Notorious for being Brooke Shields's film debut, ALICE, SWEET ALICE (1976) is a low-budget slasher-horror film that has earned a reputation as a minor cult film over the years. Set in Paterson, New Jersey in 1961 and drenched in Catholic iconography and guilt, it's an interesting little film that has it's moments.
Young Alice (Paula Sheppard), is a clearly disturbed young girl who is deeply jealous of her popular younger sister Karen (Shields). During a first communion ceremony at the local parish, Karen is brutally murdered and all evidence points towards Alice. When Alice's screeching aunt Annie is attacked by a mask wearing figure in a yellow rain slicker, it becomes apparent that the unhinged young Alice is guilty. She's placed in an institution for observation but another murder occurs while she's locked up which begs the question, who is the real killer?
ALICE has visual and thematic elements that echo the classic Italian giallo horror films. The killer in the yellow slicker recalls a similar visual motif in Nicholas Roeg's DON'T LOOK NOW (1973) while one of the supporting characters, the obese and perverted Mr. Alphonso (Alphonso DeNoble) appears to have wandered off of the set of a John Waters film. The actors are all unknowns and their acting ability ranges from passable to not-so-good. The on-location cinematography is good and the production company by and large gets most of the period details right. The vintage cars look great and there's a scene where a police detective on stake-out is shown reading a copy of a vintage men's adventure magazine, BLUEBOOK, with a stack of other MAMs on the seat beside him. But a scene of Alice looking into a shop window where comic books are on display shows some DC comics that were published much later than 1961. It's a minor thing that has nothing to do with the story but it's the kind of thing a comic book nerd like me would notice.
ALICE, SWEET ALICE premiered at the Chicago International Film Festival under the title COMMUNION in November 1976. The print I watched yesterday, recorded off of TCM, was entitled COMMUNION. The film was released theatrically as ALICE, SWEET ALICE in 1978 and re-released as HOLY TERROR in 1981 to cash in on Brooke Shields after her notorious performance as a child prostitute in Louis Malle's PRETTY BABY (1978).
ALICE, SWEET ALICE is no masterpiece but it's earnestly mounted and delivers a few minor shocks. The idea of a child being a serial killer was pretty strong stuff for the time and the film depicts an ineffectual Catholic church that is unable to provide comfort and safety to its' parishioners. Worth seeing at least once if you're a horror film fan.