Arrow Heads Vol. 66: ALICE, SWEET ALICE

A distinct and disturbing slice of American horror

Whether it’s known by the original title Communion, or as Alice, Sweet Alice for theatrical release, or Holy Terror for a later re-release, Alfred Sole’s 1976 genre effort is worth your attention. While paying homage to other styles and filmmakers (as you’ll see plastered over promotional materials), the film is a distinct endeavor, one now treated to an all new restoration and release by Arrow Video.


A young Brooke Shields meets an untimely end in this religious-themed proto slasher par excellence from director Alfred Sole. On the day of her first communion, young Karen (Brooke Shields) is savagely murdered by an unknown assailant in a yellow rain mac and creepy translucent mask. But the nightmare is far from over — as the knife-wielding maniac strikes again and again, Karen’s bereaved parents are forced to confront the possibility that Karen’s wayward sister Alice might be the one behind the mask. Bearing influences from the likes of Hitchcock, the then-booming Italian giallo film and more specifically, Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, Alice, Sweet Alice is an absolutely essential — if often overlooked — entry in the canon of 1970s American horror.

Referring to Alice, Sweet Alice as a slasher feels reductive. Potent visuals and disorientating tone lend it more to the Giallo style, that distinct sub-genre of Italian horror that counts visceral titles such as Deep Red or Blood and Black Lace. Catholic imagery and ritualism offer another rich vein for the film to mine, while the central story provides a thick layer of grief within which we watch the collapse of a family unit. Comparisons to Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now are frequently made and entirely apt.

Young sisters Alice (Paula Sheppard) and Karen (Brooke Shields in her feature debut) bicker, the former usually shoulders the blame while the latter, as the youngest, is doted upon. The family unit is dysfunctional and estranged before the tragic murder of Karen. Circumstantial evidence mounts and suspicions over Alice’s involvement grows, largely drawn from concerns over her previous behavior. Alice’s mother, Catherine (Linda Miller) and father Dom (Niles McMaster) look to shield their eldest but while stricken by grief, as if that’s not enough, the killer strikes again, a visage hidden behind a mask and yellow raincoat. Emotion fuels doubt, grief consuming this family, and the collapse of what remains, as brutal violence continues to be meted out on other members of their community.

A murder mystery, with slasher thrills that impressively builds tension through brutal unnerving sequences, disconcerting cuts and POV shots (more giallo influences). There’s a lived in quality to the setting, embracing the 70s aesthetic from run down factories to the aged chintz within the walls of the family apartment. Further ornate detail come from Religious iconography, not just with moments that unfold within the confines of a Church, but multiple scenes that lift from and pervert elements of Catholic ritual. Where the script and film really grab attention is in the themes it explores. The screenplay, co-written by Sole and Rosemary Ritvo, mires us in not just the present of this estranged family, but their past too, condemning these adults for their neglect of Alice. It’s not just the parents, most of the adults featured quickly lose control, as grief and fear consume them, some to a hysterical extent. The finger pointing seems to accelerate the psychological issues Alice suffers from, as she starts to lean into the darkness people suspect her of, leaving some of her actions and motivations rather ambiguous.

Beyond this family unit, the second target the film takes aim at is Religion. A strong element in the lives of these characters and one that has not only failed to give them the support and guidance they needed, but seems to exacerbate problems further, through the action/inaction of individuals as well as it’s impotence as an entity. Even the film’s final scene highlights yet another failure by the Church (or specifically Father Tom) to prevent another loss and Alice’s eventual path, further showcasing the folly of faith.

The Package

Arrow presents a new transfer,from a 4K scan and restoration. Good detail, with solid blacks and contrast throughout. Earthy tones dominate and are well represented, the flashes of blood or other more garish 70s colors are vibrant. Grain is preserved, natural and adding texture, while no artifacts or damage is evident. Extra features also impress:

  • Brand new audio commentary with Richard Harland Smith: A really insightful commentary that delves into the themes and symbolism of the film, notably touching on how Catholicism is handled and also the contrast made between adults and children in the film
  • Archival audio commentary with co-writer/director Alfred Sole and editor Edward Salier: Production details and also stories about how the film benefited from collaboration and contributions from many involved. Not as deep as the Harland Smith commentary, but still worth a listen
  • First Communion: Alfred Sole Remembers Alice, Sweet Alice — director Alfred Sole looks back on his 1976 classic: Some interesting tidbits on the production, and how the release/distribution was handled, as well as some great details about his other work ventures
  • In the Name of the Father — brand new interview with actor Niles McMaster:
  • Alice on My Mind: An interview with composer Stephen Lawrence.
  • Sweet Memories: Dante Tomaselli on Alice, Sweet Alice — filmmaker Dante Tomaselli, cousin of Alfred Sole, discusses his longtime connection to the film: A more personal contribution that stands out as a result, reminiscing about his relationship, the impact on his own career, and a planned remake of the film
  • Lost Childhood: The Locations of Alice, Sweet Alice — a tour of the original Alice Sweet Alice shooting locations hosted by author Michael Gingold
  • Alternate Holy Terror Television Cut: Another edit of the film (under it’s original title) that seems to just have some minor editing differences for TV and an alternate title card
  • Deleted scenes: Salvaged from the original negatives during the restoration process. No audio unfortunately
  • Alternate Opening Titles
  • Trailer and TV Spot
  • Original screenplay
  • Image gallery
  • Liner Booklet: Notes on the release, an essay by Michael Blyth on the films themes and genre influences, an a mini-poster

The Bottom Line

Spiritually, Alice, Sweet Alice feels like an Americanized Giallo. But while it certainly pulls from differing horror elements and social themes, they all combine into something richly textured, distinct, and thoroughly disconcerting. Arrow video have put together a superb release for a film that deserves your attention.

Alice, Sweet Alice from Arrow Video is available via MVD from August 6th

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