Alice Sweet Alice (1976) review

Alice Sweet Alice posterDirector: Alfred Sole

Starring: Paula Sheppard, Linda Miller, Niles McMaster, Mildred Clinton, Brooke Shields

Also known as: Communion (original title), Holy Terror (re-release title)

“Maybe you are afraid that God will send St. Michael to take another of your loved ones. When St. Michael took my little girl, I only thought of how cruel God was.” (Mrs Tredoni, Alice Sweet Alice)

It’s generally a bit of a taboo in film to combine children with murder. Usually that means filmmakers are wary of killing a kid in a movie – that’s crossing the line – but it also works the other way too.

That’s why it’s difficult to come up with a sizeable list, off the top of your head, of films which feature a scene in which a child murders someone.

Alice Sweet Alice isn’t scared of such taboos. Not only does it include a child being killed mere minutes into its runtime, its entire plot also revolves around the notion that another child may be killing people.

Look! It's Brooke Shields! Don't get too excited - she's about to peg it
Look! It’s Brooke Shields! Don’t get too excited – she’s about to peg it

The child in question is the titular Alice, a badly-behaved 12-year-old girl who’s constantly winding up and bullying her younger sister Karen (played by a young Brooke Shields).

With her parents divorced and her dad out of town, it’s perhaps understandable that Alice isn’t getting along with her sister or her mother. It’s not long, however, before things go seriously out of control.

It all kicks off at the local chapel, where Karen is set to get her first holy communion along with a bunch of other girls her age (the film was originally known as Communion before it was rebranded a couple of years later following Brooke Shields’ rapid rise to fame).

"I really wish mum hadn't traded our mirror in for this holy painting. I can barely do my hair now"
“I really wish mum hadn’t traded our mirror in for this holy painting. I can barely do my hair now”

While waiting in a back room before entering the church, Karen is grabbed by a masked assailant wearing a yellow raincoat.

She’s brutally strangled and then, with her body dumped into a nearby trunk, is set on fire with a candle. Killing a 9-year-old like that ten minutes into a film? That’s bloody bold.

After Karen’s death, the question of who killed her becomes the priority. Alice’s dad returns to town to help find her sister’s murderer, and her aunt – who loathes Alice – moves in to help her mum.

Before long a number of other dodgy incidents take place and it quickly becomes apparent that Alice may be the guilty party.

"And don't you fucking come back unless you plan on trick or treating as a more conventional, recognisable character"
“And don’t you fucking come back to my door again unless you plan on trick or treating as a more conventional, recognisable character”

Not only do we actually see her kill one of her pervert neighbour’s cats, her aunt is then mysteriously stabbed in the hallway by the masked, raincoated killer shortly after we see Alice putting on that very outfit.

But surely that’s too obvious? Why is Alice adamant she didn’t do it? Why is her aunt, in hospital, adamant she did? Why, when she’s taken to a mental institution for evaluation, does Alice’s lie detector test show she’s telling the truth when all evidence suggests she most likely isn’t? Gah, my delicate brains.

Naturally, I’m not spoiling shit. You’ll have to watch it for yourself. And I recommend you do that, because Alice Sweet Alice has a curious atmosphere to it that sets it apart from most ’70s horrors.

Indeed, it feels more like an Italian giallo film, with its whodunnit plot and elaborate, almost lovingly-constructed murders.

"I knew I shouldn't have swapped that fucking mirror. My hair's a mess now"
“I knew I shouldn’t have swapped that fucking mirror. My hair’s a mess now”

It’s also full of strong performances, particularly from Paula Sheppard and Linda Miller as Alice and her mum.

Both work fantastically together, with Sheppard excelling as a young girl growing ever colder towards her mother, who’s terrified she’s losing the love of the only daughter she has left.

It does have its annoying moments. After the killer’s identity is revealed their less-than-stellar performance and part-mumbly, part-screamy dialogue means a number of key plot points (specifically the all-important motive) can be easily missed – I had to look it up on IMDb later because I had no fucking clue what they were saying.

It’s worth sticking with despite this, however, because it’s still an effective little thriller and its final little shock twist is one of the finer “Jesus Christ” moments you’ll experience, which is just as well because it takes place in a church. Get it watched, then.

Side note: The trailer below is for the re-release of the film, then titled Holy Terror. Look at how shamelessly it capitalises on Brooke Shields’ success by pretending she’s the killer, and not actually someone who dies five minutes into it.

trev_newtrev_newtrev_newtrev_half_new

HOW CAN I SEE IT?
Alice Sweet Alice is only available on DVD at the moment. UK readers will want to get the recently released 88 Films version, which marks the first time it’s been released in uncut form on DVD in the UK (previous releases have cut out a few seconds of animal cruelty in which a cat is swung at someone). It’s also got an audio commentary.

In the US, the only DVD version currently in print is by Hen’s Tooth Video, which also includes the same commentary.

SHOW ME THE TRAILER:

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