Film Review: Alice Sweet Alice (1976)

SYNOPSIS:

“Alice Spages is a withdrawn twelve-year-old girl who lives with her mother, Catherine, and her younger sister, Karen. Karen gets most of the attention from her mother, and Alice is often left out of the spotlight. But when Karen is found brutally murdered in a church before her first holy communion, all suspicions are turned towards Alice. But is a twelve-year-old girl really capable of such savagery? As more people begin to die at the hands of a merciless killer, Alice becomes more and more likely of a suspect.” (courtesy IMDB)

REVIEW:

It was only after actress Brooke Shields appeared in the award-winning Pretty Baby (1978) that the filmmakers decided to release Alice Sweet Alice (1976), Brooke’s film debut. In it, she’s killed off in the first twenty minutes. The US$400,000-budgeted Alice Sweet Alice, with as many titles as murder suspects (it was released three times: as Communion in 1976, as Alice Sweet Alice in 1978 and again as Holy Terror in 1981) is about a New Jersey Catholic schoolgirl named Alice – played by Paula Sheppard whose only other credit is the cult science fiction film Liquid Sky (1982) – who is suspected of several murders, including that of her kid sister Karen (Brooke, then only nine years old). Karen gets it the day of her first communion, so we don’t have to hear her shrill voice for the rest of the movie.

Discovered in her infancy by photographer Francesco Scavullo, the former Ivory Snow baby is best known for being the child prostitute in Pretty Baby. Just as well, since most of her other films have been rather awful, even if she did look lovely in them. Range is not an acting quality often associated with poor Brooke. Bright and athletic, Brooke has always been under the thumb of stage-mother/manager Teri Shields. Now that she’s trying to change her image, Brooke has replaced her mum with a Hollywood agency, but there are other roadblocks. “People still have trouble seeing me as an adult,” she complains. “They remember me as a teenager and they have trouble making the transition. I mean, I’m a grown woman!”

But as usual, I’ve digressed. Now then, where was I? Oh, yes – Brooke Shields is strangled in a church by a figure in a yellow raincoat and mask just prior to taking her first communion. Her jealous, mean older sister, Alice (who has been denied communion) is the logical suspect. After all, she has a yellow raincoat and mask. But her mother and her father, who has remarried, work with the young local priest to try to figure out who really is responsible. This little cult horror film is guaranteed to keep you tense. The attack scenes are not for the faint-hearted, but if you were that kind of person, you probably wouldn’t be reading this anyway.

Director Albert Sole uses the horror genre to attack Catholicism, as Alice Sweet Alice is set in the Catholic community of Paterson, New Jersey in 1961 at the beginning of the first Catholic Presidency. All the characters attend church or work in the church, yet all are sinners or were born out of sin. Significantly, the church does not help these confused, guilt-ridden, emotionally understood church members, which why a maniac (Alice?) is on a God-Told-Me-To rampage to wipe out other sinners. The Roman Catholic Church has been an inspiration for the macabre and terrifying for, well, centuries. More recently there was a revival in interest in the religious, supernatural horror film in the early to mid-2000s in a cycle that ran from Stigmata (1999) to The Exorcism Of Emily Rose (2005).

Horror rose to prominence and box office success in the seventies with a long-running series of films peppered with deeply religious themes. The church was under scrutiny in The Omen (1976), and a willing participant in the phenomenon was The Exorcist (1973). Beyond the obvious possession, the Antichrist, and exorcism-themed rip-offs, there was the unique and internationally successful Blind Dead series with its undead crusading Templar Knights. The sleazy child murders of Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972) also featured heavy Catholic overtones. Further back we find the church and the horrors of the Inquisition serving as inspiration for Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit And The Pendulum. The church has even served as sanctuary for our beautiful, misunderstood monsters like The Hunchback Of Notre Dame‘s Quasimodo. With its Gothic cathedrals, supernatural rites, secret societies, and a constant lightening rod for controversy, it’s no surprise that the Roman Catholic church continues to function as a fertile breeding ground for tales of terror.

Alice Sweet Alice is full of offbeat touches and interesting characters, like the enormous Mister Alfredo. It’s a well-made film considering the budget but beware, it’s not designed for everyone’s taste. Anyway, please join me next week to have your innocence violated beyond description while I force you to submit to the horrors of…Horror News! Toodles!

Alice Sweet Alice (1976)

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About Nigel Honeybone

Wee Willie"Nigel Honeybone's debut was as Hamlet's dead father, portraying him as a tall posh skeleton. This triumph was followed in Richard III, as the remains of a young prince which he interpreted as a tall posh skeleton. He began attracting starring roles. Henry VIII was scaled down to suit Honeybone's very personalised view of this famous king. Honeybone suggested that perhaps he really was quite skeletal, quite tall, and quite posh. MacBeth, Shylock and Othello followed, all played as tall, skeletal and posh, respectively. Considering his reputation for playing tall English skeletons, many believed that the real Honeybone inside to be something very different, like a squat hunchback perhaps. Interestingly enough, Honeybone did once play a squat hunchback, but it was as a tall posh skeleton. But he was propelled into the film world when, in Psycho (1960), he wore women's clothing for the very first time. The seed of an idea was planted and, after working with director Ed Wood for five years, he realised the unlimited possibilities of tall posh skeletons who dressed in women's clothing. He went on to wear women's clothing in thirteen major motion pictures, including the Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and Star Wars (1977), heartbreaking as the remains of Aunt Beru. With the onslaught of special effects came the demise of real actors in these sorts of roles. After modeling for CGI skeletons in Total Recall (1990) and Toys (1992), the only possible step forward for a tall posh skeleton was television, imparting his knowledge and expertise of the arts. As well as writing for the world's best genre news website HORROR NEWS, Nigel Honeybone is currently signed to star in a new series for television presenting the finest examples of B-grade horror. THE SCHLOCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW is seen on Friday nights at 10.30pm on TVS Television Sydney, and where ever good Youtube downloads are available." (Fantales candy wrapper circa 2007)

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