Film Review: ALICE SWEET ALICE (a.k.a. Communion / Holy Terror) (1976)

ALICE SWEET ALICE (a.k.a. Communion / Holy Terror) **** USA 1976 Dir: Alfred Sole. 106 mins

A startling American giallo with an unforgettable first reel. Disturbed, basement dwelling 12 year old Alice (then-19 year old Paula Sheppard in a remarkable performance), who traps insects in jars for fun and resents all the attention heaped upon her younger sibling (Brooke Shields) dons a creepy doll mask to spook her sister – who yanks it off to reveal another, equally ghoulish mask underneath. This early false shock establishes Alice as a prime suspect when a diminutive figure in a yellow raincoat and mask throttles / incinerates Shields as she prepares for her first communion and slaughters other connected characters at regular intervals thereafter.

Recalling the dehumanising medical treatment of Regan in THE EXORCIST, Alice is subjected to study and analysis by dispassionate adult authority figures while her devoted mother (Linda Miller) passionately defends her. As the mystery unravels, filmmaker Sole follows his 1970’s peers by finding a spiralling sickness within American society: the cops are useless and inappropriate, with one scene depicting them making remarks about the 12-year old’s breasts. Obese, cat-food eating paedophile landlord Mr Alphonso (Alphonso DeNoble) is just one of a gallery of obnoxious adult characters. The ambiguous ending prefigures several slasher film codas to come with its suggestion that the cycle of dysfunctional relationships and violence will inevitably carry over to the most impressionable survivor of the carnage. The influences are clear : the raincoat-clad killer nods to DON’T LOOK NOW and the bloody murder scenes (and Stephen Lawrence’s score) are the work of someone who has watched PSYCHO many times, but the movie has several shocks of its own – even if the most disturbing moment is the fleeting glimpse of a crime scene photo of a child’s disfigured body.

Review by Steven West


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