in The Vault

Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)

This is part 3 in a 300 part series of Fangoria Magazine’s “Top 300 Horror Movies”.

A week ago, cult cinema distributor Arrow Video announced the release of a special Alice Sweet Alice Blu-Ray August 2019. Why am I excited? Not only does this mean a proper release for the cult classic slasher film, but it’s also another opportunity for people to see one of the most underrated horror movies of the ‘70s. By all means Alice Sweet Alice should be a classic with merchandise and fan art and a shitty 2006-ish era remake. Instead, it’s an often forgotten slasher that launched Brooke Shields and did little else. Which is a shame. This movie is atmospheric with great characters and an even better mystery. That mystery including the question, “Why didn’t this make a bigger impact on the genre?”

I discovered Alice Sweet Alice from the place where all lifelong obsessions come from, the Bravo Channel. Back in October 2004, Bravo Channel aired The 100 Scariest Movie Moments, a five-part documentary series. 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 the finest offerings of the genre.

The reason this program was important to me was it gave me a template for my horror movie education. The list included classics like Frankenstein, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, but it also introduced me to obscure titles like Zombi, The Devil’s Backbone, and The Vanishing. I still come back to this list time and time again to check off more films, which is why I’m talking about #89. Alice, Sweet Alice.

Alice, Sweet Alice is known for two things: 1) It was the debut of a pre-teen Brooke Shields and 2) Its knife-wielding villain that 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, isn’t in much of the kills it’s what’s in-between the gore that makes 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 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 solve the mystery behind Karen’s killer.

Alice, Sweet Alice is a well-constructed mystery. The clues all point in one direction, but you know it has to add up to something else. All of the characters are rich and worthy of exploring. Particular standouts are Alice, who, despite being the film’s protagonist is a real brat. 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 has that certain oddball quality you might find in a John Waters’ film.

The killer reveal is a complete surprise. What’s also great is the reveal happens with thirty 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. A less creepy soundtrack but still a good one.

So why didn’t this film make a bigger impact? The scares are good, the script is good, the characters are good. The problem is few involved with the film (outside Brooke Shields) went on to do anything significant. Don’t get me wrong, the cast/crew are great, but there are few big names. The film’s director/co-writer, Alfred Sole, only made four movies until disappearing for a handful of years. Recently, Sole has worked as a production designer on Castle and the 2017 reboot of MacGyver. I could find no info on the film’s co-screenwriter Rosemary Ritvo, not much on the cast either. 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. 96 down 4 to go, and it’s only taken me fifteen years so far.

This guy could have been as big as John Candy! I meant in popularity, not physical size. Also, I’m joking. Which I realize isn’t clear. ABANDON JOKE!