Alice, Sweet Alice Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Arrow Video
Directed by Alfred Sole
Written by Rosemary Ritvo and Alfred Sole
1976, 107 minutes, Rated R
Released on August 6th, 2019
Paula Sheppard as Alice Spages
Linda Miller as Catherine Spages
Mildred Clinton as Mrs. Tredoni
Niles McMaster as Dom Spages
Jane Lowry as Aunt Annie DeLoreanze
Rudolph Willrich as Father Tom
Brooke Shields as Karen Spages
Karen is about to receive her first communion and her mother couldn’t be more proud. Father Tom showers her with gifts and attention and everyone agrees she is the perfect child. Her older sister Alice is a bit more troublesome. She revels in persecuting Karen; stealing her doll, wearing her veil and terrifying her with a creepy translucent face mask. On the day of the service, Karen is brutally murdered and suspicion falls on Alice. Aunt Annie doesn’t trust the girl and the landlord Mr. Alphonso cannot stand her. He knows she is keeping secrets in the basement and suspects she is capable of many terrible things, including murder. Alice’s estranged father defends her to the police and decides to solve Karen’s murder on his own. Someone in a yellow rain slicker and a translucent face mask is stalking the stairwells with a large knife, attacking residents and family members alike. Is Alice responsible for these crimes or is she just a troubled kid?
The slasher movie craze started in 1974 with films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Black Christmas. These proto-slashers established many of the elements the subgenre would become known for. In 1976, director Alfred Sole (Pandemonium) took the idea a bit further with his bloody murder mystery Alice, Sweet Alice (aka Communion and Holy Terror). He presents a story of a troubled child as a sociopath inflicting pain and discomfort on everyone around her. She is the key suspect in a series of multiple stabbings, but may also be the perfect patsy for an opportunistic killer. Sole keeps the true nature of what is happening a secret for the first hour before revealing the villain’s identity. Alfred Hitchcock set the stage for the slasher genre with his 1960 classic Psycho and his shadow looms large in this picture. Other influences include Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973) and the Italian giallo film movement.
Sole proves adept at building suspense and knows how to stage a murder set-piece. The plot is deliberately paced and gradually creeps under your skin before violently erupting in scenes of brutal violence. Themes of isolation, familial grief and the corrupting power of Catholicism all feature prominently. Alice is a complex character brilliantly played by Paula Sheppard (Liquid Sky), who delivers a strong performance as a troubled child desperately seeking attention. She is both mischievous and sympathetic as the disturbed young lady. The character’s mental health is an issue as her teachers at school have expressed concern over her irrational behavior.
Alice, Sweet Alice has the benefit of being the feature debut of Brooke Shields (The Blue Lagoon), whose later fame ushered in many re-releases of this picture under various titles featuring marketing campaigns that greatly exaggerated her screen time. Shields plays the doomed sister Karen and was only ten years old at the time. She is out of the picture within the first fifteen minutes, but savvy marketing makes the movie look like a new starring vehicle for the actress. The movie is strong enough on its own without tricking audiences into watching it and succeeds in delivering decent thrills and a fair number of scares. Slasher movie fans are likely familiar with this title, but casual viewers will want to check out how the subgenre advanced in the years leading up to the release of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978).
Video and Audio:
Previous releases used inferior materials, but this new edition was sourced from the original camera negative and has received a 2K scan and restoration. Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this is the best the picture has ever looked and longtime fans will find a lot to like. Colors pop and black levels are rock solid. Flesh tones appear natural throughout and there is plenty of small-object detail.
The original mono recording is faithfully presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that balances dialogue levels with music and effects tracks without hiss or other forms of distortion.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
There are two audio commentaries, including a newly recorded discussion with film historian Richard Harland Smith. He talks about the themes of the picture, story influences and shooting locations. Other topics include the director’s checkered past, the film’s editing style and approach to violence. This is definitely worth a listen.
An archival commentary with director Alfred Sole and editor Edward Salier is moderated by Bill Lustig and the three gentlemen have a lot to say about this film. They talk about shooting in Paterson, NJ, working on the edit and the difficulty of the shoot. This is a conversational and informative track.
In the newly-recorded interview First Communion (19 minutes), Sole looks back on the production and how it shaped his career. He reveals his past experience directing an X-rated movie titled Deep Sleep and the legal repercussions. He talks about writing the script, raising money and he also shares some crazy production stories. He shares some of his favorite scenes and discusses the truncated release. This is a solid interview worth checking out.
In Alice on my Mind (15 minutes), composer Stephen Lawrence explains writing music for film and creating character themes. He plays a variety of selections from the score on the piano.
Actor Niles McMaster sits down for the interview segment In the Name of the Father (16 minutes) in which he reflects on his early career and then shares some production stories from this film. He has kind words for his director and co-stars and remembers befriending Brooke Shields on set. He also shares some memories of his work in Bloodsucking Freaks.
Filmmaker Dante Tomaselli (Desecration) is director Alfred Sole’s cousin and he discusses his longtime connection to the film in the interview Sweet Memories (11 minutes). He shares some nice stories about Sole and his desire to direct a remake of the picture.
Lost Childhood: The Locations of Alice, Sweet Alice (16 minutes) is a self-explanatory featurette hosted by Michael Gingold. He visits the numerous shooting locations as they appear today and there are relevant clips from the feature sprinkled throughout.
The alternate TV cut of the picture titled Holy Terror (97 minutes) rearranges the opening titles to put Shields’ name up front. There are some minor tweaks to the edit, but the film is essentially the same.
While scanning the original camera negative for this release, a pair of deleted scenes were discovered and remastered. They do not contain audio, but include snippets of the surrounding scenes to give an idea of where the material fits.
The movie appears on this disc under the title Communion. The alternate Alice, Sweet Alice opening titles sequence has been included for completists.
A trailer appears under the title Holy Terror, pushing the appearance of Brooke Shields and suggesting that she is the star. A British TV spot has also been included.
A photo gallery (41 images) contains promotional images, lobby cards, book covers and international poster art.
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