Film Review

Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)

todayApril 11, 2024 17

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By – Gareth Jones

For fans of unusual 1970’s horror, “hysterical woman” and “monstrous motherhood” tropes

The 70’s were an amazing time for American film.  The film student generation had been given the keys to the kingdom by the studios and independent film was alive and well.  Alice, Sweet Alice like many other genre films of that time fell in between.  It was written and directed by a former architect, Alfred Sole.  He had made one blue movie before this and was greatly inspired by Nicholas Roeg’s masterpiece Don’t Look Now.  Made three years after that film, Alice, Sweet Alice is also one of the early slasher prototypes, pulling from the same vein as Black Christmas.

The film received a poor reception upon its release and even had a second release under the name Holy Terror in 1981.  This was due to it being the first film to star a very young Brooke Shields, who gained fame and notoriety for Pretty Baby, which came out a few years after Alice, Sweet Alice.

The film is also a strong example of two tropes of women in film, the “hysterical woman”, when women are overwhelmed by emotion, unstable, and often slapped back into sense.  Think about Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? or Carrie.The other is the “monstrous mother”, an overbearing abusive mother, often controlling to the point of abuse.  Think Carrie again.  In this film, both are present.  The plot begins with two sisters, the younger (played by Brooke Shields) getting ready for communion. She is given a crucifix and attention by the priest and her mother.  The sister, Alice, in a fit of jealousy, puts on a terrifying mask, a yellow raincoat and appears to strangle her sister. Or does she?  We spend the rest of the film waiting for her to kill again.  She is a loathsome individual which makes it easy to not like her.  Her habit of wearing the mask is also a sign of something being wrong.  Of course, it could be because she is a child of divorce and her parents don’t give her the love she needs.  Who knows?  The film is entertaining because of its aesthetic and humor.

The apartment building they live in has a disturbing landlord played by the morbidly obese actor Alphonso DeNoble.  He feels like he is from a John Waters film.  He lives with several cats and is always wearing an undershirt that is filthy.  He is creepy and for good reason as he covets Alice.  It is unfortunate that this is another reinforcement of the obese being villainous, but he brings a delight to his role that is impressive.

The rest of the cast is strong, over the top as needed in this strange film.  The cinematography is effective in building suspense and the location shooting give it the needed 70s grit and grime. It feels like it has been lived in.  It also fits into several other films from that era that deal with religion and horror.  Although not as disturbing as the greats of that genre, it rises above many others.  Alfred Sole, only directed a few other films before becoming a production designer for television.  This is his legacy and still retains a great deal of respect in the horror fandom.

It is available to stream on many free services now such as TUBI.

Written by: Gareth Jones

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