Color, 1976, 106 mins.

Directed by Alfred Sole

Starring Linda Miller, Mildred Clinton, Paula E. Sheppard, Niles McMaster, Jane Lowry, Rudolph Willrich, Brooke Shields, Alphonso DeNoble, Michael Hardstark, Tom Signorelli, Lillian Roth / Produced by Rick Rosenberg / Music by Stephen Lawrence / Written by Rosemary Ritvo and Alfred Sole

Format: DVD - Anchor Bay (MSRP $24.95)

Letterboxed (1.85:1) / Dolby Digital Mono

Along with Pete Walker's underrated The Confessional, the jarring '76 shocker Communion attacks the foundations of Catholicism as swiftly and viciously as any film of its era. Most low-budget horror films over the past decade and a half have offered little in the way of political substance or attempted to sustain any kind of sociological viewpoint, but Communion jumps in head first and practically dares viewers to remain passive. Later reissued under its most famous title, Alice, Sweet Alice (and in a sliced-up 96 minute edition called Holy Terror), this caustic little gem has finally managed to build a reputation for itself far outside the mere presence of child star Brooke Shields in a small supporting role.

Catherine Spages (Linda Miller), a devout young Catholic woman, has two daughters, Alice (Paula E. Sheppard, later in Liquid Sky) and Karen (Shields). While Karen is a sweet good girl looking forward to her first communion, the older Alice becomes increasingly jealous and dislocated from her family. In fact, Alice often retreats to her apartment basement where she keeps cockroaches in a jar and causes various kinds of mayhem involving the other tenants. When Karen is brutally murdered at the church before receiving communion, suspicion immediately falls upon Alice. Catherine's estranged husband, Dom (Niles McMaster of Bloodsucking Freaks fame), arrives for the funeral and becomes entangled in the twisted murder plot as more attacks occur.

Crammed with surprises and offbeat touches, Alice can be a disorienting experience on first viewing but yields countless rewards along the way. Even minor characters are memorably sketched, particularly Alice's ridiculously obese neighbor, Mr. Alphonso (DeNoble, another Bloodsucking Freaks alumnus). The knife attacks remain genuinely shocking and frightening even now, with one agonizing and brilliantly sustained murder sequence stealing the show entirely near the end. The film's low budget actually helps it, with the unusual New Jersey locations lending everything a surreal, all too believable atmosphere of religious repression and domestic tension ready to explode. Organized religion remains at the center as the primary corrupting force, favoring certain people at random over others and instigating malice and betrayal at every turn. The film itself chooses to treat people in the same manner to drive the point home, randomly knocking off characters whether they deserve it or not.

Though similar on the surface, Anchor Bay's DVD remarkably improves on the previous Roan Group laserdisc by toning down much of the oversaturated, distorted colors (especially red!) which marred that transfer. The source materials are also in much better shape, freed from the distracting speckles and other damage littering the laserdisc, and the 1.85:1 framing is much more accurate than the squeezed, unsatisfying Roan presentation. The laser was touted as a "director's cut" on the packaging and the print itself, which meant Sole actually tightened the film a little bit, as he felt the editing was rushed and incomplete when the film was originally released. As noted in Video Watchdog, the most significant cut removes a phone call from Dom's current wife, a deletion which seems to sharply divide the film's admirers. Overall the fleeting trims amount to about a minute and a half, allowing Sole to copyright this print and finally reclaim the film as his own. The Anchor Bay DVD reinstates the footage, allowing it to be promoted as the "uncut version," and the commentary has been readjusted accordingly. Sole's commentary provides some nice anecdotes about the making of the film, including a revelation of Shepherd's real age at the time and an explanation for the absence of music over the end credits (the end credit music is now restored for the first time ever). Unfortunately, Sole was never again given the opportunity to shine like he does here; Alice was actually his second film, made after a Gothic hardcore porn effort called Deep Sleep, and his subsequent efforts included the surreal "Vanity boffs a monkey" vehicle Tanya's Island and the slasher parody Pandemonium. The DVD also replicates the extras from the Roan disc, namely the alternate Communion opening credits and a collection of stills from the film. A nice package, to be sure, but here it really is the film that matters, and fortunately the last twenty-five years have been very kind, allowing Alice to chill as deeply as ever.

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