Alice, Sweet Alice (alternative titles Communion and Holy Terror) is a 1976 American contribution to the then-booming Italian giallo movie genre. Taking obvious influences from Hitchcock, Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now and religious-themed shockers like The Omen, this movie is profoundly entertaining, extremely gripping, and has a very high rewatchability factor.
Set in 1961 New Jersey, Alice, Sweet Alice tells the story of the somewhat introverted, 12-year-old Alice Spages (Paula E. Sheppard), who lives with her mother, Catherine (Linda Miller), and younger sister, Karen (played by a very young Brooke Shields in her film debut). The Catholic church plays a big influence on their lives, as Karen prepares to make her first holy communion. But a black, ominous cloud hangs over this special occasion, for Alice is extremely jealous of her sister and so sets about, mercilessly and cold-heartedly, tormenting her. She robs her doll and locks her up whilst wearing a transparent mask.
But even worse is to come for poor Karen. As she dresses herself up in her white veil in preparation for her communion, she is suddenly set upon by a mysterious assailant and strangled in the church. Her killer wears the same child’s yellow raincoat and mask as that worn by her sister. Karen’s body is then unceremoniously dumped in a bench compartment near the confessionals, then set on fire with a candle. This horrific scene is discovered by a nun, who instantly goes completely hysterical with shock, disrupting the communion ceremony.
Alice then takes the place of her sister, wearing her veil, which, she claims, she retrieved from the floor. It is not long before Alice becomes the prime suspect in her sister’s murder. But is she really responsible? And as a string of unsolved stabbings follow, you are left wondering if there could possibly be another murderous party at large.
There are so many superlatives I could gush about Alice, Sweet Alice, as it really is one of the best psychological horror movies I have ever seen. The story is so well constructed and solid, and all the quirky characters are highly interesting and so fun to watch. It is a very technically precise film from Director Alfred Sole. I especially liked the whole aspect of ambiguity surrounding the character of Alice. Is she the real killer or isn’t she? And the way her mental state is depicted as deteriorating, with perturbing rapidity, is also brilliantly done. This is one little girl who is definitely not made of sugar and spice and all things nice, and one that will always get you looking over your shoulder whenever she appears behind you. But you will have to wait till the end of the film to find out if she really was the prime villain in all of this, as I am not giving away any more of the plot.
If you like a real good psychological thriller in the style of Psycho, mixed with a generous helping of religious overtones and serial slaughter, then I can highly recommend Alice, Sweet Alice. It’s a fast-paced, explicit, and engaging film that bombards you with a plethora of twists, turns, and ambiguity. And this Blu Ray from 88 films – which you can buy now by clicking on the image link above this review – is certainly well worth the purchase, and one that you should definitely add to your collection.
By Alan Toner