Alice, Sweet Alice-1977
Director Alfred Sole
Starring Paula Sheppard, Linda Miller
Scott’s Review #1,343
Reviewed February 12, 2023
Originally titled ‘Communion’ and re-titled and re-released as Alice, Sweet Alice in 1977, the film can proudly tout it as the debut film of star Brooke Shields. Her role, while quite small, is essential to the story.
Any film that either challenges, mocks, or showcases Catholicism, especially within the horror genre has instant appeal for me. There is something so warped yet satisfying to me.
Like The Exorcist did in 1973, Alice, Sweet Alice will leave Catholics and the otherwise religious squirming in their seats or scrambling for the ‘stop’ button on their remotes.
Director Alfred Sole, also a well-known production designer was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s films and the 1973 masterpiece, Don’t Look Now. Does it ever show if one looks closely enough?
The story is sometimes muddled and confusing to say nothing of implausible but the overall tone and content are fascinating. The camera angles, production design, musical score, and overall style are exceptional and make the film a major success.
On her First Communion day, Karen (Brooke Shields) is viciously strangled and set afire in church after being stuffed in a wooden chest. Her emotionally unstable and unattractive sister, Alice (Paula Sheppard) is immediately considered a suspect because of her jealousy and her possession of a translucent mask and Karen’s crucifix and veil.
Alice is no saint since she enjoys tormenting Karen and the obese landlord who lives in the apartment below her family.
Aunt Annie (Jane Lowry), a staunch catholic who hates Alice, is later stabbed on an apartment complex stairway by a childlike figure wearing a translucent mask and a yellow rain slicker. Annie insists her attacker was Alice.
In a subplot, the girls’ mother Catherine, played by Linda Miller embarks on a tender romance with her dashing ex-husband, now dating another woman, until he too is brutally murdered.
I was immediately struck smitten by the haunting musical score, a clear homage to Hitchcock’s Psycho from 1960. The shrill violins and the palpable bass are familiar bringing fond memories of that legendary masterpiece.
Instead of a direct copy though, composer Stephen J. Lawrence superbly enhances the effects to meet a more modern style horror film and it works.
Mr. Hitchcock’s fascination with stairways is also mirrored many times and Sole imprints many effective scenes using only shots of feet either walking up or down the stairs.
And, anytime a mask is used in a horror film it’s scary.
In terms of the plot, while the events are compelling, they also don’t make much sense. It would be too predictable and unsatisfying if Alice were the killer (she isn’t) although the terrific final sequence leaves room for a sequel as Alice maniacally studies a bloodied butcher knife.
However, there is a constant theme of hysterical religious judgment, punishment for sins, and sacrificing someone for the greater good. These align perfectly with the many hypocritical aspects of religion at a time when the catholic church was facing much criticism.
Characters like Aunt Annie and the wacky housekeeper, Mrs. Tredoni (Mildred Clinton) are played as over the top but work surprisingly well.
And it’s likely no accident how Sole cast the adorably handsome Rudolph Willrich as the much sought-after Father Tom.
In 1977, Alice, Sweet Alice was quite timely and fits nicely with other 1970s horror films with a religious theme.
Paula Sheppard all but carries the film though the supporting actors are all effective too. Her facial expressions teeter between soft and angelic, and demonic and cagey. It’s an exceptional part of the film.
Alice, Sweet Alice (1977) is an under-appreciated gem that needs to immediately be dusted off and uncovered by rabid horror fans seeking a superior watch.