Alice, Sweet Alice

A withdrawn 12-year-old (Paula Sheppard) becomes the prime suspect when her younger sister (Brooke Shields) is murdered during her first communion, in Alice, Sweet Alice – AKA Communion, Holy Terror and Feather Ded. OK I made that last one up.

In the decade of The Omen and The Exorcist, ’70s horror was obsessed with religion – but few flicks were as unambiguously anti-Christianity as this 1976 slasher. Here the villain is not the devil but the Catholic Church itself, which director Alfred Sole paints in broad, comical strokes as a deeply creepy institution that rewards zealotry and punishes difference.

The picture emphasises the sinister control the Church exercises over Alice’s school and home life, insisting on handling the case internally – ie. not at all. They quickly scapegoat the young non-conformist in a manner befitting an organisation whose idea of evidence is a soiled bit of cloth.

Sole’s unsettling direction includes a Vertigo-esque bell tower sequence and Don’t Look Now mac – find it on the horror raincoat rail between Dressed to Kill and Single White Female.

A lack of likeable characters keeps it from becoming the best film set in Paterson, New Jersey thanks to Jim Jarmusch, but we do sympathise with Alice’s discontent in a similar way to Tony in Xtro. The movie is also notable for its distinctly giallo flavour and the cinematic debut of confused vegan Brooke Shields.

More interesting than your average slasher, Alice, Sweet Alice is what happens when Hitchcock meets Hitchens. It’s not exactly Mass entertainment, but beatiful in its own way.


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