Alice is routinely ignored at home because her younger sister Karen gets all the attention, both from her mom and aunt and also from the church minister. However, after Karen is murdered during a church ceremony by a mysterious figure in a yellow raincoat and painted mask, Alice is the immediate suspect due to her strangeness and jealousy. Did Alice kill Karen, and commit a few other murders throughout the movie? Or is Alice simply a brat, but not psychotic?
AKA: Communion / Holy Terror
Director: Alfred Sole
Actors: Paula Sheppard, Mildred Clinton, Linda Miller, Brooke Shields
Release date: 1976 (original) / 2018 (Blu-ray)
Alice, Sweet Alice (sometimes known as Holy Terror due to its subsequent release) has been called an American giallo, and that’s really not far off the mark for this 1978 murder mystery from Alfred Sole. The film follows the titular young character Alice (Paula Sheppard) after her sister Karen is brutally murdered during a church ceremony, and throughout most of the movie, the question asked is who committed such an atrocity and the reasons why they’re targeting the Spages family. But ultimately the characters within the film tend to focus less on the mystery than on how Alice accomplished the murder; Alice, Sweet Alice presumably presents a killer to the audience and then asks them to either believe or disprove the characters’ assumptions.
It’s a unique device, and Alice, Sweet Alice has come to be known as more than just a generic slasher film from an iconic time period. Part of that comes from its emphasis on mystery, with most killings becoming a backdrop for the film rather than a reliance. Karen’s opening murder is brutal, but that brutality is meant more to reflect how callous this act truly is, especially as Sole shows how it affects Karen’s family and primarily her mother Catherine (Linda Miller). Sole studies the impact of that murder, how Alice comes to be the prime suspect in the case, and how Karen gets closer to her because of it; and with the film – and the audience – getting an intimate look at these murders, seeing the raincoat and mask matching Alice’s get-up definitely plants seeds of doubt in the viewer’s mind. In fact, Alice, Sweet Alice‘s mystery seems downright silly because Sole practically points an arrow at Alice’s head.
All of this drama is certainly aided by being so close to Alice as a protagonist. In scenes where Alice is blamed for the attacks, it’s easy to believe she’s just an innocent little girl; but when Alice, Sweet Alice follows Alice’s solo exploits, she becomes a much more sinister figure. She pulls pranks on her pedophile neighbor Alphonso (Alphonso DeNoble); she intentionally goads her aunt; she shows a much more mischievous side with her friends. Sole ensures that there’s no lack of odd behavior from Alice, and that makes her an even more believable suspect.
But somewhere in the last 20 minutes of the film, Sole pulls the rug out from under us. Suddenly Alice doesn’t seem so evil; she seems like a kid who everyone piled their expectations onto, whose only ally was her mother and father. Instead of following genre tropes from The Exorcist (take a look at Karen’s autopsy photo to see a very Regan-esque makeup job) or The Omen, Sole instead follows the twisting Italian pulp genres and introduces a killer motivated by lust, jealousy, and her religiously-repressed emotions. Surprisingly, it works, and it makes the rest of the film’s lengthy detectivework worth the time.
Alice, Sweet Alice is a film about a rotten kid that turns into something much more dynamic, a surprising element that got me yet again even though I’ve seen it once before. Sole draws a lot out of his performers and even tackles quite a few taboo subjects: child death, pedophilia, a very questionable statement from a cop, and religious fanaticism. It’s no wonder that at one point, Alice, Sweet Alice was confiscated in the UK. Now that it’s widely available, though, audiences should check out this classic in the genre.
The film is not overtly violent except for its initial depiction of Karen’s death and a later stabbing sequence that leaves Alice’s aunt lying in a pool of blood. It’s more the connotation of these attacks that’s grotesque.
Do some pictures of big-breasted ladies on the police wall count?
- Originally named Communion but the studio changed it to Alice, Sweet Alice because they thought audiences might expect a different kind of movie. Honestly, I think the studio made the right choice.
- Paula Sheppard was 19 at the time of filming, which frankly amazes me.
- Brooke Shields’ film debut.
- Slasher Classics Collection #35
- All Region Codes
- NEW (2018) 2K Scan and Restoration from Positive Elements
- Restored LPCM Original Mono Audio
- Optional English Subtitles
- Audio Commentary by Director Alfred Sole and Editor Edward Salier
- Original Trailer
- “Communion” TV Spot
- Poster & Home Video Artwork Gallery
- Restoration Comparison
- Reversible Sleeve
- Region Code: All
- Picture Format: HD 1080p 1.85:1
- Audio Format: LPCM Dual-Mono
- Language: English
- Certification: 18
- Running Time: 107 Mins Approx
88 Films has done a 2k restoration on Alice, Sweet Alice using positive elements. The film has notably had quite a few bad transfers and releases and it’s never been properly released as a Blu-ray. 88 Films rectifies that with a good scan that does a great service to the film itself. The film has a heavy grain overlay but looks quite clear, although a few soft shots do crop up here and there. While 88 Films’ work is certainly commendable, I do want to point out a couple of flaws that viewers will notice. Color is somewhat faded and whites are somewhat blown out, but the bigger issue people will notice is skin tone, which looks quite blanched. Also, color flicker does occur sporadically, though one can see from the included restoration featurette that the problem was originally much worse. Overall, a good transfer from 88 Films that has preserved an important work in horror cinema.
88 Films includes a linear PCM mono track and it sounds quite good, with minimal hiss or issues within the mix. Again, watching the restoration featurette showcases how far the film has come from its original source, which had an overwhelming amount of static in the background. There’s also an English subtitle that can be played with the film.
There aren’t a ton of new features on this disc, but one nice inclusion is an audio commentary with director Alfred Sole and editor Edward Salier. The original trailer and Communion TV spot are nice extras, along with a gallery featuring video artwork and posters. A five-minute restoration featurette shows the original element and the restored version alongside each other in a variety of ways: horizontally, vertically, back-to-back, and even sound comparisons. The box also comes with a reversible sleeve as most Slasher Classics contain. While some might wish for more features, this is still a great disc with a nice restoration of an important classic.