Religious overtones run through this offbeat, multilayered whodunnit horror movie, telling the tale of a devout New Jersey family’s struggle to reveal the killer in their midst.
Director Alfred Sole set and shot his story in and around a Catholic church in his hometown (Paterson, New Jersey) in 1961.
Working-class single mother, Catherine (Linda Miller), is raising two daughters, saintly 9-year-old Karen (juvenile model Brooke Shields in her acting debut) and disturbed 12-year-old Alice (Paula Sheppard) – a weirdo who hangs out in the basement of her apartment building, trapping insects in jars and wearing creepy masks.
One day, someone wearing a mask like the one Alice owns kills Karen, triggering a police investigation. Catherine refuses to consider Alice a suspect, but Catherine’s bitchy sister, Annie (Jane Lowry), thinks otherwise.
Then someone wearing a similar mask attacks Annie, so police apprehend Alice. Yet things get complicated when another crime occurs while Alice is in custody.
The killings (still shockingly realistic) are interspersed with biting portrayals of the dysfunctional family and Catholic ritual.
There is also black humour, mostly inspired by Hitchcock, although fans will notice other influences, notably Nicolas Roeg (Don’t Look Now, 1973).
The cast comprises unknowns apart from tragic 1930s star Lillian Roth who makes a comeback as a pathologist.
Released in some markets as Communion and Holy Terror.