communion video cover
3 and a half stars


directed by: Alfred Sole
starring: Paula E Sheppard, Brooke Shields, Linda Miller

(back of video blurb):

       " "COMMUNION is a horror story plus. It's the 'plus' factor that enables me to report on it without the quesy feeling that I'm wallowing in blood- of which I warn you ther's a lot!"...Alexander Walker, Evening Standard.

       Twelve years old Alice is labelled as a problem child. Feeling rejected, she retreats to her private basement playroom. There, she performs gothic rituals with candles and jars of insects.

       At morning mass, Alice's sister prepares for her first communion. She is brutally murdered by a masked fiend. Many grizly murders are to follow...Certificate "X" "

choice dialogue:

"It's such a tragedy- we're not even safe in the church anymore!"

slash with panache?

        Veritable, but sadly somewhat ignored, classic.

       COMMUNION opens with a brilliantly evocative image; a girl alternative posters for COMMUNIONdressed in her first holy communion outfit (her face obscured by an opaque veil), rapidly whispers a succession of hail marys. She clasps a (partially obscured) crucifix to her dress, and as the opening credits roll to a close, she pulls it completely into shot- revealing that it is tipped with a blade, the cold steel flashing in the light.

       The film is set in Paterson, New Jersey, 1961- amongst a Catholic community. Kate (Brooke Shields -in her screen debut) is preparing for her first holy communion. Her older sister Alice (Paula E Sheppard) watches the attention her younger sibling is receiving with obvious resentment and jealousy. Her attempts at averting the gaze of the adults away from Kate, to her, are met with shocked disapproval; she sneaks up on people wearing a grinning, translucent mask and yellow rain mac- (worn by all the children), throws childish tantrums and, when alone with her sister, plays cruel and warped jokes on her. Her attention seeking only manages to alienate her more and many of the characters regard her with thinly disguised distrust and dislike. Shortly into the film, just before Kate enters the church to begin her first holy communion she is lured away by a whispering figure, wearing the same mask and mac as her sister, who strangles her and dumps her body in a chest, setting fire to it with a church candle. Alice then enters the church and takes up her sister’s place at the altar, kneeling to receive communion- much to the outrage of her family. Before they can interject, Kate’s smouldering body is discovered. the killer attacks Alice's Aunt...All evidence points to Alice as the murderer- a notion that only her Mother and (estranged) Father refuse to entertain. Soon Alice’s Aunt (who Alice hates) is attacked viciously , with a butcher’s knife, on the stairs by the small figure wearing the mask and coat. She survives and points the finger at Alice. Alice denies it, but eventually reveals her belief that her sister has returned from the grave to seek revenge....

       It may seem like I’ve given away much of the plot! But in fact, COMMUNION, is a densely plotted and thematically complex film and that lengthy prologue gives way to a veritable rabbit warren of fiendish intrigue ,where expectations are turned upside down. There are so many themes at play here it almost makes you head spin- but director, Alfred Sole, weaves them all into a cohesive and compelling whole. Catholicism is the vibrant canvas and mother theme of the movie. The murder of a child is unspeakable enough, but to murder her in church and just before she receives her first communion is a master stroke US video cover under the title ALICE, SWEET ALICEof taboo breaking. Perhaps not on the level of vagina/crucifix interaction in THE EXORCIST (1973), but pretty shocking none the less. It also has a special resonance for me: I was bought up Catholic, (although, believe me, nowadays I am monumentally lapsed!), and I too went through the whole bizarre rigmarole of ‘First Holy Communion’- the girls in miniature wedding dresses, the boys in miniature suits: a veritable parody of the marriage ceremony. Luckily though, we all made it through our service alive!... Catholic imagery is everywhere in Sole’s film and the issues of guilt and absolution are pivotal to the plot.

       The performances in COMMUNION are generally very good. And special mention must go to Sheppard who plays Alice- she gives an amazing portrayal of some one who, on the surface shows a blank dazedness, but underneath squirms the many faces of resentment, confusion and, possibly, evil. Due to the nature of the film, many of the characters are in a state of hysteria throughout much of its running time. Sometimes it feels like you are watching an old silent movie with overemphasised, ‘theatrical’ acting and in one scene incidental, blaring opera from a record player suddenly becomes the soundtrack to that scene and not just background noise . But once you become accustomed to this it only adds to the film’s uniqueness.

       COMMUNION is also a film that is stunning to look at- every scene is carefully and lovingly put together. Sole manages some fantastic and disturbing imagery; graphic morgue photos of Kate descending on a dumb waiter- (mirroring her burial), kittens lapping up freshly spilt blood, a butcher’s knife kept in an underwear draw, next to a photo of Jesus.

the killer- similarities to DONT LOOK NOW       Sole openly admitted his influences, "...a combination of Hitchcock, THE BAD SEED [a 1956 film adapted from Maxwell Anderson’s play], and DON’T LOOK NOW.". But he managed to transcend any charges of plagiarism to produce a horror classic, that works exceptionally well as ‘psycho-thriller’, ‘slasher’ , ‘whodunit’ and morality piece.

       The film won several awards and was critically acclaimed, but sadly it never received a wide cinema release anywhere (although it was briefly reissued when Brooke Shields became famous, under the title ALICE, SWEET, ALICE). As talented as Sole obviously was he didn’t make much of a mark after this film, which is a real shame. The only other genre piece he made was the slasher spoof PANDEMONIUM (1982).

BODYCOUNT 5  bodycount!   female:1 / male:3
(and 1 kitten!)

       1) pre-pubescent female strangled and set on fire
       2) kitten strangled (thankfully (mostly) off screen)
       3) Male stabbed, beat over the head with brick and pushed out of window
       4) Male stabbed in gut
       5) Male stabbed in neck

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