The 1970s was a big decade for the horror genre, especially when it came to slasher films. In 1974, Tobe Hooper gave us The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and in 1979, John Carpenter’s Halloween was released. I’ve talked about and referenced these movies many times because I feel like they are very important to the genre. If you look hard enough, however, hidden between these two movies is the 1976 film Alice, Sweet Alice directed and cowritten by Alfred Sole. This is a film that has now become a cult classic, but should really be considered a masterwork in the horror genre.
Karen Spages (Brooke Shields in her first role) is a 9 year old girl who is more than ready for her First Communion. Her older sister Alice (Paula Sheppard) on the other hand is more of a problem child and causes her mother Catharine (Linda Miller) to be stressed. During Karen’s First Communion, she is brutally murdered with evidence pointing at Alice as the culprit. Catharine’s ex-husband, Dom (Niles McMaster) comes back to town for the funeral, but also to start his own investigation. As Dom keeps snooping around, more of the Spages family and other tenants in the building begin getting attacked and killed in a variety of ways while Alice fights back against the accusations of being a murderer.
This movie felt like a combination of so many cool things. It felt like Alfred Hitchcock meets Jean-Pierre Jeunet, or John Carpenter meets Dario Argento. Really it’s like they all just mushed together and this is the result. It has the feeling and pacing of a giallo film by Argento, thy mystery of Hitchcock, the horror of Carpenter, and the oddball scenes found in a Jeunet movie. It really is baffling how a movie with this much creativity and thought remained so unnoticed. Alice, Sweet Alice belongs in the upper echelons of horror films, especially since it was so successful on such a small budget.
It’s easy to make people jump, but it isn’t easy to make people feel uncomfortable. Horror movies now seem to aim to give people a momentary scare with a cheap build up, but this film is something entirely different. Just look at that picture. Just look at that god damn mask. If that isn’t one of the freakiest masks you’ve ever seen, than I don’t even know what. There’s also plenty of other great scares in the movie. Remember that scene in Psycho when Norman Bates walks out of his mother’s room and stabs the guy on the stairs? It’s so out of nowhere and unexpected, and a lot of the scary scenes in Alice, Sweet Alice reminded me of that. Things happen so suddenly and without any warning.
There’s also a really interesting use of the Catholic faith in this movie that only strengthens the eerie atmosphere. I’m not saying that the Catholic faith is eerie, but it isn’t very hard to make it seem that way. In one scene in particular, the murderer is doing their thing and the camera keeps cutting away to the faces of different statues, almost as if they’re all watching this happen. That, along with the use of church hymns and the receiving of communion while there’s a murderer present is just a weird thing. It’s a very off putting feeling that sets this movie above the average horror film.
Alice, Sweet Alice is a memorable and effective horror movie that has undeservedly only received the honor of being a cult classic. This is a very strange and unsettling movie, but that should appeal to horror fans even more than most other generic films that have gotten way more recognition. This film isn’t only creepy, it’s also provides genuine scares, suspense the whole way through, and a great mystery story on top of it all. To those horror fans who haven’t had the pleasure of seeing this one, I highly advise you get on it right away.