Alice, Sweet Alice. Film Review

wpc177fabf_05_06ALICE, SWEET ALICE
Director: Alfred Sole
Screenplay: Rosemary Ritvo, Alfred Sole
Starring: Linda Miller, Paula Sheppard, Lillian Roth, Alphonso DeNoble, Brooke Shields
Certificate: 18
Running Time: 102 Mins
Format: DVD
Release Date: 17/02/14
Reviewed by Guy Adams

Branching out from their frequent Full Moon releases, this month also sees 88 Films release Alfred Sole’s masterful ALICE, SWEET ALICE fully uncut on DVD. Also known as COMMUNION or HOLY TERROR, Sole’s movie is a dark, tense affair that plays out like a grimy American Giallo.

When nine-year old Karen (Brooke Shields in her first screen role) is horrifically murdered prior to taking her first communion, suspicion falls on her older sister, Alice (who is far from ‘sweet’, whatever the title may suggest).

The movie never really found the audience it deserved on its release in 1976. Messily distributed (the title COMMUNION was dropped at Columbia Pictures’ insistence as they felt people would be put off, thinking it a religious movie), another attempt at distribution occurred in 1978, this time cashing in on the — limited — presence of Brooke Shields, who had become notorious after her appearance as a child prostitute in Louis Malle’s PRETTY BABY. Still, the movie has languished, never really achieving the recognition and respect it undoubtedly deserves.

Sole paints a grim and claustrophobic world, most particularly in the apartment block where Alice and her family live. Alphonso DeNoble as the stained, obese landlord that Alice taunts is particularly repellent, sharing a tin of cat food with his many cats and making sexual advances on the young girl in retaliation for her cruelty.

It’s a real, tangible world into which the scares intrude. Linda Miller as the mother who refuses to believe her child could be guilty of such violence, Jane Lowry as the aunt who knows better and, most importantly, Paula Sheppard as the girl herself. Jealous and resentful of the love lavished on her younger sibling, desperate for attention, twisted and bitter. She’s hateful, she’s unnerving, she’s oh-so-believable. But is she guilty?

Gently paced, the movie features a handful of excellent set-pieces but is more an exercise in accumulative discomfort than simply a series of shocks. A truly excellent, classy, clever and twisted slice of horror that deserves to be better known. Perhaps now it can be.

The transfer is somewhat washed-out but that’s no bad thing in context, the pale, colourless world suits its story. The disc comes with an excellent commentary from Alfred Sole, his editor Edward Salier and Bill Lustig, director of MANIAC, VIGILANTE, MANIC COP etc. and, later, champion of cult movies through Anchor Bay and his own company Blue Underground. There is also a trailer, an alternative title sequence and a booklet written by Calum Waddell.

This month’s compulsory purchase, if you don’t buy it your sins will never be forgiven.