Director: Alfred Sole
Screenplay: Rosemary Ritvo, Alfred Sole
Starring: Linda Miller, Paula Sheppard, Mildred Clinton, Brooke Shields
Duration: 106 min
BBFC Certification: 18
Alfred Sole’s 1976 horror, Alice Sweet Alice (also known as Communion and Holy Terror) is recognised as the film debut of Brooke Shields, but it is much more than that. Pre-dating John Carpenter’s Halloween by 2 years, it is one of the first films to feature a masked killer stalking victims with a butcher’s knife and effectively created the slasher genre. Throw in meditations on the corrupting power of Catholicism and familial grief, and you have an intriguing entry in American horror.
Alice Sweet Alice, opens with sisters Alice (Paula Sheppard) and Karen (Brooke Shields) visiting their priest Father Tom (Rudolph Willrich) with their mother. Karen is a kind, polite child, and as a result everyone loves her and showers her with gifts. On the flipside, Alice is sullen and withdrawn and likes to play tricks on people. It becomes clear that Alice resents her younger sister for attracting all of the attention. When Karen is found brutally murdered at the church on the day of her first communion, the congregation believe that Alice was responsible. All evidence points toward the girl – she was late to the church, she had her sister’s communion veil and her school raised concerns about her disturbing behaviour. Before long, her mother, Christine (Linda Miller) begins to believe the rumours, while her estranged husband sets out to prove that his oldest daughter could not have committed such a crime. As the weeks go on, more people are murdered and other suspects are revealed, but is Alice really to blame?
Director Alfred Sole creates a grim and claustrophobic world, shot in his native grey and damp New Jersey. The streets and buildings are all filthy, most particularly in the squalid apartment block where Alice and her family live. All in all, it is a very real believable world the film is set in. Sole also makes excellent use of camera angles – in one scene Alice’s aunt is walking down the stairs when the killer attacks, stabbing her repeatedly in the leg. The angle of the shot disguises the height of the killer, so you cannot tell if it is a child or not. As the aunt escapes, she crawls outside the building and the camera pulls up showing the rain lashing down, a large puddle of blood gradually growing beneath her.
The acting is pretty good from all actors, although none of the characters are likeable – with the exception of the short-lived Karen, they are all obnoxiously self-obsessed and sometimes cruel. The sleazy, filthy obese landlord who makes sexual advances on Alice; her mother who only has time for herself and her youngest daughter; the aunt who openly despises Alice and berates her mother constantly and then Alice herself. Resentful of the love bestowed on her sister, she is a twisted and hateful child desperate for attention.
Surprisingly, the killer is revealed about an hour into the film, leading to a drastic change of tone in the final act. However, this is not a bad thing as it leads to us learning more about the killer’s motivations in much more detail than you would normally expect from a slasher film.
Alice Sweet Alice is a gem of psychological horror influenced by Italian giallo films, Hitchcock, The Exorcist and Don’t Look Now. The film is an intensely grim and offbeat viewing which richly deserves the loyal cult following it has built up over the years.
Alice Sweet Alice is released on Blu-ray by 88 films and includes the following extras:
Audio commentary by director Alfred Sole and editor Edward Salier
“Communion” TV spot