Alice Sweet Alice: A Hidden Gem of 70’s Horror

Several horror movies are generally regarded as kickstarting the 1980’s slasher movie boom. Critics and fans alike hail John Carpenter’s Halloween as the subgenre’s official starting point. But it was Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho that shifted horror’s focus from aliens, Gothic monsters, and atomic beasts to the psycho-sexual killer. Somewhere in between these movies, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Black Christmas, and Bay of Blood all introduced future slasher tropes. A hidden gem released in 1976, Alice Sweet Alice quietly contributed to horror’s evolution in the 1970’s. Alternatively titled Communion and Holy Terror, the 70’s thriller famously introduced Brooke Shields to movie fans. In addition, Alice Sweet Alice took aim at the Catholic Church while paving the way for the 80’s slasher boom.

Alice Sweet Alice – Religion and Family

Though horror fans have largely forgotten or neglected it, film scholars have dissected director Alfred Sole’s proto-slasher. Not unlike The Exorcist, critics have regarded Alice Sweet Alice as harsh examination of Catholicism and family dissolution. In the 1970’s, filmmakers, regardless of genre, were pushing boundaries. This was also the decade that saw a sitting President facing impeachment, the end of the Vietnam War, rising crime, and the ‘War on Drugs’. Roe v Wade legalized abortion, states introduced no-fault divorce provisions, and church attendance continued to decline.

Not unlike The Exorcist, critics have regarded Alice Sweet Alice as harsh examination of Catholicism and family dissolution.

In this socio-cultural climate, The Exorcist served as a ‘pro-faith’ horror movie. Regardless of the movie’s intent, The Exorcist’s story of a priest who must regain his faith to vanquish evil reinforced the importance of Catholicism and the Church. Conversely, Alice Sweet Alice’s priest and the Church fail to save a family in crisis. In fact, Sole attributes the source of horror in his movie to the rigid morality of Catholicism itself. As film scholars have noted, Sole prominently places Catholic iconography throughout the movie. And Alice Sweet Alice’s brutal communion climax serves as the ultimate indictment of the Church’s failings.

Alice Sweet Alice a ‘Silent Partner’ in the Genesis of the Slasher

Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Black Christmas – they all contributed to what we now know as the slasher movie. Not surprisingly, critics don’t hold Friday the 13th in nearly the same regard. Nevertheless, Friday the 13th accomplished two things. First, Sean S Cunningham’s ‘Camp Blood’ brought the majority of slasher tropes together in one movie. It took the ‘Final Girl’ ethics and ‘stalk and slash’ of the above movies and mixed them with the elaborate death scenes of Giallo movies like Bay of Blood. Second, Friday the 13th scored the kind of box office success necessary to ignite a subgenre. That is, Friday the 13th confirmed that Halloween’s success wasn’t a fluke.

It’s the shocking violence that occasionally punctuates this thriller that distinguishes it from these other movies.

Lost among the shuffle of these movies, horror fans often forget Alice Sweet Alice’s contributions. Technically, it isn’t a slasher movie. Aside from the fact that the ‘slasher’ didn’t exist in 1976, it’s missing most of the subgenre’s tropes. But the thriller did something Friday the 13th would do several years late. Sole married together the psychological thrill with the Giallo’s brutal yet stylish violence. In terms of mood, Alice, Sweet Alice feels similar to other 1970’s thrillers including You’ll Like My Mother or The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane. It’s the shocking violence that occasionally punctuates this thriller that distinguishes it from these other movies. Four years later, Friday the 13th would emulate the same approach to much greater success.

Sharp Subtext Muddled By Some Convoluted Story-Telling

Neglected and often just forgotten, Alice, Sweet Alice isn’t a perfect thriller. Sole and Rosemary Ritvo’s screenplay doesn’t always merge its mystery and subtext in a cohesive fashion. The thriller’s ‘Bad Seed’ mystery of whether ‘Alice’ is indeed a killer fits nicely with Sole’s look into family breakdown. But the ‘bait and switch’ introduction of Mrs Tredoni as the true killer feels convoluted. Yes, it’s a story direction that aligns with Sole’s commentary on the Catholic Church and the movie’s visuals. Still it feels sudden and without much context for the audience.

Sole and Rosemary Ritvo’s screenplay doesn’t always merge its mystery and subtext in a cohesive fashion.

One of the problems with this twist is that it cheats the story that has unfolded up to that point. Little to no background about Mrs Tredoni has been offered to alert the audience. Instead it feels like the movie abruptly changes direction, sidelining much of the movie’s earlier story. It’s also a story development necessitating expository dialogue. Thematically, Mrs Tredoni’s character is essential to Sole’s exploration of Catholicism’s fading power. Yet it’s also a choice that makes the movie’s potentially haunting ending less impactful.

Alice Sweet Alice a Quietly Important 1970’s Horror Movie

Perhaps Alice Sweet Alice is too subdued as compared to some of the classics of 70’s horror. Arguably, Alfred Sole’s subsequent slide into obscurity didn’t help the movie’s profile either. Regardless of its cultural impact or lack thereof, Alice Sweet Alice critically dissected the Catholic Church’s waning influence in Western society. The religious thriller also quietly bridged a gap between 70’s and 80’s horror styles. To a lesser extent then a movie like Halloween, Alice Sweet Alice paved the way for Friday the 13th and the imitators it spawned. On its own merits, Alice Sweet Alice is one of the better 70’s horror movies you probably haven’t seen.

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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