31 Screams in October, Vol. 4, #3: Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)

Posted: October 3, 2018 in Movie Review

3. Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)

Director: Alfred Sole

Starring: Linda Miller, Mildred Clinton, Paula Sheppard, Niles McMaster, Jane Lowry, Brooke Shields

Of the thirty-one films I watched during the course of this year’s horror marathon, the one which I was once absolutely sure I would never get the chance to see was 1976’s “Alice, Sweet Alice.” I’ve heard about it for years, but it never comes up on cable television, and any edition of the DVD has always gone out of print before I can get my hands on it for a reasonable price. Its recent availability on Amazon Prime changed all of that, and is actually the reason behind the return of the “31 Screams” marathon this year. Hey, if some of TV’s best shows can take a year off, why can’t I?

Despite being filmed in 1976, “Alice, Sweet Alice” actually takes place in 1961. This is a fact which (as in my case) might at first escape you unless you’re paying close attention to the way everyone dresses and wears their hair. Other clues hang out in the background, such as the JFK picture and a calendar with “1961” in bold print hanging on the wall in the police station. The film’s story focuses on the Spages family. Catherine (Linda Miller) and Dominick (Niles McMaster) are divorced, and their two daughters live with their mother. Their eldest, Alice (Paula Sheppard) is jealous of her younger, prettier sister, Karen (an 11-year old Brooke Shields) and is somewhat of a bully towards her. Alice is particularly miffed about the crucifix Karen has received from Father Tom (Rudolph Willrich) as a gift, commemorating Karen’s upcoming first communion. But all does not go well, because Karen is strangled to death at the church by someone wearing a yellow raincoat and mask similar to those seen being worn by Alice earlier in the film. The crucifix is then removed from Karen’s neck and the body is burned.

Almost immediately, despite her own protests and her mother’s assurances, Alice becomes the prime suspect in her sister’s murder. When her aunt (who can’t stop herself from being absolutely nasty towards Alice) is attacked and nearly killed, it seems to all but seal Alice’s fate. I must admit, even I figured this to be an open and shut case at this point. But “Alice, Sweet Alice” has more to it than a simple story about a child born with a screw loose. Don’t get me wrong. Alice is definitely not quite right in the head. What she does to her pervert landlord’s cat is enough to qualify her as a potential future serial killer. It’s not quite that cut and dried. The keys to figuring out what’s truly going on here lie both in our knowledge of certain staples of the slasher formula, as well as this film’s original title.

When first released in 1976, the original title of the film was “Communion.” It wasn’t until the movie was purchased for American distribution that it became known as “Alice, Sweet Alice.” Honestly, I find the original title both creepier and more in line with the parts of the plot which deal with Catholicism. (It should be noted that the film has yet another title, which is “Holy Terror.”) Speaking of Catholicism, it is portrayed in a decidedly unflattering light here, and that’s quite deliberate on the part of director Alfred Sole, who made this movie in response to being excommunicated from the Church over his first film, 1972’s “Deep Sleep.”

Sole was also influenced by the 1973 film “Don’t Look Now,” in which Donald Sutherland follows a tiny person wearing a red raincoat whom he believes to be his dead daughter. For that reason it’s a good idea not to immediately suspect Alice of murdering her sister in “Alice, Sweet Alice.” A second reason is brought up when you keep in mind that one of the regular staples of the slasher genre is that sex = death. The killer, being a devout Catholic, takes a dim view of premarital intercourse. Unless she and her parents have had “the talk,” Alice is most likely innocent of the murders.

While not a great movie, “Alice, Sweet Alice” is a pretty decent early slasher film (from before the genre even had acquired its name) due to the intricate plot and what even then was a retro setting. Most will be attracted because of the early (albeit brief) role for the most famous name in the cast, Brooke Shields. But you should stay for Paula Sheppard’s performance as Alice, and for Alphonso DeNoble as the bizarre, grotesque and creepy landlord. I waited a long time to see this one, and I can say honestly that the wait was worth it.

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Comments
  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Based on your review, I would be interested in seeing this one!

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