Reviews | Written by Martin Unsworth 18/04/2018

ALICE, SWEET ALICE (1976)

Finally available in HD, this often forgotten film of the late seventies ‘creepy child’ subgenre is given a new lease of life and should be on every horror fan’s wish list, particularly thanks to some very iconic imagery and moments of genuine terror.

It should be the happiest day of young Karen’s life: her first communion. However, older sister Alice (Sheppard) is more than a little jealous of mother’s favourite Karen (Shields, making her film debut). It all ends in tragedy, however, when Karen is slain by a masked assailant in the church. The killer is also wearing the distinctive official raincoat of the congregation, and the mask is of a type that Alice likes to wear while playing pranks on her family. Could the innocent child have taken things too far? All fingers certainly point that way and even her aunt (Lowry) is convinced she did it, particularly after she herself was attacked on the stairs of the family’s apartment. While Alice’s estranged father (Niles McMaster), mother (Miller) and even the priest (Willrich) attempt to get to the bottom of what is causing her to go off the rails, the bodies begin to start piling up.

Well regarded among horror fans, Alice Sweet Alice has aged surprisingly well and stands up to repeated viewings like many of the best films of the seventies, particularly with its look and style. It plays like an American giallo, managing to mix tension with shocks splendidly. There’s an eerie quality to the acting, which ranges from compelling (Sheppard) to histrionic (Lowry), but the latter doesn’t detract from the drama, in fact, it actually adds to the overall feeling of uneasiness. Elements of religious iconology juxtapose against the occasional (and actually quite restrained despite the film’s reputation) bursts of violence, and by revealing the killer’s identity with some running time left switches the focus slightly in a refreshing way.

There are some troubling elements, such as the sexualisation of 12-year-old Alice (Sheppard was actually 19 when she made the film, though) particularly with the lurid attentions of the obese and decidedly odd urine-stained landlord (Alphonso DeNoble, who died two years after filming aged only 31) who lives in the downstairs apartment. It’s not out of place with films of the time but doesn’t sit right these days. However, it certainly adds another level of nastiness to the story. The connotations of a conflicted religious family unit subtly implied, particularly as Alice is jealous of the fuss made of Karen; there must be some reason why she hadn’t been confirmed herself, and the mother’s flirting with the young, handsome priest.

A minor classic, it was originally seen in the UK as Communion (shockingly, the original VHS release had a spoiler on the front cover!), and we were told when 88 Films released the DVD version that no Blu-ray would be coming as the negative was unusable. So how have we got this? Surely not a nasty upscale? No, thankfully, they wouldn’t be that grabbing. Instead, we have a new 2K scan of a positive print (under the re-release title Holy Terror) and while it isn’t as pristine as one would have hoped, it’s certainly a step above the DVD, although there are no alternate title sequences included for those of a pedantic nature.

Speaking of extras, the Blu-ray features a commentary by the director and editor Edward Salier ported over from the earlier DVD release and a short side-by-side comparison for the restoration. Nothing major to speak of, then, but it’s interesting to see how much work was actually done to make the film look as good as it does.

ALICE, SWEET ALICE (1976) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: ALFRED SOLE / SCREENPLAY: ROSEMARY RITVO, ALFRED SOLE / STARRING: LINDA MILLER, MILDRED CLINTON, PAULA E. SHEPPARD, JANE LOWRY, BROOKE SHIELDS, RUDOLPH WILLRICH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (WEBSITE EXCLUSIVE), JULY 9TH (GENERAL)

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