After the phenomenon of The Exorcist, the cinemas were flooded with Catholic horror movies. Many of these films, like Beyond the Door and House of Exorcism, were blatant ripoffs of William Peter Blatty’s Satanic classic. Contextually, the 1976 movie, Alice, Sweet Alice, is an oddity. It is thoroughly centered on the Catholic church, but demon possession is nowhere in the story.
Much has been made of Alice, Sweet Alice being Brooke Shields’ first film. While this may be true, she is only on screen for about ten minutes all told. Her character, Karen, is strangled and set on fire moments before her first communion. Suspicion immediately falls onto Karen’s sister, Alice (Paula Sheppard). Alice has a dark side; she’s the weird little girl who side-eyes you on the subway. She keeps a jar of roaches on her makeshift basement altar, along with things she has stolen and religious ephemera. Alice also hasKaren’s first communion veil in her collection. Shouldn’t Karen have been wearing that when she was killed?
While Karen’s estranged parents attempt to get to the bottom of the murder, a host of unsavory characters come into play. There’s Mr. Alphonso (Alphonso DeNoble), the morbidly obese landlord with pedophiliac tendencies. Karen’s aunt, Annie (Jane Lowry) is a shrike, a shrieking harridan with a burning hatred for Karen. And what weird secrets does Father Tom (Rudolph Willrich), headmaster of the school both sisters attended, have under his vestments? Meanwhile, the killings continue and all the evidence points to Alice as being the guilty one.
Alice, Sweet Alice works on a few levels. The experience of being raised a Catholic, with a deep level of involvement with the church, is tantamount to the effectiveness of the film. The film doesn’t use Catholicism as a convenient story element; the church universal is woven strongly within the movie’s DNA. It is also clever as a mystery, with the identity of the masked killer being a real surprise. Director Alfred Sole has a real eye for his location. Paterson, New Jersey in 1976 is captured as purely as Sidney Lumet captured New York in the same decade. The architecture, the vehicles, the grimy interior of buildings all play huge parts in Alice, Sweet Alice. There’s grit here, a healthy dose of realism to help ground the awful goings-on.
Long revered by horror fans, Alice, Sweet Alice is an excellent film. The Blu-ray restoration from Arrow Video is a marvel to behold. There’s enough grain to remind you that you’re watching a film from 1976, but the overall clarity of the picture is stunning. For a film that has been long bootlegged, floating around the internet in varying lengths and video qualities, this Arrow Blu may be the definitive version of Alice, Sweet Alice.
Taking on the concepts of both Catholicism and madness, subliminally equating the two, Alice, Sweet Alice is a fascinating movie. The final 30 minutes are a rollercoaster, filled with surprises and plot twists. It’s a film that deserves more than one watch. Even though it wears its influences on its sleeve (note the scene which includes movie posters for both Psycho and The Hoodlum Priest), the movie is better than the basic slasher. In this film, it’s the characters, not the body count, that matters.
While there are plenty of Blu-ray restorations of schlock movies released on a monthly basis, it’s heartening to see Arrow do such a good job with Alice, Sweet Alice. This is a film that truly deserves the deluxe treatment. Lovers of scary movies should make room on their shelves, within easy reach for the inevitable rewatches, for this disc.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
Brand new 2K restoration of the theatrical version from the original camera negative
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
Original uncompressed mono audio
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Brand new audio commentary with Richard Harland Smith
Archival audio commentary with co-writer/director Alfred Sole and editor Edward Salier
First Communion: Alfred Sole Remembers Alice, Sweet Alice – director Alfred Sole looks back on his 1976 classic
In the Name of the Father – brand new interview with actor Niles McMaster
Sweet Memories: Dante Tomaselli on Alice, Sweet Alice – filmmaker Dante Tomaselli, cousin of Alfred Sole, discusses his longtime connection to the film
Lost Childhood: The Locations of Alice, Sweet Alice – a tour of the original Alice Sweet Alice shooting locations hosted by author Michael Gingold
Alternate Holy Terror Television Cut
Alternate Opening Titles
Trailer and TV Spot
Alice, Sweet Alice is available through Arrow Video, Diabolik DVD, Amazon, and wherever fine Blu-rays are sold.