Movie Review: “Alice, Sweet Alice” (1976)

Alice_Sweet_AliceAlso known as “Communion,” Alice, Sweet Alice is almost criminally overlooked by horror fans. I had read recommendations for this movie in passing on multiple horror review sites and put it on my radar to watch at some point. I notice it available through Netflix awhile ago and there it sat in my queue for far too long. A few weekends ago on a quiet Saturday, I decided to attempt to watch it (with the boyfriend at my side–which means there’s a better chance I will actually finish a movie).

The movie starts off slow. Catherine Spages, mother of 12-year-old Alice and 9-year-old Karen (played by Brooke Shields) are visiting with their family priest. Karen’s communion is coming up and Father Tom gives Karen a customary Catholic communion gift, a crucifix. We first see here Alice’s extreme of her sister Karen. Desperate for attention, Alice sneaks off to the kitchen of Father Tom’s house and slips on a simple–yet effectively creepy clear mask along with the school-issued yellow rain slicker, and purposely sneaks up on Father Tom’s housekeeper, scaring her.

Back home, we see more favoritism of Karen and more of Alice’s insecurity and terrorism. Alice steals Karen’s favorite doll and lures her to an abandoned building where she traps Karen briefly, threatening to leave her there if she tells. Later on, we see their mother again doting on Karen, preparing her for the upcoming communion and ignoring Alice. Again seeking attention, Alice puts on Alice’s communion gown and veil and parades around the apartment upsetting Karen and their mom.

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On the day of Karen’s communion, several children are preparing in the church while their families await in the sanctuary. Karen becomes isolated from the group, when the rain-slicker, masked villain sneaks up behind her, choking her with a candlestick. Karen’s body is dragged and then hidden in a hinged pew seat, then the candle is lit and the seat is closed. Smelling smoke and noticing Karen did not join the other children marching into church, the parishioners gather in horror to discover the body of Karen burning just outside of the sanctuary hall. Seemingly unaffected by these events, Alice grabs Karen’s veil from the floor and lines up with the other children awaiting communion.

This is where the film takes a step back for me. After Karen’s death, the story moves at a snail’s pace, slowly building tension and demonstrating various troubling characteristics of Alice. Expectedly, Catherine is a wreck and still manages to favor Karen and overlooks Alice. We learn that Alice has a bizarre shrine of items in a trunk in the basement of the apartment, including the translucent mask. Further along during the film,  we see a few uncomfortable scenes with Alice and an odd, morbidly obese and truly disturbed downstairs neighbor (in one instance, there’s an upsetting scene with Alice and a kitten). Detectives investigating the murder go as far as looking into Alice as a potential suspect.

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Before the end of the movie, there are more attacks and three murders by the rain slicker-wearing masked culprit. The film even flirts with the supernatural when Alice insists she sees Karen in the stairwell. Alice is also sent for evaluation at a psychiatric hospital, alluding to more troubling psychological issues of the young girl. There is a twist at the end that I won’t spoil here. However, I will say that the twist comes so late, the movie definitely warrants multiple viewings to fully appreciate. No matter how many times you watch it, parts of it could be left for interpretation.

Overall Impression:

The pacing of the film is off, beginning strong with the near-immediate murder of young Karen. I wasn’t sure where the film was going since it was so obvious (or so I thought) what was going on, and  would have enjoyed it even more if I had kept an open mind for the remainder of the film. One criticism I have is the drama between Catherine and the children’s father–it feels a bit tired, but yet it doesn’t feel out of place for the film considering the time period. The atmosphere is very reminiscent of the Italian giallo films too. I thought Paula E. Sheppard (who played Alice) did a phenomenal job. When I looked her up, curiously she has only been in one other movie. What really bothered me was how familiar she felt. Then it hit me, she could be a twin of actress Susan Dey from the Partridge Family (and honestly, I thought this was who she was throughout the film).  Overall, I really enjoyed this and would consider it a classic horror staple. Highly recommended.

Cons: slow pacing, a disturbing animal death
Pros: nice twist, atmosphere, classic old-school horror

Mashup status: It feels a bit like Don’t Look Now (1973) with a smidge of the direction/feel of The Sentinel (1977) and a heavy dose of Italian giallos by Fulci and Argento of the late 70s and early 80s.

Rating: 7.5/10

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