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Alfred Sole Alice Sweet Alice

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Catholics for the Kill in Sole’s Classic Alice, Sweet Alice (1976) | Blu-ray Review

Catholics for the Kill in Sole’s Classic Alice, Sweet Alice (1976) | Blu-ray Review

Outside of Larry Cohen and Brian De Palma, there’s a dearth of high-profile genre auteurs in the canon of 1970s American horror cinema. One of their colleagues is Alfred Sole, whose short-lived filmography ended after three features. A New Jersey architect, Sole crafted a hysterically primed psychological thriller with his fascinating debut, Alice, Sweet Alice (1976), best remembered as the debut of Brooke Shields, whose name and visage would eventually be plastered over the home entertainment offerings of the film following her rise to stardom two years later.

Some disagreements over the title were also to blame for the film’s slow rise to cult status, initially titled Communion while owned by Columbia Pictures and then retitled by Allied Artists (although it was also marketed as Holy Terror briefly to capitalize on Shields following the release of Louis Malle’s infamous Pretty Baby). But despite mis-marketing and reception as a B-grade schlock fest, Sole’s debut can at last be appreciated for the moody, impassioned onslaught it is in a narrative which plays like the giallo version of Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973).

Shields, who was only 11 years old at the time, is immediately dispatched in the film’s opening set-up, which takes place in 1961 Paterson, New Jersey. The prized child of her mother, admired by all those around her, including the doe-eyed priest (Rudolph Willrich) who seems to have a crush on mom and the lecherous landlord (Alphonso DeNoble) who has too many kittens and leers ominously at little girls, it’s immediately evident her sulky older sister Alice (Paula E. Sheppard) is jealous of the attention bestowed on little Karen. Keeping a cadre of creepy crude, disturbing tinctures in the basement, including a sinister mask (similar in style to designs later seen in The Strangers, 2008) she dons to terrorize her sibling, Alice is the assumed murderer of Karen at her communion, shoving the girl’s body into a pew and setting it on fire. Alice’s handwringing mother (Linda Miller) won’t entertain such accusations, and absent father Dom (Niles McMaster) arrives from out of town to initiate his own investigation. But Alice’s Aunt Annie (Jane Lowry) has her suspicions, while the libidinous, obese landlord seems to conjure the darker side of the tempestuous young girl.

While Shields may be the most recognizable cast member, Linda Miller, the daughter of Jackie Gleason, wife of Jason Miller and son of Jason Patric, is a notable figure, channeling old Hollywood glam (think Myrna Loy as a distressed housewife yet to be prescribed Valium). Likewise, the film is the first on-screen appearance of Lillian Roth (here in a bit role as a pathologist) in over four decades. But it’s some of the lesser known performers who really steal the scenes, namely Jane Lowry as a contemptuous auntie who resembles Grace Zabriskie (sequences were Sole has Miller, Lowry and Sheppard all howling at one another plays like Sirk on amphetamines). Likewise, Alphonso DeNoble, who was initially a bouncer at a Paterson gay bar, plays like template for later John Waters personas (DeNoble would only appear in two more features before his death in 1978). “God always takes the pretty ones” he sneers at Alice, who takes delight in calling him Fatso or breaking into his hovel of an apartment to strangle his kittens or unleash cockroaches. Mildred Clinton, who makes a lasting impression for her work in the third act, who would appear in three Spike Lee joints (Crooklyn; Summer of Sam; Bamboozled) before she died at the age of ninety-six in 2010.

Beyond Roeg, Sole seems preoccupied with Hitchcock, namely Psycho, the poster of which makes an appearance (along with glances at JFK on the walls of its denizens), while comparison to Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed (1946) also can’t be helped. Tonally, Sole recalls fellow 70s underrated auteur Curtis Harrington, with What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971) coming to mind and a climax in church potentially inspired a similar secular showdown in John Waters’ Serial Mom (1994). While its plotting sashays into the ludicrous, with its campiness always underlined by a queasy peculiarity, Alice, Sweet Alice is a captivating exercise in the macabre.

Disc Review:

Arrow Video lovingly re-releases Alice, Sweet Alice as a brand new 2K restoration in 1.85:1 with original uncompressed mono audio. A number of nostalgic extra features are also included on the disc.

First Communion – Alfred Sole Remember Alice, Sweet Alice:
Director Alfred Sole sits for this eighteen-minute interview, discussing his career (including the making of what was to be his first feature, the X-rated Deep Sleep, which was met with significant controversy).

Alice on My Mind:
Composer Stephen Lawrence discusses his score for the film in this fifteen-minute interview.

In the Name of the Father:
Actor Niles McMaster reflects on his experiences making Alice, Sweet Alice in this sixteen-minute interview.

Lost Childhood – The Locations of Alice, Sweet Alice:
Author Michael Gingold hosts this tour of the original shooting locations for Alice, Sweet Alice.

Sweet Memories – Dante Tomaselli on Alice, Sweet Alice:
Director Dante Tomaselli, the cousin of Alfred Sole, discusses his long-standing connection to Alice, Sweet Alice in this eleven-minute interview.

Deleted Scenes:
Two deleted sequences, which are without audio, are available here.

Film Rating: ★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Rating: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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