ALICE SWEET ALICE is a child themed murder mystery that feels influenced by the popular Giallo films of its era and features a masked killer, a creepy doll, bloody knives, and religious iconography. Despite nearly every scene being shot during the day, ALICE SWEET ALICE also contains a dark ambiance unique to horror films of the time that was prevalent in films like THE EXORCIST. I think what I’m trying to say is that this is a pretty good slice of the best that 70s horror/thrillers has to offer.
The film initially paints the main character 12 year old Alice (played by a then 19 year old Paula Sheppard, who is a much more convincing child character played by an adult than Peter Bark from BURIAL GROUND) as neglected and with good reason to be jealous of her younger sister Karen (Brooke Shields in her first ever role). After standing by with a “what about me expression” on her face while Karen receives a pretty crucifix necklace from the priest Father Tom (Rudolph Willrich) and a brand new white dress for “First Communion”, it really starts to feel like Alice is being left out, and her frustration and teasing towards her little sister almost feels understandable. Whether or not Alice went through her first communion in the same manner is unknown, but being that this is a pretty religious family, I imagine she did. So maybe she’s just a brat who doesn’t know when it’s other people’s turn for attention.
Worth mentioning is a seriously creepy scene which occurs early on that reflects a bitter relationship between the 2 sisters, a scene that showcases impressive directing from Sole. It seems that Alice has stolen Karen’s brand new doll, which results in Karen following her to a warehouse where Alice plays a prank on her in a scene that caused me to scream louder than Karen did. This moment is so eerie that it made it at number 89 in the BRAVO’S 100 SCARIEST MOMENTS TV feature and is the film’s way of really causing Alice to rub us the wrong way.
After all the sibling rivalry and being introduced to a cat food eating neighbor/landlord (?!) with a dislike for Alice, a most shocking and deadly first communion is underway. During this COMMUNION of HOLY TERROR, everyone is *so* focused on the ceremony that no one notices a small feminine masked killer in a yellow rain coat strangle Karen at the end of the communion marching line backstage before stuffing her body in a box and setting it on fire!!! Pandemonium ensues when the fire is discovered, and the holy ceremony is disrupted as a family loses their precious child to a brutal killer. It’s unthinkable to imagine such a terrible thing happening in a church during an adorable little communion for the kids.
So, if the killer isn’t Alice, then who?
Herein lays the beauty to the killer in ALICE SWEET ALICE. When we see the short killer in a yellow raincoat and a translucent mask with a slight grin, the creep factor is turned up as we can’t help but feel that all logic points to the fact that it’s Alice under the mask. But a vicious murdering child is so unnatural and likely to only be so in nightmares, or a Cronenberg film known as THE BROOD.
Like an illusionist distracting the attention of the audience, Alfred Sole tricks us at the beginning into thinking it is Alice’s resentment for her sister that might be the motive for her murder, but the real reason for Karen’s murder is very subtly played out before our eyes without us even knowing it.
The highly unsettling prospect of an unsolved child murder and the drive to find an answer to it all fares nicely at holding the viewer’s interest into watching the remaining portion of the movie that takes place after Karen’s death. Naturally, the film fills up a significant portion of time with detective work, and the evidence and suspicion continually piles on Alice.
I would just like to point out that the screaming between the adults in this film is highly entertaining. I love it when Alice’s Aunt and Mom get into shouting frenzies at each other, both in the church after Karen is murdered and in the hospital after Aunt Annie blatantly accuses Alice of attacking her when she manages to survive the killer stabbing her in the leg. Kudos to the hysterical screaming skills of Aunt Annie (Jane Lowry)….
Just to spice things up a bit, a lie detector tests indicates that Alice is totally convinced it is her dead sister Karen who attacked her Aunt, a likely thing for a delusional child to think after enduring everything so far and possibly catching glimpse of the child size killer.
Alice seems to have her own creepy theme music that sounds frequently when she is on screen, especially when her parents visit her in a children’s psych ward after finally being accused of the murder of her sister and attack on her Aunt. By the time Alice is institutionalized it’s obvious that her parents are the only ones who believe in her. Given the certain problems she is experiencing with growing up, all that’s happened, and not being able to go home, it becomes difficult to not feel really sorry for Alice since it’s apparent that she is just another victim who is suffering the most for the deeds of someone else.
The truth is revealed a good 30 minutes before the end in a vicious segment where we the viewers as well as Alice’s Father find out whom the killer is. Too bad Alice’s Father, the only one who knows the truth, meets a grim ending before the film plays on leading up to a grand bloody finale in the church. And NO, the killer is not the priest.
ALICE SWEET ALICE might be a little long, and I felt bored with the subplot that involved Alice’s divorced Mother and Father starting to connect again, and the obese cat food eating neighbor Alphonso (Alphonso DeNoble) was disgusting and distasteful, with his wife-beater shirt, urine stained paints, and pedophilic intentions, but it was obviously the intention of the filmmakers to repulse and disgust with the character of Alphonso. Maybe it was also to supplement the feeling of it not being safe for the children in the film who not only have the threat of a killer but have to worry about having a guy like Alphonso around too. Nonetheless, I still really adore this movie, and I can’t recommend it enough to fans of 70s horror and Italian Giallo films or to anyone looking to have a good time with an underrated classic that has aged very well.