I first ran across this gem when I randomly picked it up on with Psychomania (1973) in a VHS double feature. While not my first choice of the two, Alice Sweet Alice is a compelling and vicious little film that has almost no morality and a jaundiced view of the world.

While this film predates its more successful contemporaries, Friday the 13th (1980) and Halloween, (1978) it still bears several hallmarks of the slasher genre. The film was originally titled Communion (and the novelization was published under that name)but after its premier at the  Chicago International Film Festival, director Alfred Sole demanded a title change so that the audience wouldn’t think they were seeing a religious film. It was then re-released in 1982 as Holy Terror, primarily to market on Brooke Shields success – who appears briefly in the film.

Set during the 1950s, 12-year-old Alice (played by 19-year-old Paula Sheppard) lives with her mother and younger sister, Karen. During Karen’s first communion she is brutally killed by a masked assailant. Alice, always jealous of her younger sister for the attention she receives from their mother and others, is the primary suspect in her murder.

As the film explores themes related to various rites of passage for Alice, sexual and religious, it maintains an incredibly uncomfortable air about it. In particular, her scenes with the disgustingly creepy “Mr. Alphonso” who lives in her apartment building, eats cat food and has an affinity for young girls. These scenes will cause even the most hardened viewers some unease.    

Alphonso DeNoble, who played the distinctive landlord, Mr. Alphonso, wasn’t a professional actor. He was working as a bouncer at a gay bar and the director of the film persuaded him to play the role. Before his death in 1978, he got acting jobs in two other low-budget horror films, Blood Sucking Freaks (1976) and Night of the Zombies (1981).

Critics have often commented on the film’s extremely cynical depiction of Catholicism and organized religion – which is eventually revealed as the villain’s primary motive, to “punish sinners”. This has resulted in claims that the film is blatantly “anti-Catholic”. Director Sole’s own proclaiming of himself as an “ex-Catholic” and his actual formal excommunication from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey (over his writing the porno Deep Sleep) supports this interpretation of the film’s anti-religious message. Brooke Shields appears briefly as Alice’s sister Karen who is strangled by the chain of a crucifix, stuffed into a box and then set on fire. The third re-release of the film attempted to erroneously play up her part and make it appear the film starred her. But apparently, according to box office receipts, this effort failed to make an impact. 

Be that as it may, Alice Sweet Alice is a wonderful slasher film and should be enjoyed by all who are partial to the genre.

As Rodger Ebert wrote, “Director Alfred Sole has a brilliant touch for the macabre and there are some splendidly chilling scenes.” 

Rex Hurst

Rex Hurst

Author

Born into the blue-collar city of Buffalo, NY, Rex Hurst was traumatized as a small child by the suffocating rabbits scene in the animated adaptation of Watership Down.  Ever since, his mind twists towards the macabre, until his inevitable blossoming as a horror and sci-fi writer. When not writing he is an assistant professor of composition, public speaking, and literature. 

 

Rex Hurst is the author of the horror novels The Foot Doctor Letters: A Serial Killer Speaks Out; What Hell May Come & the sci-fi novel Across the Wounded Galaxy as well as several novellas. He is also co-host of the weekly radio show Write On SC. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, www.rexhurst.com, and What I’ve Been Reading blog- https://rexhurst.blogspot.com/ 

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