilling final third with one powerful conclusion to boot.
Sole does a vividly lucid job in the director's chair with moody imagery, creative viewpoints and uneasy composition, backed up by disquietingly stylish jolts timed with utter perfection. However in spots it can drag with it's deliberately slow pace and a densely thorough script, which can labour along. Maybe it was a tad too long. Also illustrating the film's disorienting air and unsettling suspense was John Freeberg's gracefully skilled cinematography and Stephen Lawrence's playfully chilling, but occasionally harrowing musical score, which expertly went hand-to-hand to craft out an overwhelming tenor. The killer goes around in a shiny yellow slicker, white gloves and the chilling doll mask they wear, actually gives me the creeps. The performances are noting to write home about and might be gauche in some cases, but there's no denying that the matchless Paula E. Shepherd is startlingly convincing as the creepy Alice. Linda Miller does exceptionally well as Alice's heart-aching mother Catherine and Niles McMaster brings a solidarity to his performance as Alice's stalwart father Dom. Jane Lowry can get fittingly overbearing as the haughty Aunt Annie and the unforgettable Alphonso DeNoble keeps it all vile as the grubby landlord. Even with the high billing that Brooke Shields receives, her debut performance is efficient and her death memorable, but not worth all the fuzz for only 15 minutes. Mildred Clinton, Rudolph Willrich, Michael Hardstark, Tom Signorelli, Lillian Roth and Gary Allen go on to give able support.
An uncomfortably staggering affair with many dimensions to its story and inspired craftsmanship by Sole and co, which go on to make it a very good unappreciated gem of the 70s.
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