Alice Sweet Alice (1976)
Director: Alfred Soles
Rudolph Willrich/Father Tom
Twelve year old Alice’s (Sheppard) younger sister Karen (Shields) is brutally killed in a church minutes away from having her Catholic confirmation performed. When more stiffs eventually pop out within Alice’s environment, this question arises: is Alice really a “sweet” Alice or is she a cunning, murdering mini-beeyatch with an axe to grind! Put on your yellow raincoat...it's butcher knife time!
I’ve had this flick (unrated version) in my dungeon for a while now, but this is the first time that I actually sat my ass down and watched it. What prompted me to finally hit it is that I recently met this chick who over a latte (yeah, you heard me) shared with me how the film had marked her at a young age. To this day, she can’t even look at the box cover, yet alone view the film (yes, she’s so cute). So being the standup guy that I am, I took it upon myself to investigate her trauma.
"Alice Sweet Alice" is almost like two films rolled in one joint of sweet horror spices. On the surface, it plays off like a typical slasher with a masked loony in tow (that’s one creepy get-up), red herrings galore, semi-suspenseful stalk sequences, plasma splashes and a thick mystery behind the madness to boot. Every time I thought I had pin-pointed what was really going down in this “abattoir”, the movie would slap a twist my way and piss on my theories. The games it played kept me intrigued, that’s for damn sure! But here’s the kicker; beneath the surface there was also actual thick substance to this story!!
First off, the movie played out like a “family” drama, with the bodycount affecting everyone deeply within the immediate unit in dramatic ways. That’s rare for a slasher! The setting also contributed to the emotional resonance of the piece by being “gritty” and giving the whole a raw feel. This was definitely a case of a low budget playing in the film’s favor where everything felt stripped down to the core and therefore more realistic. From a thematic standpoint, not only did the film lightly address the issue of “rites of passage” via its communion and "transition to womanhood" (menstruations) angles, but it also covered the strain of living within a “dysfunctional family” and the oh-so common theme of jealousy. How’s that for a hefty serving! You ready for dessert?
Although these aforementioned aspects were touched upon to some degrees and engaging in their own rights, the film’s heavy hitter was, without a doubt, its depiction of Catholic guilt and the horrifying result that can come with it if taken to an extreme. Somebody was bitter about all that Sunday Church time! DAMN! That gripping subtext was made even more powerful by the constant injection of unsettling religious imagery throughout (always creepy to me) to support what was being said. Tackling such weighty themes via a slasher formula is one hell of a ballsy move and one which I appreciated and respected highly.
And that’s not all, kids! Toss in some really sick scenarios having to do with children (the opening murder was pretty disturbing; even though it was suggested), some dabbling in more taboo areas (Alice’s Lolita-like behavior and that fat dude’s child molesting ways), a couple of brutal attacks (all about that foot stab) and a groovy last frame and you get a downbeat, nasty, but still enjoyable slasher flick that goes beyond the norm to actually say something. A word on the last frame if I may...if not misinterpreted (by reading other reviews, I saw that many had) it brings the “message” home hardcore. I GOT IT!
On the downer, I found the screenplay to be a bit too “runaround sue” for my liking; it slapped too many characters and subplots into the yard (I could’ve done without the cop thing) and tried too hard to take us on a mind ride at times. In consequence, the flow of the film didn’t feel as tight as it should have. I also had a couple of peeves with the characters. Although credible, I can’t say that I really found anybody to warm up to. I can’t nail why though, the acting was fine and the characters dimensional enough, but I just didn’t fully care and that lessened the impact of the overall affair. Apart from the creepy Alice, who fascinated me through her many states of being, it was the situation that kept me watching, not the human interaction.
So what will it be mofos? Will Alice be sweet to you too? DUCK THAT KNIFE!
We get lots of stabbings here, one in the neck, another in the foot, two more in the back. We also get a nice rock-to-teeth effect and one hell of a barbecue early on.
Rudolph Willrich (Father Tom) was very natural. Linda Miller (Catherine) hit all of the right emotional notes. Paula Sheppard (Alice) stole the show as the “could be” psycho gal. I bought it! Brooke Shields (Karen) showed up briefly…mmm…yup, that was Brooke Shields…not much more to say on that. Alphonso Denoble (Mr. Alphonso) gave me the freakin' creeps; he played the obese “pervert” to a T. Although Jane Lowry (Aunt Delorenze) hit all the nails on the head with her performance, she somewhat got on nerves. I attribute that more to the nature of the character than the actress though.
T & A
None in the film, but I was naked with my landlady’s daughter when I watched it...does that count?
Soles played it down and it worked. His directing style mostly served the story and the characters, but at the same time he injected hints of style (often focused on religious imagery) that echoed Italian Giallos and that gave the film a mucho eerie feel. He also had a grasp on his suspense and knew how to build up a scene to then bring it home with impact. Solid job.
The unnerving score by Stephen Lawrence often elevated the images to a more chilling level. NICE!
"Alice Sweet Alice" came through on many levels. This Arrow Sweet Arrow (yup, I went for it...sue me) really dug how it showcased all of the classic “slasher” ingredients (minus the coveted tit shots) while stepping out of the mold by draping the film in religious imagery, displaying family drama and making a statement on the possible dire consequences of the Catholic regime. The script did try too hard at times, but I do recommend this bleak and harsh show to anyone who wants a bit more thought behind their mayhem. I wonder what the Pope would think of this film? NOTE TO SELF: Fed Ex a copy of the film to the Pope and include a back issue of “Hustler” while I’m at it, because I’m a nice guy. END OF NOTE
Alfred Soles co-wrote the screenplay with Rosemary Ritvo.
Linda Miller is the daughter of comedian Jackie Gleason.
Paula Sheppard was actually nineteen years old when she played the 12 year old Alice.
The flick is also known as "Holy Terror" and "Communion".
Alfred Soles and director Dante Tomaselli ("Horror") are cousins. I guess religious themes run in the family.