Plot: Catherine (Linda Miller) is a divorced woman with two daughters and while she tries to keep up, she struggles to manage on her own and especially when it comes to her children. Alice (Paula Sheppard) is a constant source of aggravation, as she is always getting into trouble and takes immense pleasure in terrorizing Karen (Brooke Shields), her younger sister. She torments Karen as much as possible, often reducing her sister to tears and utter desperation, which of course keeps Catherine on edge and causes tension in the apartment. Even as Karen prepares for her first communion, Alice scares her with an eerie mask and swipes her veil, but what happens inside the church is much, much darker than childish pranks. Karen is killed before she can take part in the ceremony, murdered right in the church and while Alice is suspected, no one is able to prove who was responsible. This leads to an even more severe fracture between Alice and her mother and by turn, Alice’s behavior becomes more erratic. But did she kill her own sister or is there more to this murder than meets the eye?
Entertainment Value: A lot of films have utilized the creepy little girl approach, but few can hold a candle to the sheer eerie presence of Paula Sheppard in Alice Sweet Alice. She radiates dread and creepiness, both in look and overall presence, to the point a simple glance from her drips with menace. But she also has a vulnerability that conveys her growing pains, her work here is remarkable. The movie overall shares that sense of dread and unnatural atmosphere, as Alice Sweet Alice feels grimy and dirty, all of which enhances the eeriness. The movie has a giallo/slasher hybrid vibe and a European feel, despite being an American production. The narrative seems simple and familiar, but monkey wrenches expectations and takes some surprising turns, so it never feels like a “been there, done that” kind of horror movie. When you combine the atmosphere, unpredictable plot threads, and a few unhinged performances, you have a unique and memorable experience, one that earns the status of a genre classic and stands well above most of its peers. Sheppard’s unsettling presence is the highlight, but Mildred Clinton is no slouch and the cast is populated with some colorful folks that help bolster the eerie overall environment. Alice Sweet Alice is a masterwork of unkempt horror, a grimy and effective slasher that hits all the right notes.
No nakedness. The movie has no visible sleaze, but has some scenes that drip with the stuff, usually centered on the men around Alice. An overweight, slovenly neighbor seems ever poised to take advantage of her, but even a police detective makes a super creepy observation about her breasts. This is creepy, uncomfortable stuff and it fits right into the unsettling atmosphere and tone. The movie has some bursts of violence and nice splashes of crimson, usually from blade wounds. The violence isn’t extreme, but some of the damage yields nice spurts of the red stuff and a neck wound offers some nice blood gushes. A man’s head is beaten in with a rock and shown on screen, but it is non graphic and just has some blood covering his face and mouth. The staircase attack has perhaps the most bloodshed, however. The dialogue has some great dysfunction and drama, with Alice a source of insults and torment toward others, while Mrs. Tredoni carries her weight with some wild lines as well. But a lot of characters have memorable lines in this one, as no one is all that stable or normal, which means a lot of dysfunctional exchanges and comments. The craziness runs deep here, with a general sense of unease and dread that permeates the entire movie. A wealth of unstable and cruel characters, Sheppard’s hall of fame creepiness, and the various twists also add to the score. While not as over the top as some movies, Alice Sweet Alice packs in a lot of madness and the grime seeps into your pores.
Overall Insanity: 8/10
The Disc: 88 Films released this with a new 2k scan and restoration, offering a noticeable improvement over previous DVD editions. The image is clean and has a good amount of detail present, while colors are natural and not oversaturated. There is some softness and a little wear at times, but this is an impressive effort and one that fans should greatly appreciate. On the extras side, we have an audio commentary with director Alfred Sole and editor Edward Salier, a selection of promotional artwork, a tv spot under the title Communion, and the film’s original trailer. You can also check out a comparison to see the difference the restoration has made.