Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Linda Miller and Paula Sheppard
COMMUNION (aka Alice, Sweet Alice and Holy Terror/1976). Director: Alfred Sole.

On the day of her first communion, little Karen Spages (Brook Shields) is murdered and her body set on fire in the back of the Catholic church. The main suspect is her jealous older sister, Alice (Paula Sheppard), who is identified as the assailant when her aunt Annie (Jame Lowry) is attacked on the staircase with a butcher knife -- a very good scene -- even though the perpetrator wears a mask. Her mother, Catherine (Linda Miller) and father, Dom (Niles McMaster), who is divorced from Catherine, can't believe their daughter could be capable of such acts despite her troubles, and they may be right. But who is the maniac in the mask and yellow slicker who is turning all of their lives into a nightmare? Communion is a tasty little thriller that triumphs over some amateurish moments and one weak key performance and emerges as one of the most entertaining and unusual psycho-shockers of the period or after. Although none of the principal actors seem able to quite get across the shock and numbness their characters would be feeling after Karen's horrible murder, on other levels they are more than capable, with Sheppard quite good as the feisty, disturbed Alice, Miller effective as her mother, and Mildred Clinton positively walking off with the movie in the significant role of Mrs. Tredoni, the housekeeper for the rectory. Rudolph Willrich is also good as Father Tom, the parish priest, and a very young Brooke Shields scores as the tragic Karen; Niles McMaster is barely adequate as Karen's father, however. The worst performance, though, comes from Jane Lowry, who overacts as the Aunt as if she thought she were cast in a black comedy, badly throwing off the tone of certain sequences. An unusual cast member, even if she only appears for a minute or so, is former songstress Lillian Roth, whose life was chronicled in I'll Cry Tomorrow with Susan Hayward. Then there's the amazing Alphonso DeNoble, who plays the morbidly obese, pedophile landlord with a pee stain on his gigantic trousers. Of all the actors Willrich amassed the most credits. Filmed in dreary Paterson, New Jersey, where the story takes place, Communion has decided atmosphere, and undertones of the perverse pathology of Catholicism are pervasive. Stephen Lawrence contributed the haunting theme. Unfortunately, Alfred Sole never followed up on his promise as director, having only a couple of other directorial credits; most of his work since has been in production design. The movie was also released in theaters as Alice, Sweet Alice and re-released as Holy Terror after Brooke Shields became famous.

Verdict: Imperfect, perhaps, but fascinating and memorable. ***.

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