Alice, Sweet Alice/Review 2

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< Alice, Sweet Alice
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It’s a shame that this stellar exploitation film, originally released as Communion, is best known as Brooke Shields’ screen debut. She’s really only in the film briefly—as what she is, a stunningly beautiful child: something that might have emerged from a painting.


In 1960’s Paterson NJ, a young girl named Karen (Brooke Shields) is murdered—and set afire—in a church on the day of her communion. The most likely suspect is her willful, less pretty older sister Alice (Paula Sheppard). Right before Karen’s murder their mother Catherine (Linda Miller) spotted them bickering. And, to many, it’s enough to implicate Alice.


You see Alice is a problem child. She’s belligerent, profane, has a mean streak, and takes peculiar pleasure in her repulsive water bug collection. She also likes to scare people: on at least one occasion she was seen wearing a bright yellow raincoat and smirking mask while wielding a butcher knife.


But is it possible that someone else might have murdered Karen? There’s Alice’s father Dom (Niles McMaster); favorite Preacher Tom (Rudolph Willrich); no-nonsense caretaker Mrs. Tredoni (Mildred Clinton); nagging visiting relative Annie (Jane Lowry); morbidly obese, pedophile neighbor Mr. Alphonso (Alphonso DeNoble); and one-step-ahead investigator Brennan (Tom Signorelli). All seem a little weird themselves—dead-voiced and blank-eyed.


Writer/Director Alfred Sole imbued his $350,000 production with a collection of visuals that remain long after the credits roll. Be it thinning blood on a rain-drenched sidewalk, the muted gaze of a questioning mother captured through a train station window, or the grotesque mid-day reflection of a dead man in a broken shard of glass, the homage to masters like Hitchcock, Polanski and Sirk is front and center. Particularly art directed, stylish and aware Alice, Sweet Alice is refreshingly leaps and bounds above what it needs to be to effectively deliver the low-budget slasher/thriller goods.


Originally banned in Britain—in part for its juxtaposition of violent murders and church iconography—Alice, Sweet Alice (even the title is creepy; is it porn?) is worthy of a second look. It’s many things all at once: a testament to guerilla filmmaking (stolen street corner shots); a mid-seventies travelogue (the now gone industrial landscape of Paterson); and an explicit example of the new freedoms enjoyed following the easing of America’s censorship laws. Glossy, violent and distinct.


Josiah Howard is the author of four books including Blaxploitation Cinema: The Essential Reference Guide (now in a fourth printing). His writing credits include articles for the American Library of Congress, The New York Times and Readers Digest. A veteran of more than one hundred radio broadcasts, Howard also lectures on cinema and is a frequent guest on entertainment news television. Visit his Official Website.

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