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With: Linda Miller, Mildred Clinton, Paula E. Sheppard, Niles McMaster, Jane Lowry, Rudolph Willrich, Michael Hardstark, Alphonso DeNoble, Gary Allen, Brooke Shields, Louisa Horton, Tom Signorelli, Lillian Roth, Patrick Gorman, Kathy Rich
Written by: Alfred Sole, Rosemary Ritvo
Directed by: Alfred Sole
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 108
Date: 11/13/1976

Alice, Sweet Alice (1977)

4 Stars (out of 4)

My Sister's Creeper

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In 1977, people like directors Robert Wise and Joshua Logan and critic Roger Ebert were predicting that Alfred Sole would become a household name, mentioned among the great filmmakers. And watching the restored director's cut of Alice, Sweet Alice, I can't disagree with them.

Alice, Sweet Alice was originally screened as Communion. It opened to terrific reviews and little box office. Then, a blessing and a curse: 12-year-old Brooke Shields, who is in the movie for only the first twenty minutes (she gets murdered), became a nation-wide star with her sexy Calvin Cline jeans ads. The movie was retitled as Alice, Sweet Alice and re-released, with Brooke at the top of the bill. People were understandably upset when they paid to see a movie with Brooke Shields, and she was gone after the first reel.

After 1978's Pretty Baby became a hit, the distributors tried again with the title Holy Terror, this time with 18 minutes of footage cut out. Again, it was a flop. Then, the movie ended up on bargain-bin video in the 1980s, and eventually nursed a small cult following. In 1997, the director was allowed to assemble his full 108-minute cut and release a letterboxed laserdisc with commentary and bonus items. It's about time.

Shields plays little Karen, a sweet girl who is excited about her nice, new communion dress. Her mean sister Alice (Paula Sheppard) likes to snatch her things and generally pick on her. A mysterious figure in a yellow raincoat and a creepy translucent mask appears and stabs Karen, killing her. Alice is blamed for the murder, and several adults worry and argue about what to do. The killer strikes again, and even today's audiences will not be able to guess who it really is. (Sole cleverly reveals the killer's identity at the 2/3rd mark, generating a different kind of suspense for the final stretch.)

Sole develops a very strange atmosphere, and the death of the pretty, good-natured Karen seems to hang over everything; her absence leaves a terrible void. Everyone left is off-kilter and peculiar, from the disgustingly fat, cat-loving landlord (Alphonso De Noble), and the local priest (Rudolph Willrich), to the cranky Italian lady (Mildred Clinton), who cares for an old invalid, to the estranged, philandering husband (Niles McMaster), to Alice's shrieking, harpy-like aunt (Jane Lowry), and her wimpy husband. Linda G. Miller plays Alice and Karen's mother, perhaps the most sympathetic character outside of Karen. Sole uses striking colors to punctuate the grim atmosphere, and occasionally an extremely wide angle will crop up to accentuate the feeling of unease; even the sound is tricky.

Sole has been compared to Roman Polanski, Hitchcock and Fellini. Those are all correct, but I would throw in Dario Argento as well, and add that he's not just a copycat. Sole was an artist purging his own demons, doing his own thing. Unfortunately, he only completed two more films after this one, Tanya's Island (1981) and Pandemonium (1982). He has since become a production designer for television.

Alice Sweet Alice has gone in and out of print on DVD, and now it's back as part of a four-disc set from VCI Entertainment. The transfer of Alice Sweet Alice is the full-length, restored version, though the quality could be better. The set features twelve films in all. I'm not sure about any of the others, but I suspect that they're mostly enjoyable trash: Beast of the Yellow Night (1971), Beyond Atlantis (1973), Death Game (1976), Don't Open the Door (1975), House of the Living Dead (1976), The Night Creature (1978), Scream Bloody Murder (1973), Sisters Of Death (1978), Twilight People (1972), The Vampire Happening (1971), and Young Hannah: Queen of the Vampires (1972).

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