Movie Reviews - Alice, Alice Sweet Alice, Alucarda, Always Outnumbered, American History X

Alice (C, 1988) AKA Neco z Alenky
Bizarre and creepy retelling of Alice in Wonderland (looks more like Alice Cooper in Wonderland... welcome to somebody's nightmare) from Czech stop-motion-animation guru Jan Svankmajer. Imaginative young Alice follows a horrible bug-eyed rat-toothed sawdust-bleeding taxidermied rabbit through the drawer of a desk that's been left in a wasteland, then down a dirty elevator that runs from the bottom of a bucket. She drinks a potion and shrinks into a creepy porcelain doll... then eats a cookie that makes her big... too big to fit through a tiny door to follow the rabbit. She cries and floods the grimy little room, and a well-dressed mouse drives stakes into her head and cooks his dinner. After lots more craziness involving animal skulls, she finds all the lost socks in the world burrowing holes through the floor. One sock, with glass eyes and false teeth, serves as the Caterpillar. After an episode with a shrinking house, she goes to the Mad Hatter's tea party. He's a wooden man, and the March Hare is a wind-up rabbit on wheels. They spread butter on pocketwatches and repeat things a lot. Then she plays croquet with playing card people and some real animals. It's a bizarre and surreal story made more bizarre/surreal than ever due to the animation of scary-looking stuff, the amazingly-dingy surroundings (what abandoned house did they film this in?), an annoying habit of showing close-ups of the little girl's mouth as a narrator, and a general air of somebody-made-this-so-there-is-insanity-in-the-world. It's like a fever dream made from the contents of a very sick child's toybox. And that's why you've gotta love it! The DVD also contains a disturbing short called "Darkness Light Darkness" in which some claymation arms in a very small room collect and assemble body parts (some clay, some dentures, and some actual flesh!) to build itself into a man... sort of. This short's one of Svankmajer's best and isn't found on the two collections of his other work. Extremely weird package overall. -zwolf

Alice Sweet Alice (C, 1976) AKA Communion, Holy Terror
There's no doubt that young Alice is a horrible little girl, but did she murder her sister (Brooke Shields, nine years old and acting very convincingly spoiled) on the day of her first communion? Somebody wearing a yellow slicker and creepy clear smiling mask like Alice's strangled her, stuffed her into a chest, and then set her on fire. Alice seems hateful and crazy enough to do such a thing, as well as the killings that happen subsequently, but there are plenty of creeps around their building. The landlord, for instance, is a morbidly obese pederast who's so unhygienic he feeds his cats in his bed. The stains in this guy's shorts probably weigh a few pounds, he's so astoundingly huge and filthy. Then there's Alice's mean ol' aunt, who gets stabbed in the legs. And then there's a guy who dies extremely unpleasantly after being pounded in the teeth with a brick. Psychological tests run on Alice prove that she's a very unsound young lady, but that doesn't mean she's doing all the killings. Or does it? Alfred Sole's Hitchcockian direction keeps you guessing... and wincing at the brutality of the killings, which are not just your standard knife-flailing. This plays a lot like an American giallo film, and would fit in comfortably alongside some of Argento's early work. The film was re-released under retitles later to capitalize on Brooke Shields's popularity, even though she gets killed early, and despite the gore and anti-Catholic leanings, it was widely distributed on videotape in the early days of cheap home video. One of those movies that, if you don't watch it for a few years, you forget how good it is and then it surprises you. -zwolf

Alucarda (C, 1978) AKA Innocents from Hell, Mark of the Devil 3, Sisters of Satan, Alucarda, la hija de las tinieblas
Alejandro Jodorowsky wouldn't work with anyone normal, and he worked with Juan Lopez Moctezuma, who directed this completely insane Satanic witchcraft movie, totally packed with beautifully-composed but often-disturbing images. A girl named Justine comes to a convent (sort of an asylum run by nuns, really) and forms a quick, obsessive friendship with a very strange young witch named Alucarda, who likes to upset people by blaspheming, screaming, and spinning around. A hippie-looking wizard gets them to do strange lesbian rituals while it rains blood. Alucarda is apparently possessed by a spirit from a grave she opened (of a girl named Lucy Westerna, who should be familiar to readers of Dracula). There are orgies presided over by goat-headed priests while nuns weep and sweat blood. Finally their blasphemies become so extreme that the priest and nuns perform an exorcism which results in Justine's death by torture. But don't worry - she'll be back... Crazy, surreal variation on Ken Russell's The Devils is full of nudity, blood, and elaborately gothic sets and orchestrated scenes of witchcraft-madness, some of which gets pretty nightmarish. Excellent creepy stuff for fans of serious bizarre horror. If The Exorcist disturbed you, however, beware... -zwolf

Always Outnumbered (C, 1998)
Walter Mosley adapted his own Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned for this made-for-HBO production that really deserves a theatrical run. Even though I pictured the Socrates Fortlow character as older and a little crazier in the book, I'm willing to accept the change so Lawrence Fishburne can fill the role, because Fishburne, as always, does an excellent job and is easily one of the best actors in America. This guy's presence can make a film. The movie (like the book of short-stories-that-make-a-novel) is the episodic tale of a nearly-homeless bottles-and-cans man in L.A. who tries to keep his dignity - and the dignity of his community - in a world that is (at worst) geared against him, or (at best) just doesn't care. Great cameo appearances by some of the best black acting talent working, none of whom come up short. You should definitely check this one out, and it shouldn't stop you from reading the book, either, which is one of the best things I've ever read. -zwolf

American History X (C, 1998)
Ed Norton is a neo-Nazi skinhead scumbag who kills a couple of black guys when they try to rob him, which might've been okay - hey, they were armed - 'cept he was pretty sick about it (nastiest "bite the curb" scene since the underground short film, Red). While he's in jail, he learns that racism is a pretty damned stupid thing, but by the time he gets out, his little brother Eddie "I'm in every movie made since 1990" Furlong is following in his old Doc Marten prints, and the local skinhead scene is thriving. Even though Ed was about as scummy as you can get through the first half, he pays - heavily - for his sins, and comes out sympathetic in the end. Great performance by Ed... you can tell he's a good actor, because he actually makes a SCARY skinhead, even though normally there are few creatures less scary than Ed Norton. He really should've gotten an award for this - he's great. Good script, good message, check it out even though it'll make you upset. But then, who really likes "feel good movies" anyway? The DVD contains deleted scenes, one of which - Stacy Keach and the fat guy getting their just desserts - explains a few things but was probably too comedic for the rest of the movie... -zwolf

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