Friday, March 5, 2010

Alice, Sweet Alice

With Tim Burton's sure-to-be-abominable Alice in Wonderland opening in theaters today, I thought I'd give some attention to an altogether different Alice - director Alfred Sole's giallo-esque chiller Alice, Sweet Alice (1977). This film has always ranked high as a favorite among horror fans thanks to its quirky characters (like the obese, cat-loving Mr. Alphonso), its perplexing mystery, and its provocative backdrop of Roman Catholicism but I've got to single out the unforgettable look of its masked killer as an integral part of its lasting appeal.

Slasher icons like Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, and Leatherface are celebrated for their iconic looks but to my mind, none of them can hold a candle to the creepy countenance of Alice's diminutive killer. With a yellow rain slicker with the hood pulled up and a dime store Halloween mask of a blank, translucent face with bright red lips and blue eye shadow printed on it, the mystery killer in Alice gets my vote as the scariest masked killer in horror history. There's a hint of Don't Look Now (1973) in that outfit, with the figure that Donald Sutherland pursues in that movie having memorably sporting a red rain slicker. I don't know if Sole had seen Don't Look Now and purposely appropriated that look for his film but whatever the inspiration was, he choose wisely.

The great thing about the appearance of the killer in Alice is that it's so simple. There's something very relatably low rent about it that you wouldn't see in a horror movie today. The trio of psycho killers in The Strangers (2008) had scary masks, to be sure, but they looked like someone custom-made them (even the bag mask in that film looked pimped out - well, as pimped out as a bag over someone's head can be). The same with the cupid-masked killer in Valentine (2001). In Alice, though, it was an outfit that needed no special assembly or preparation. It was cheap and ordinary and that's what made it scary.

Made just prior to the slasher wave of the late '70s/early '80s, Alice, Sweet Alice was a film that had the good fortune to predate the rise of horror franchises. Once slasher films became the stuff of multiple sequels, and the look of characters like Freddy and Jason became part of their appeal, the chances of a killer in a kid-sized rain slicker and a common, store bought mask became very slim. Instead, it's more likely to see nonsense like this:


I'm all for nonsense but it's a shame that when it comes to psycho killers, for the most part, 'kick-ass' has prevailed in horror over scary. If you want to know what scary is all about, go ask Alice.

11 comments:

Planet of Terror said...

I love this film. So simple yet effective.

And agreed, the Rambo-esque slashers of many recent films have ditched fear in favor of balls to the wall action. Nonsense indeed.

Phantom of Pulp said...

An incredible movie with stellar characterization, great performances, and masterful direction. One of my favorites ever.

Jay Amabile said...

this was filmed in New Jersey if I'm not mistaken.

Ryne said...

I really, really like Alice, Sweet Alice.

It diverts expectations, and you're right, the killer's getup is sufficiently creepy.

Throughout the entire scene with Mr. Alphonso, I felt very uneasy.

Jeff Allard said...

Pot, Phantom, Ryne - thanks for sharing the love for Alice! Some modern slasher films - like The Strangers - have tried to get it right and in their own way have done a decent job but the simple eeriness of Alice, Sweet Alice is definitely a very scarce commodity these days.

And Jay, you're right - this was filmed in NJ!

Cheap Beer said...

After reading this, I just bought this for $2 at my local Hollywood Video store that's closing down. I'm looking forward to seeing this!

Jeff Allard said...

Hope you like it, CB! Either way, for two bucks you really can't say no!

knobgobbler said...

This is one classic I've yet to watch... I'll reconcile that by cramming it into my Neflix queue right away.

Jeff Allard said...

I'm surprised at all the people who haven't seen this movie yet but it's one I feel very safe in recommending!

Carl (ILHM) said...

Im so glad to see so much love for ASA, Im a big fan as well and went out and grabbed one of the masked last Halloween for $1, definitely ranks at the top of my single serving slasher list!

Will Errickson said...

This flick should definitely get more love. That Mr. Alphonso was gloriously and perfectly random and sleazy.