For those unfamiliar, Alice, Sweet Alice is the story of a young girl named Alice (Paula Sheppard) who everyone thinks killed her little sister, Karen (a very young Brooke Shields), at her first communion because she was jealous of her getting more attention than her. As the story unfolds and becomes even more twisted and bizarre than we’d initially expected, the audience is constantly being thrown for a loop which brings me to my 1st favorite thing about the film…
The Unpredictability – Ask a newbie to watch the first 15 minutes of Alice, Sweet Alice and then ask them to predict how the movie is going to end. They’re not going to get it right. Like many films from the 70’s, there’s a distinct aura of “anything goes” throughout Alice, Sweet Alice. Any film that has to guts to make its first victim a child isn’t playing around and it’s not interested in being nice. It wants to disturb you and rattle you to your core. You’re never sure who’s going to live and who’s going to die and when the killer is going to leap out. The best horror movies make you feel like you’re in the hands of a filmmaker who’s a little bit dangerous and this one definitely does that.
The colorful cast – Alice, Sweet Alice is stuffed with unique and odd character actors who all seem like they might feel more at home than on stage which gives the whole film a vibe it wouldn’t have if every performance was perfectly modulated and subdued. It appears as if everyone in the film is 4 seconds away from having a hair-pulling, face-scratching nervous breakdown and it puts you further on edge. Where else would you see a character like the wicked Aunt Annie who hates her niece to a disturbing degree or the odious morbidly obese pedophile landlord Mr. Alfonso who lives in squalor with his cats and his sweat and food-stained tank top and pants that look like he just urinated in them?
The cinematography – Alice, Sweet Alice drips with mood in every shot and, while its look owes a great deal to the Italian horror films of the 60’s and 70’s and Don’t Look Now, it still doesn’t emulate them exactly. Alice, Sweet Alice doesn’t really look like any other movie and no other movie looks like Alice, Sweet Alice either. It makes great use of the Patterson, New Jersey locations and milks all the production value out of every set up it can. That’s just smart low budget filmmaking.
The music score – Composer Stephen Lawrence created one of the most haunting scores in all of horror history that’s a far cry from his child-friendly favorites such as “Free To Be You And Me.” Spooky female voices sing and wail throughout as creepy pianos tinkle and it’s another part of the film that knows how to put the viewer on edge. He even said the score was supposed to act as a black cloud that had descended on the entire town and you can hear and feel that throughout.
The ambiguous ending – What does the ending of Alice, Sweet Alice mean? Even though it’s a movie that’s over 40 years old, I still don’t want to spoil it, but let’s just say that things aren’t tied up as neatly as some might have liked. What does the future have in store for Alice after everything she’s been through? There are many theories and that’s what makes it fascinating, because everyone will have a different interpretation.
Alice, Sweet Alice was never a movie that was hard to find considering there were seemingly dozens of releases from lousy budget VHS companies. It was, however, very hard to find with a cleaned up, decent looking print. Arrow Video just recently gave the film the royal treatment it deserves on Blu-Ray and seeing it looking like a million bucks is something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. If you’ve never seen it, pick up that release and, even if you have seen it, this release will make you think you’re seeing it for the first time.
Note: Chris Moore’s excellent film TRIGGERED is free to view on Tubi HERE!