Alice, Sweet Alice
|Alice, Sweet Alice|
Poster for the 1978 release
|Directed by||Alfred Sole|
|Produced by||Richard K. Rosenberg
|Written by||Rosemary Ritvo
|Music by||Stephen J. Lawrence|
|Edited by||Edward Salier|
|Distributed by||Allied Artists|
|108 mins. (original cut)
98 mins. (cut version)
Alice, Sweet Alice (originally known as Communion and also known as Holy Terror)  is a 1976 American slasher film co-written and directed by Alfred Sole, and starring Linda Miller, Paula Sheppard, and Brooke Shields in her film debut. The narrative focuses on a troubled adolescent girl who becomes a suspect in the brutal murder of her younger sister at her first communion.
The film premiered at the Chicago International Film Festival under the title Communion in November 1976, and was released theatrically as Alice, Sweet Alice in 1978. It was re-released a third time as Holy Terror in 1981, marketing upon the popularity of Brooke Shields after her notorious performance in Louis Malle's Pretty Baby (1978). The film ranked #89 on Bravo's The 100 Scariest Movie Moments for the scene when Alice scares Karen in the warehouse. In 1977 there was a book adaptation of the film titled Communion by Frank Lauria.
The film is set in Paterson, New Jersey in the early 1960s. Catherine Spages (Linda Miller) is visiting Father Tom (Rudolph Willrich) with her two daughters, who both attend St. Michael's Parish Girls' School: 9-year-old Karen (Brooke Shields) and 12-year-old Alice (Paula Sheppard). Karen is preparing for her first communion, and Father Tom gives her his mother's crucifix as a gift. A jealous Alice puts on a translucent grinning mask, frightening Mrs. Tredoni (Mildred Clinton), Father Tom's housekeeper. Later, Alice steals Karen's porcelain doll and lures her into an abandoned building. She jumps out and scares Karen with the grinning mask and locks her in a room. When she lets her out, she tells her that if anyone finds out she'll never see the doll again.
On the day of her first communion, Karen is attacked and strangled to death in the church transept by a person in a translucent mask and yellow raincoat. Her body is dragged away and dumped into a bench compartment, which is set on fire with a candle, but not before ripping the crucifix from her neck. Smoke begins to fill the church. Meanwhile, Alice enters the church, carrying Karen's veil. She kneels in place to receive communion when a scream is heard. A curious nun had entered the back room where the confessionals are located and finds Karen's body. People run in, horrified. Catherine is inconsolable.
After Karen's funeral, Catherine's estranged husband Dominick "Dom" Spages (Niles McMaster) arrives to help track down the killer. Annie (Jane Lowry), Catherine's sister, moves in to help Catherine through her grief, but it is clear that Alice and Annie despise each other. Catherine tells Alice to deliver a rent check to their landlord, Mr. Alphonso (Alphonso DeNoble). After he fondles and tries to molest her, Alice kills one of his many cats and goes down to the basement, where she lights a candle and puts on her grinning mask.
Descending the stairs to go shopping, Annie is viciously attacked by a rain-coated figure in a grinning mask. At the hospital, Annie cries to her husband Jim (Gary Allen) that Alice tried to kill her. Catherine says that Annie is only accusing Alice of murdering Karen to divert attention from her own daughter Angela (Kathy Rich), who was absent at the time of the murder. Alice is sent to a mental institution for evaluation.
At the hospital with Father Tom, Dom receives a hysterical phone call from a girl claiming to be Angela, saying that she has Karen's crucifix and is in hiding. They agree to meet at an abandoned building. Outside, Dom spots and then follows the rain-coated figure. He goes inside and up the stairs where the killer stabs him in the shoulder, and he is knocked out by a brick and tied up. Dom awakens and sees that the killer is in fact Mrs. Tredoni. She reveals that she stabbed Annie by mistake, thinking it was Catherine, whom she considers a whore. She calls Dom and Catherine sinners because they had premarital sex. After Dom bites the crucifix off her neck, Mrs. Tredoni beats him with a rock and pushes him out of the window.
After a pathologist (Lillian Roth) analyzes Dom's corpse, the crucifix is found, and Alice is released. After hearing of Dom's death, Catherine tries to visit Father Tom. He is not at home, but Mrs. Tredoni invites Catherine in. Mrs. Tredoni tells Catherine that her daughter died on the day of her first communion and that she then realized children are punished for the sins of their parents and that Mrs. Tredoni since devoted her life to the church and specifically, Father Tom. Mrs. Tredoni seemingly threatens Catherine with a knife when Father Tom and the pair leave to pick Alice up from the mental institution (the police having eliminated her as a suspect since she was incarcerated when Dom was killed).
When Catherine and Alice go to church, Mrs. Tredoni sneaks into the apartment building. As Mrs. Tredoni bangs on Catherine's apartment door, not realizing the pair are not in, Mr. Alphonso wakes up screaming (Alice put a jar of cockroaches on his belly before leaving). He spots Mrs. Tredoni and mistakes her for Alice. She stabs him twice and runs downstairs. However, a policeman witnesses her running out of the back entrance without the mask on.
Mrs. Tredoni goes to church, where the police are stationed outside. Father Tom denies her communion. Mrs. Tredoni points at Catherine, screams that he gave communion to a whore, and violently stabs Father Tom as the police rush in. Father Tom dies in Mrs. Tredoni's arms. The final shot features Alice's walking out of the church with Mrs. Tredoni's shopping bag, placing the bloodstained butcher knife into the bag, and looks at the camera. The shot freezes on her face as the credits roll.
- Linda Miller as Catherine Spages
- Mildred Clinton as Mrs. Tredoni
- Paula E. Sheppard as Alice Spages
- Niles McMaster as Dominick 'Dom' Spages
- Jane Lowry as Aunt Annie DeLorenze
- Rudolph Willrich as Father Tom
- Michael Hardstark as Detective Spina
- Alphonso DeNoble as Alphonso
- Gary Allen as Jim DeLorenze
- Brooke Shields as Karen Spages
- Louisa Horton as Dr. Whitman
- Tom Signorelli as Detective Brennan
- Antonino Rocca as Funeral Director
- Lillian Roth as Pathologist
- Kathy Rich as Angela DeLorenze
- Patrick Gorman as Father Pat
Director Alfred Sole began writing the film in 1974, collaborating with co-writer Rosemary Ritvo on the script. Sole stated that he was inspired to make the film after seeing Nicolas Roeg's 1973 thriller, Don't Look Now, based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier. As a result, Alice, Sweet Alice makes several visual references to Don't Look Now, namely the usage of the raincoat which is featured on the villains in both films. Sole was also influenced by the works of Alfred Hitchcock, as well as the 1955 French film Les Diaboliques, while assembling compositions in the film. Although many critics have drawn comparisons to Italian giallo films and the works of Dario Argento in particular, Sole claimed to have not seen Argento's work at the time. No less, the film's incorporation of subtle dark humor and its unsympathetic portrayal of religion— both motifs of giallo thrillers— led to the film's reputation as the most "gialloesque" American film in history.
Film scholars have noted the film's hysterical portrayal of Catholicism and religious institutions to be in direct conversation with the motives of its villain, Mrs. Tredoni, whose ultimate goal is to "punish" the sinning members of her parish; 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" supports this interpretation of the film's religious themes and undertones. Prior to writing and directing Alice, Sweet Alice, Sole had directed his debut feature, an adult film titled Deep Sleep, in 1972. The release of the film resulted in obscenity charges being brought against him in the state of New Jersey, as well as formal excommunication from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey; this event has been credited as influential to the apparent anti-religious bent of Alice, Sweet Alice.
The murder scenes in the film in particular have been described by genre scholars as "stark and shocking," and noted for their use of "powerful imagery" correlating with the film's religious overtones. Catholic iconography is featured prominently throughout the film, including votive candles, crucifixes, and rosaries, as well as artistic depictions of the Virgin Mary in sculptures and paintings.
Casting and production
Brooke Shields was the first to be cast in the film after auditioning in New York City in 1975; director Sole had seen her modeling in advertisements prior, and contacted her mother about the film, expressing his interest in her playing the role of young Karen. It was also actress Paula Sheppard's debut. Sheppard, a college student, was 19 at the time she played 12-year-old Alice, and was discovered by Sole working as a dancer in a local university's stage productions. Alphonso De Noble, a New Jersey native, was cast as the tenacious landlord after director Sole had seen him impersonating a priest in local cemeteries. Sole had originally sought veteran stage actress Geraldine Page for the role of Mrs. Tredoni; Page, however, could not play the character due to obligations in a Broadway production, but recommended fellow stage actress Mildred Clinton, who played the role.
The film was shot on location in Paterson, New Jersey in 1975, though the film is set in the early 1960s; many of the crew, including cameramen and sound designers were from New York City. Sole, a native of Paterson, was working as an architect at the time and used several historic buildings which he had worked on restoring as filming locations, lending the film a modern Gothic aesthetic. The production was periodically postponed during filming, with Sole stating that sometimes two to four week breaks would be taken between filming sessions due to budget issues.
For the film's special effects, which included multiple murder sequences by bludgeoning and stabbing, Sole hired friend William Lustig, who would later direct the cult horror film Maniac (1980). Lustig also worked as an assistant cameraman on the film. Dick Vorisek, who had previously worked on Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and Carrie (1976), was hired onto the film as chief sound engineer after Sole was put in contact with him through Technicolor.
The film premiered under the title Communion at the Chicago International Film Festival in early November 1976, and debuted in Paterson, New Jersey, on November 13, 1976. According to director Alfred Sole, Columbia Pictures had signed on to distribute the film in the United States, as well as securing a book tie-in by author Frank Lauria, which was written in conjunction through Bantam Books. However, following legal "friction" concerning rights to the movie, Columbia Pictures ultimately dropped the film from its roster.
Allied Artists then purchased the film for distribution, and forced the filmmakers to change the title from Communion to Alice, Sweet Alice, out of fear that the public would perceive it to be a Christian film. Allied Artists' revised title, Alice, Sweet Alice, originated from a quote in Volume 43 of the Publications of the Catholic Truth Society, published in 1900, which reads: "Then there is Alice—sweet Alice—your eldest born, who leans over the back of your chair and sweeps your face with her brown curls." Director Sole reportedly fought Allied Artists on the changing of the title to no avail; the film was ultimately released as Alice, Sweet Alice in 1978. The novelization, however, was still published under the original Communion title.
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Alice, Sweet Alice received generally favorable reviews from critics upon release. Roger Ebert gave the film a positive review, stating: "Director Alfred Sole has a brilliant touch for the macabre and there are some splendidly chilling scenes," while US Magazine called the film a "superior modern Gothic thriller." AllMovie called the film an "eerie, effective chiller". Slant Magazine noted in their review of the film: "Possibly the closet American relation to an Italian giallo, the film is head-trippingly hilarious (Jane Lowry, as Aunt Annie, may be the nuttiest screamer in the history of cinema) and features some of the more disquieting set pieces you'll ever see in a horror film."
During the changes in distributors and due to a myriad of legal problems, the film was not properly registered with the United States Copyright Office in 1975 during its production. As a result, the film became widely bootlegged in the following years. It was released officially by Anchor Bay Entertainment on VHS in 1997, and on laserdisc by the Roan Group, in a remastered and uncut print supervised by director Alfred Sole. It was later released on DVD in 1999 by Anchor Bay Entertainment; after this edition of the film became out of print, it was re-released on DVD by Hen's Tooth Video in 2007.
- Sole, Alfred (1999). Alice, Sweet Alice (DVD). Anchor Bay Entertainment. (commentary)
- Legare, Patrick. "Alice, Sweet Alice: Overview". Allmovie. Retrieved August 8, 2010.
- "Frank Lauria, Communion (1977)". Casual Debris. 12 August 2011. Retrieved 2013-12-02.
- Boyd, David; Palmer, R. Barton (eds.). After Hitchcock: Influence, Imitation, and Intertextuality. The University of Texas Press. p. 196. ISBN 978-0292713383.
- Everman, Welch (2000). Cult Horror Films: From Attack of the 50 Foot Woman to Zombies of Mora Tau. Citadel Press. pp. 11–12. ISBN 978-0806514253.
- Muir, John Kenneth (2007). Horror Films of the 1970s. McFarland. p. 445. ISBN 978-0786431045.
- Lukeman, Adam (2003). Fangoria's 101 Best Horror Movies You've Never Seen: A Celebration of the World's Most Unheralded Fright Flicks. Three Rivers Press. ISBN 978-1400047499.
- Publications of the Catholic Truth Society: Volume 43. The Catholic Truth Society. 1900. p. 6.
- Meyers, Ric (2011). For One Week Only: The World of Exploitation Films. Eirini Press. p. 74. ISBN 978-0979998935.
- Ebert, Roger. Review: Alice, Sweet Alice. The Chicago Sun-Times. 1978.
- Alice, Sweet Alice (DVD). Anchor Bay Entertainment. 1999.
- Legare, Patrick. "Alice, Sweet Alice - Review - AllMovie". AllMovie. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
- Gonzalez, Ed (2005-04-20). "Film Review: Alice, Sweet Alice". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 2013-07-26.