Movie Review: THE HAUNTING OF ALICE D (2014)

“Indie filmmaking is constantly evolving and constantly changing. You have to up your game. With Alice D, I wanted people to think a little bit and have a little fun.”  – The mind and talent behind “The Haunting of Alice D” Jessica Sonneborn

Released on VOD and DVD is the directorial debut of actress, writer and director Jessica Sonneborn entitled “The Haunting of Alice D”. Featuring a young cast, a paced narrative that leads you into temptation and simple but effective makeup and FX, the film, why not the top of the releases this year, holds a nice spot for fans who enjoy supernatural madness and horror fun. Revolving the narrative around a party organized by the living relative of the mansion, Joe Davenport, played by actor Juan Riedinger, for his group of friends and a trio of hookers. Joe is the descendant of the original owner of the mansion and former brothel Sr. Davenport played by the infamous and ever popular Kane Hodder. Paralleling the timeline of modern day and primarily the year of 1898, we learn the story of a young sex slave named Alice D who is sold into the life of prostitution by a creepy old man along with her older sister. Once separated, Alice’s life becomes hell at the hands of Davenport and his henchman played by the charismatic Al Snow. The struggle of Alice to keep her soul and stay strong is weaved into the modern world with the character Jenny, played by Megan Hensley, who deals with a high money deal for uninhibited party sex. Jenny, who is doing this to help her younger sister, fights the urge to give into the groups lust and stays only for her friend who invited her. As the night goes on, the mansion starts to awaken with the supernatural energy as the ghosts of the past come to disrupt, torture and perhaps kill those who dare continues the tradition of sex, money and sin that goes back decades. One by one the occupants of the party realize that the horror and the evil of this former brothel and mansion are coming for them. Mistrust, deception and screams are all that filter as you ask yourself, has Alice come back to punish?

Before you go into this film thinking it is high budget and mainstream quality horror because of the cover art, stop right there and turn around. This is a bare bone, crafty, story based horror that like so many quality horror projects before it, saves the gut punches for the final act. For some that works well, for others… well you can’t make everyone happy. Hats off to, and this is often forgotten, to the director Sonneborn who not only wrote this but directed and acted in it. In the annals of indie horror filmmaking, it is not the worst supernatural film by any means for the work put in and the product put forth. What it does lack in a variety of areas including the tool of sound, it makes up for in many ways and with a lot of heart from Sonneborn. The sound issues on a range of Alice D DVDs, actually happen with the company handling the sound during the post production as told to me during Sonneborn’s chat on “The Horror Happens Radio Show”. Sonneborn however, did also talk more about the sound and post-production for the film, “It’s a low budget movie so we spent a lot time in post trying to make it the best it could be. We spent a lot time on the sound with low budget movies that’s the first thing people notice. There is a lot movie magic that goes into the sound. We spent hundreds of hours going through the sound.” The DVD I had thankfully, had no sound issues. As The Ghost and I watched it, I was surprised by what Sonneborn had to say in defense of the film as for those who have unaffected Dvds, the sound and score are a great partner to the story, emotion and horror. Sonneborn continued to talk about the importance of the sound and score, “When you are doing a low budget movie, you depend on sound design and music to guide these scares.”

Beyond the sound, “The Haunting of Alice D” offers several tools effectively used to create a quality horror film. First, has to be the location for the film in the state of Rhode Island and the “Beach Mansion” which had such a classic feel and was easily able to switch from the 1898 brothel to the modern day mansion throughout the film. The mansion, which was found online is an effective and timeless set that even with the sin and sleaze in both timelines, never loses the class and beauty of a classic piece of architecture. The ability of Sonneborn and cinematographer Eric Latek to create such space, mood and versatility is a true piece of good filmmaking that benefits this film greatly. Sonneborn talked about that aspect in the writing phase, “So when I wrote the script for Alice D, I really needed a big mansion and a big stair case and of course I wanted to shoot in Los Angeles. It’s not like they don’t have mansions there (LA) but they don’t have mansions like what they have outside of Newport Rhode Island.”

The Beach Mansion also doubled as the crew and casts sleeping quarters throughout the production according to Sonneborn. Sonneborn also talked about the dedication of those who joined her on this over two-year production from conception to distribution. “The actors and crew on Alice D, they were the top notch indie people I knew. They were the very best and did their characters so well. I can’t take credit for what they did because they are all very talented people.” This including pro wrestler and actor Snow who Sonneborn has worked with on film projects before and was glad to bring him on to the cast as the very vicious henchman aiding the Davenport played by Hodder of “Friday the 13th” and “Hatchet” fame. Hodder as usual is just a beast! Evil, powerful and ruthless towards all those who affect his business of skin and sin in the brothel. Like many of Hodder’s other roles, his sheer physical presence and especially his eyes are on showcase amongst the ensemble and young cast. “They were impressive force for the movie and help sell the movie. He’s (Hodder) such a special actor. He has such a presence. To be that presence to be so evil and menacing,” said Sonneborn. Sonneborn, who again had multiple duties on her debut said that a lot of the time she was directing in her underwear. She has acted in over forty films in her career, formed a connection with the cast and crew being on both sides of the camera. “I wrote Alice D with the intention to be my directorial debut. I am more of a step back director. I took a lot of that acting experience and understanding of all the roles I have had.”

As revealing as that is and the fact that majority of the film teases at nudity and sex, the film really is tame till the third act. The third act ties together and amps up the sex, nudity and horror of the film in a satisfying way. Sonneborn talked about her likings versus her intentions for Alice D, “We did not want to have gratuitous nudity in Alice D. Even though I am not knocking it… I wanted the viewer to work for it and have it towards the end of the movie. Instead of just being boobs and cutting people up, it can make you think a little bit of the treatment of people in tough situations.” This comes through effectively for me, building that tease. This was different from other more exploitative films that Sonneborn has been a part of. Sonneborn wanted to get deeper into these characters and show the struggle of both Jenny and Alice D paralleling each other with family, pressure and duty. “I like asking questions about who they are. There’s a reason why the character is doing. I personally like writing and talking about things that are a little bit uncomfortable. It’s such an interesting question, who are people? I like to make people think a little bit.”

The film overall is deceptively effective with its moments of great practical FX, a talented cast that includes a hell of a good twist at the end of the film that may catch some viewers off guard. One of my favorite aspects of the film is the way that Sonneborn and actor Riedinger handle his character of Joe with karma and the influence of family. This comes with an interesting and energy filled possession sequence that part of it gets very interesting in the upstairs bathtub. The film for all the drama, elements of a haunted house, sex and sin does have a heart with a not only the struggle of Jenny and Alice D but idea that even with all the lust, money and evil, two people can come together to support and possible survive the night. Support indie horror filmmaking and pick up “The Haunting of Alice D” right now through “IMAGE Entertainment” on VOD and DVD at Walmart, Amazon, ITunes and at some Redbox locations. Also find out more on the films website and find out more about Jay Kay on Twitter @horrorhappensFF

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