I mentioned in my introductory post to this series that I grew up on a steady diet of horror movies, many of which I saw after cable television came to our small town in upstate New York around 1990. Each week when the TV guide arrived in the Saturday newspaper I would read through it, making a note of any movie categorized as “Horror.” They were mostly low-budget films from the 1970s and early ’80s, many of them of poor quality, but I devoured them indiscriminately, especially in October when the cable channels ran them in the weeks leading up to Halloween, and on idle afternoons during summer vacation.
It was a rainy summer day when, channel surfing, I found Alice, Sweet Alice (dir. Alfred Sole, 1976) on one of the lower cable stations. I can distinctly recall the listlessness of those summer-vacation afternoons when, sick of drawing or video games, I drifted through the house in a kind of haze. Outside, the air was heavy and wet—somewhat like one imagined it felt in the film, set in a perpetually gray and drizzly Paterson, New Jersey. For some reason, I kept tuning into Alice for brief moments and then turning the channel, or perhaps leaving the room altogether; I have no memory of having caught anything more than isolated glimpses of the film. But what terrifying glimpses! A little girl in a yellow rain slicker wandering through an abandoned building, suddenly confronted by her sister, dressed in an identical yellow slicker and wearing a chillingly hideous mask, like the face of a mannequin; the younger girl’s dead body being dragged along the floor of a church by her murderer; another confrontation in a dark, abandoned building, that same masked face lurking in the shadows; finally, in what proved to be the last image of the whole film, a long, dreamy tracking shot in which the older sister, seemingly catatonic, reveals that she has hidden a butcher knife in the shopping bag clutched to her chest. Disconnected, the images haunted me more than they probably would have done had I actually seen the whole film beginning to end.
|The final shot of Alice, Sweet Alice: the knife concealed in the shopping bag.|