Let me take you back to a simpler time, 2004. A young John Otteni was beginning to delve into the world of horror cinema with little direction. Thankfully, a shining light came in the form of the Bravo Channel. The 100 Scariest Movie Moments was a five-part documentary series airing on Bravo in October 2004. The miniseries included interviews from all of the great Masters of Horror; Wes Craven, John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Guillermo del Toro, Gilbert Gottfried, and more talking about horror movies.
The reason this program was important to me was it gave me a template for my horror movie education. Of course, the list included the classics; Frankenstein, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, but it also introduced me to more obscure titles like Zombi, Cat People, The Devil’s Backbone, and The Vanishing. I still come back to this list time to time to check off more films, which is how Alice, Sweet Alice came to be today’s entry.
Today, Alice, Sweet Alice is primarily known for two things: 1) It was the debut of a pre-teen Brooke Shields and 2) Its knife-wielding villain who wore a scary see-through mask and raincoat. After watching the film I can tell you it’s so much more than those elements. First off, Brooke Shields, although good isn’t in much of the film. Spoiler! The whole plot is set into motion after her murder. Second, though I enjoyed the slasher scenes it was most of what was in-between the gore that made this film so bloody great.
Alice, Sweet Alice aka “Communion” is a 1976 slasher-mystery set in early 1960s New Jersey. Nine-year-old Karen Spages (Brooke Shields) is preparing for her First Communion. Karen is the favorite child of her mother, Catherine (Linda Miller), which in turn makes her rivals with her cynical 12-year-old sister Alice (Paula Sheppard). The day comes and tragedy strikes when Karen is murdered in the back room of the church. The finger is pointed directly at her older sister which leads to mistrust and suspicion within the community. Catherine’s ex-husband Dom (Niles McMaster) arrives in town to help his family and attempts to the solve the mystery behind Karen’s killer.
Alice, Sweet Alice is a surprisingly well-constructed mystery. The clues all point in one direction, but you know it has to add up to something else, right? All of the characters are darkly rich and worthy of exploring. Particular standouts are Alice, who, despite being the film’s protagonist can be a real brat sometimes. I think it’s bold they killed off the innocent sister and kept the black sheep around. Another character I can’t get enough of his Mr. Aplhonso (Alphonso De Noble), the Spage family’s morbidly obese, cat-loving, pedophile landlord. Yes, he’s all those things. The man doesn’t appear to be a professional actor yet is oddly captivating.
I didn’t see the reveal of the killer coming at all. What’s also great is the reveal happens with thirty or so minutes left, so you can let it sink in. That’s what I enjoy most about Alice, Sweet Alice, it takes its time. The kills were well spaced out and unexpected. Not to mention the score was pitch perfect. I was shocked I wasn’t already familiar with the film’s composer, Stephen J. Lawrence, who also composed music for Sesame Street.
I think most of Alice, Sweet Alice’s slip into obscurity is a result of the cast and crew. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great, but there are few big names here. The film’s director, Alfred Sole, only made four movies until disappearing for a handful of years. Today, Noble works as a production designer on Castle. I could find little info regarding the film’s co-screenwriter Rosemary Ritvo, not much on the cast, and yet all these people came together to make a classic horror film. Thank you Alice, Sweet Alice and thank you Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. 94 down 6 to go, and it’s only taken me ten years so far.