Until recently, the 1976 film by Alfred Sole, Alice Sweet Alice, remained relegated to the list of picked over movies that never got rented by this guy. It seemed appropriate given the mission of Malevolent Dark to finally give this film a look. Considering the fact that Alice Sweet Alice, remains in the horror lexicon as evidenced by copious references on Twitter and frequent appearance on top horror lists. In short, it felt necessary to develop a take on work that continue to generate interest over 40 years after its release.
Death Comes in A Yellow Slicker
The film takes place in New Jersey. It begins with a young and hardly recognizable Brook Shields playing the role of Karen Spages. She prepares for her first communion. He sister Alice (Paula Sheppard) seethes while everyone fawns over her with gifts and special treatment. Alice loves to torment her sister by scaring her. He favorite techniques include a translucent mask and a yellow raincoat. When Karen’s big day finally arrives, someone in the very same translucent mask and raincoat strangles Karen and sets her on fire inside a chest at the church.
Traumatized, Karen’s mother, Catherine (Linda Miller), and estranged father Dominick (Niles McMaster) spend the rest of the film trying to understand what happened to Karen. Evidence and suspicions surround their troubled daughter Alice, who maintains her innocence. The mystery interleaves throughout the Spages’ relationship with the catholic church to include Father Tom (Rudolph Willrich) and Mrs. Tredoni (Mildred Clinton). Mrs. Tredoni holds her faith fervently and she spends her life serving the church and the clergy.
1. Overt Religious Overtones
The screenplay, written by Rosemary Ritvo and Alfred Sole clearly intends to make statement about the Catholic Church. The authors clearly make connections to the problems that can occur when extreme religious faith overcomes rational thought. Alfred Sole makes sure to dwell on any shot that lands on a piece of Catholic iconography. Let’s be honest, some of that imagery can be unsettling. The goal here is not bash on any religion, but weird is weird, right?
Pay special attention to the scenes where people stand in submission with their tongues hanging out waiting for a communion wafer. Yeah, religion can be just plain strange.
Alice Sweet Alice ultimately shines a light on the collision of deeply held religious beliefs and the unraveling of traditional views on marriage and parenting. It also shines a light on how a religious devotion may sometimes cross the line into strange and unrequited sexual desire.
2. Struggling Narrative Execution
While Sole and Ritvo develop an interesting premise, Sole clumsily struggles executing the narrative. He must spend a lot of time developing Alice’s backstory in order to make it seem plausible that she commits the crimes in the film. It seems that the more he tires, the more that Sole unintentionally reveals what he plans for a coming plot twist. This approach forces himself to reveal the true killer early enough that he can assign motive to that individual before closing the film. Accordingly, the story lacks a fluid pace to keep the audience enthralled.
Furthermore, Alfred Sole gets little help from his cast and production crew. For the most part, the cast feels rigid and their interactions feel disingenuous at times. The John Friberg and Chuck Hall perform photography duties. While they manage to use the camera competently at times, it seems that many of their artistic gestures get lost on the editing floor. The final visual product feels as disjointed as the narrative.
3. Haunting Imagery
Alice Sweet Alice, excels in its haunting imagery. The translucent mask coupled with the yellow rain slicker creates an iconic image that still finds its way into the conversation. If the film commits any crime it’s that it it fails to deploy this image enough. There’s very few victims in Alice, Sweet Alice, so Sole must perform a bait and switch several times to keep audiences interested. Alfred Sole says that the 1973 horror-thriller Don’t Look Now, directed by Nicholas Roeg inspired his writing. It would be a egregious omission to not mention the obvious influence of the raincoat motif.
4. A Yankee Giallo?
It seems that among movie critics, some compulsion exists to categorize Alice, Sweet Alice as the best example of an American giallo film. Alfred Sole’s film does cross-over into the genre at least superficially. In the basic sense, Sole creates a masked and gloved killer that obfuscates the killers gender and identity. As case can be made that Sole’s film also shares the same religious angle of Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972). It also has the same propensity for mis-directing the audience as to the true identity of the killer as in Fulci’s New York Ripper (1982).
Still, it seems that the term giallo gets thrown around quite a bit these days. Even the aforementioned Fulci films, Duckling and Ripper, stretch the definition of giallo in many ways other than they are slasher mysteries of Italian origin. Still, the prospect of Alice Sweet Alice having any overlap at all seems curious considering Alfred Sole claims to never have seen an giallo prior to directing his film. Possibly a Hitchcock influence would be more appropriate?
Has anyone here heard of Brian DePalma and/or Blow Out (1981)? Can we cool it with the hyperbole?
Interesting, but Overstated
Alice, Sweet Alice is not necessarily a bad movie, but honestly, it really did not resonate. Over its course, it never really overcame its rough and tumble plot development. Once Sole reveals the killer’s identity, he forces the audience through another 20 minutes in order to wrap up a mostly lackluster finale.
At Malevolent Dark we acknowledge that we really do not understand what constitutes a “Cult Classic”. It seems that Alice Sweet Alice enjoys a renaissance in the “Cult Classic” circles. We do not agree with those opinions and consider this one to be middling to slightly below average. Alice Sweet Alice should be viewed by people that want a complete view of 70’s proto-slashers, but not those hunting the best of the best.