Alfred Sole’s 1976 low budget US period independent horror film will be familiar to those who first saw it in UK cinemas and on television under its original title of COMMUNION. Apparently the movie’s US distributors asked for the title change to ALICE SWEET ALICE because they were worried audiences might think it was a religious picture. Sole’s film has also gone under the title HOLY TERROR but 88 Films have kept ALICE SWEET ALICE for this new DVD release. Whatever you call it, it’s a very good little horror picture that’s ripe for discovery if you haven't seen it before, especially as 88 Films are presenting it here uncut.
The moment before her first communion, little Karen Spages (Brooke Shields) is strangled and set on fire by a masked assailant wearing a yellow mac in the church sacristy. Her sister, twelve year old Alice (Paula Sheppard), owns a similar mask and coat and appears just in time to be turned away from the altar. Alice apparently has a history of ‘psychiatric problems’, and she’s certainly capable of joining in all the shouting and screaming with her nervy mother Catherine (Linda Miller) and uptight aunt Annie (Jane Lowry) in their cramped apartment.
She’s also rather an odd child, tormenting the immensely obese Mr Alphonse who lives in the apartment below the Spages, and doing her best to upset everyone as much as she can. When her aunt is hospitalised after being stabbed repeatedly by the same masked figure, Anne identifies Alice as the killer, and so off the little girl goes to the special psychiatric hospital for possibly homicidal children. But the murders continue until we reach the very satisfying ending that I’m not going to reveal to you here because you should see this film for yourself.
For the fan of 1970s horror who's never caught up with this, ALICE SWEET ALICE will be something of a pleasant surprise. It starts off like a giallo but becomes more and more like a Pete Walker picture as we reach the end, with its combination of dreary kitchen sink settings, brief brutal murders, and eccentric characters. By the finale, fans of Walker's work will know exactly which role would have gone to Sheila Keith, and there’s a batty monsignor in a stairlift that could easily have been played by HOUSE OF WHIPCORD’s Patrick Barr.
For some reason the film is set in 1961 and for such a low budget endeavour a lot of effort has been put into achieving the right period feel - there are fallout shelter stickers everywhere, and a considerable number of period motor vehicles are on display. Stephen Lawrence provides an excellent music score that ranges from Herrmanesque suspense to some excellent church organ work for the religious scenes.
88 Films DVD presents ALICE SWEET ALICE in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The colours on the print look a bit washed out, but every version of this film I have seen looks the same & I suspect the problem is with the film stock. Extras include a chatty commentary with director Alfred Sole, Bill Lustig and editor Edward Salier. There’s an alternative opening credits sequence for COMMUNION, and a trailer for HOLY TERROR that cashes in on Brooke Shields’ appearance in the film. Watch it and marvel at how distributors would never get away with trying to claim she was the star of something like this these days. There’s a still gallery and the usual extremely entertaining 88 Trailer Park. Quite possibly the best release from 88 Films yet, ALICE SWEET ALICE is a cracking little thriller that’s well worth picking up in this new version.
88 Films are releasing ALICE SWEET ALICE uncut on DVD on 17th February 2014