This Schlocktober, Comics Bulletin will be exploring the world of horror cinema, featuring thirty one notable films released between Halloween 2012 and Halloween 2013. Next up is director/writer Jay Lee‘s Alyce Kills.
I’ll go ahead and say it up front. I had never seen a Jay Lee movie before this. Having only heard of Zombie Strippers!, I didn’t really have any interest in seeing a Jay Lee movie. I don’t know why, really. I guess Zombie Strippers! sounded like one of those horrible parody films that never really comes together to me, so I never bothered watching it. Then, when I checked out his IMDB page, I realized that there might be something to this guy.
His first film, Noon Blue Apples sounds intriguing, The Slaughter sounds fun, Zombie Strippers! does look like a great idea once I actually looked at it (and will be going into my next annual Easter Zombie Movie Marathon, most likely), and The House with 100 Eyes might be worth checking out, too. And if any of these films have the creativity and energy that Alyce Kills does, then I feel extremely comfortable diving into his oeuvre.
Alyce Kills (originally released in 2011 as Alyce, but only finding American distribution for a May release of this past year) is a return to the more serious, psychological horror that Lee began his career with that also brings a bit of that social commentary that was broadly laid out in Zombie Strippers! along for the ride. Alyce (Jade Dornfeld) is already a bit off at the beginning of the film, nursing an unrequited love for her best friend Carroll (Tamara Feldman), behind on her rent (with a supporting role casting coup of Tracey Walter as her put-upon landlord), and working a soul-crushing job overseen by a hostile bitch boss (supporting role casting coup number two, Rena Owen).
After a night of drink, drugs, and heartache (Carroll discovers her boyfriend Vince (another great cameo casting coup, James Duval), Alyce accidentally/on purpose (??) pushes Carroll off the roof and finds herself suddenly sliding headlong down a rabbit hole (get it?) of drug abuse, illicit sex, madness and murder.
It’s the very definition of slow burn during the first act, and keeps the pacing deliberately controlled through Alyce’s initial bout of self-destruction. That’s going to put a lot of viewers off, but you know what? It works. It lays the groundwork and provides an amazing launching point for Jade Donfeld’s virtuoso performance as Alyce. As the middle of the film develops, Eddie Rouse appears as Rex — the drug-dealer who facilitates Alyce’s psychological downfall — and blows the roof off the place.
The dynamic between Rex’s philosophical/psychotic monologues and Alyce’s initially passive slide into horror is breathtaking. The energy in the air whenever these two are on-screen made my flesh crawl. I never had any idea what was going to happen next or what they were going to say. There are moments between these characters that will stick with me for a long time.
But ultimately, Rex is also a supporting character, usually situated in the Mad Hatter role between the constantly passing out Mouse (Catero Colbert) and the freaky pervert March (Brian McGuire). This is one of the most overt Alice in Wonderland reference in the film, and in another writer/director’s hands, might not have worked, but Alyce was already so psychologically broken by the time they meet that their surreally horrifying and completely realistic drug dealing den was a work of perfection.
By the time we move into the final act, Alyce is off the rails, her obsession with Carroll provoking both murderous acts and sexually awkward behavior (at a funeral, no less!), that climax in an over-the-top, violent bloodbath and inventive do-it-yourself corpse disposal.
The aggression that Dornfeld brings to the role as she goes about “tenderizing” one of her victims is both disturbing and invigorating. Thanks to the emotional groundwork laid through the beginning of the film, Alyce’s descent into madness and murder never takes a false step. We watched her disintegrate in front of our eyes, becoming judge, jury, and executioner to everyone who has disappointed her in her life.
This is good stuff.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.