Monday, April 18, 2016

Alice Sweet Alice: A Little Girl Serial Killer Film

          I first ran across this gem when I randomly picked it up on with Psychomania in a VHS double feature.While not my first choice of the two, Alice Sweet Alice is a compelling and vicious little film that has almost no morality and a jaundiced view of the world.
         It predates its more successful contemporaries, Friday the 13th and Halloween, it still bears several hallmarks of the genre with a masked killer running about killing people with a knife. The film was originally titled Communion (and the novelization published under that name)but after its premier at the  Chicago International Film Festival, director Alfred Sole demanded a title change so that the audience wouldn't think they were seeing a religious film. It was then re-released in 1982 as Holy Terror, primarily to market on Brooke Shields success, who appears briefly in the film.

         Set during the 1950s, 12 year old Alice (played by 19 year old Paula Sheppard) lives with her mother and younger sister Karen. During Karen's fist communion she is brutally murdered by a masked assailant. Alice, always jealous of her younger sister for the attention and praise she received from their mother and others, is the primary suspect in her murder.
         As the film explores themes related to various rites of passage for Alice, sexual or religious, it maintains an incredibly uncomfortable air about it. In particular her scenes with the disgustingly creepy "Mr Alphonso" who lives in her apartment building, eats cat food and has an affinity for young girls will cause even the most hardened viewers some unease.    
Alphonso DeNoble in Alice Sweet Alice
         Alphonso DeNoble, who played fat pervert landlord, wasn't a professional actor at the time. He was working as a bouncer at a gay bar and the director of the film persuaded him to play the role. Before his death in 1978, he got acting jobs in two other low-budget horror films, Blood Sucking Freaks and Night of the Zombies.
Brooke Shields in Alice Sweet Alice
          Brooke Shields appears briefly as Alice's sister Karen who is strangled by the chain of a crucifix, stuffed into a box and then set on fire. The third re-release of the film attempted to erroneously play up her part, to make it seem that the film starred her. But apparently according to box office receipts, this effort failed to make an impact. 
Paula Sheppard in Alice Sweet Alice
          Film scholars have noted the film's overwrought portrayal of Catholicism and organized religion to be characterized fully as the villain's primary motive, whose ultimate goal is to "punish" dinners; this has resulted in some claiming the film to be overtly "anti-Catholic". Writer/director Sole's own proclaiming of himself as an "ex-Catholic"  and his actual formal excommunication from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey (over his writing the porno Deep Sleep)supports this interpretation of the film's anti-religious message.
         Be that as it may, Alice Sweet Alice is a wonderful slasher film and should be enjoyed by all who are partial to the genre. As Rodger Ebert wrote, "Director Alfred Sole has a brilliant touch for the macabre and there are some splendidly chilling scenes." 
         The Full Film is provided below. Enjoy and Caveat Emptor.