This week's VHS is Alfred Sole's 1976 thriller Alice Sweet Alice.
After a young girl is murdered at her communion ceremony, her sister Alice (Paula Sheppard) becomes the prime suspect. But is she guilty?
No sooner had I picked this VHS up from Rue Morgue's yard sale last month when The Royal announced they would be screening it as part of their No Future series. Perfect!
Alice Sweet Alice was a solid film, but also a strange one for many reasons that I'll get into shortly. The evening's host (I didn't catch his name and the website was no help) made a very valid point that due to being made in the mid-seventies, the film treads a very fine line between giallo and what would become the most popular horror of the next decade – the American slasher. Alice Sweet Alice was much more conscious of its visual style and many other tropes – The Don't Look Now-inspired costume was a striking image in itself – appeared as well.
However, for all its genre leanings there were also several irregularities. Firstly, the inevitable reveal happens very early on at the end of the second act. We then stay with them for a while as they try to cover up their crimes, which leads me into my next point. Alice Sweet Alice oddly has no clear protagonist. As a viewer, we spend time with Alice, her sister Karen (Brooke Shields in her first role), the mother (Linda Miller), the father (Niles McMaster) and even the family priest (Rudolph Willrick). It can be a bit erratic at times.
Though the acting could be a tad melodramatic (Jane Lowry really cranks it to eleven as the suspicious Aunt Ann), the story kept me engaged. A highlight for me was Sheppard as the title character. Nineteen when she took the role, yet somehow managing to pull off playing a twelve-year-old, she sadly only made one other film, Slava Tsukerman's Liquid Sky. She comes off as apologetically devilish regardless of whether or not she's the culprit. At one point, she actually avoids being molested by murdering a kitten. So many emotions!
|Paula Sheppard in Alice Sweet Alice.|
Alice Sweet Alice was not at all what I was expecting, but I was still pleasantly surprised. Instead of a generic slasher (I initially thought it to be about five years newer than it was), I got a competently executed mystery that contains more than a few jabs at Catholicism. I can get behind that. With all their kneeling and chanting, church services never cease to creep me out. Oh well, whatever gets you through the day I guess.