“Alice, Sweet Alice”
A Horror Film
“Alice, Sweet Alice” came out in the mid-seventies to reasonable acclaim but never quite gained the ongoing momentum of some of its peers. Director Alfred Sole introduces us to Alice (Paula Sheppard) is an unpleasant 12-year-old girl who taunts and threatens her younger sister Karen (Brooke Shields in her debut film role), an overly perfect little dear to their separated parents. During her first communion, Karen is brutally murdered and many see Alice as the culprit. especially those of the audience who are the only witnesses to the crime. The girl’s parents (Linda Miller & Niles McMaster) refuse to believe that their precious daughter could do such a thing though and her mother hides away from the truth while the father decides to do some investigating of his own.
Young girls make creepy and disturbing villains as we see here. Sheppard does an excellent job of creating a nasty child on the brink of becoming a teenager with an added dark edge. which helps you accept what she could be capable of. We meet the grotesquely overweight landlord Alphonso (Alphonso DeNoble) who shows hints of being a child molester and Aunt Annie (Jane Lowry), who is openly cruel to most of those around her, especially Alice. Alice’s mother isn’t perfect either and this makes for quite a disturbing experience. Sole keeps his actors interesting and always watchable.
The film is very stylish with some well composed imagery and the slick use of movement and space. There’s a big twist about an hour into the film which totally turns the film on its head. Things are tied up very effectively and although I didn’t care for the choice of turn the film made, the final act is still well handled so I can’t complain too much.
Set in Paterson, New Jersey where Alice Spages is a rebellious and mentally disturbed young girl who has strange habits like dressing up in a yellow raincoat and mask in order to terrorize her angelic sister Karen. While most of Alice’s actions amount to nothing more than ghoulish pranks, Karen winds up being strangled to death at the local Roman Catholic church by an assailant wearing the same raincoat and mask. There are no witnesses to the murder itself. However, when Alice is seen wearing her veil at the communion which her sister was due to take part in, the police believe that she was the perpetrator.
Their mother Catherine (Linda Miller) refuses to believe that her disturbed daughter could carry out such an act. Her busybody sister Annie (Jane Lowry), on the other hand, can’t stand the mischievous girl and is more than willing to believe this theory. When the latter gets attacked in the tenement stairwell by the same masked murderer, she tells the police that Alice was responsible – resulting in her being committed to a mental institution. Catherine’s estranged husband Dom (Niles McMaster), meanwhile, tries to get to the bottom of whoever is carrying out these violent acts.
While it’s not the horror classic that it has been made out to be in some quarters, it’s certainly an interesting and distinctive effort. There’s a lot of emphasis placed on the close-knit Roman Catholic religious milieu. The film has a sympathetic priest character in the form of Father Tom (Rudolph Willrich). However, it does certainly point out that things can go horribly wrong in an environment so infused with ritual and unquestioning faith.
The stalking and slashing sequences are effectively orchestrated here, with inventive use made of POV camerawork. There’s a realistically messy quality to some scenes that makes them quite shocking, especially the attack on Annie which features a succession of knife blows to her legs and feet. She’s reduced to crawling her way out of the front door of her tenement, leaving a trail of blood for rain to wash away.
Director Sole knows how to generate suspense while developing interesting, unusual characters. Lovers of 70’s films, horror titles in particular, should definitely check out this lesser known film. It has a lot going for it and deserves more attention than it has received.