Release Date(s)1976 (August 6, 2019)
Studio(s)Harristown Funding, Ltd./Allied Artists/Warner Bros. (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A-
Whether it’s appreciated for its exploration of the facets of Catholicism, its take on how a broken marriage can affect both parents and their children, or its memorable horror sequences, Alice, Sweet Alice (aka Communion) managed to make its mark, mostly on home video throughout the 1980s. Besides featuring a performance from a young Brooke Shields, its slicker-clad, translucent mask-wearing, knife-wielding killer persona, as well as its unorthodox themes and unsettling atmosphere, was a memorable entry in the horror genre for many who saw it.
In 1960s New Jersey, Karen (Brooke Shields) is due to take part in her First Communion at the insistence of her mother Catherine (Linda Miller). Jealous of the attention Karen is getting, her sister Alice (Paula Sheppard) is constantly berating her and acting up in front of everybody, which has been an on-going issue since Catherine’s divorce to their father Dominick (Niles McMaster). It doesn’t help that Catherine’s sister Annie (Jane Lowry) is also quite hard on Alice, making her feel like even more of an ugly duckling. During the Communion ceremony, Karen is murdered, and all eyes fall on the unstable Alice. Her father Dominick soon reappears and takes it upon himself to find out who was behind Karen’s murder and clear Alice’s name, even at the skepticism of everyone involved, including Detective Spina (Michael Hardstark), Father Tom (Rudolph Willrich), and the family’s oddball landlord Alphonso (Alphonso DeNoble).
The history of Alice, Sweet Alice is tricky. The film was released in several different forms in its lifetime outside of its initial theatrical release. It was recut and given different titles at various points, but for the majority of people who discovered it on VHS (as I did through Goodtimes Home Video – double featured with Psychomania), the title will always be Alice, Sweet Alice, which the film’s director, Alfred Sole, hated from the beginning.
Made independently, the film was originally meant to be released as Communion through Columbia Pictures, but the company backed out and a deal was struck instead with Allied Artists who gave the film its well-known moniker. Arguably, it’s more befitting since it actually gives you an idea of what the film is actually about, whereas the title of Communion is rather vague. Alternatively, the title Holy Terror from a theatrical re-release, cheapens the film even further.
Regardless of what it’s called, it’s a film that only gets better with age. Highly influenced by everything from Vertigo to The Godfather, and most especially Don’t Look Now, it’s an effective film with an interesting twist, which actually occurs in the middle of the film rather than at the end of it, further illustrating the Hitchcock influence. It also upset many folks who perceived it as an attack on Catholicism, which is clearly not the case. One disturbed individual doing something in the name of religion does not equate to belief as a whole, but I digress.
There are also plenty of memorable performances, though some believe them to be over the top. On the other hand, the murder sequences are absolutely gripping. Director Alfred Sole believed that on-screen deaths were made up of clichés with no real impact, opting instead for them to be a bit more sloppy and relatable. As such, characters are stabbed in the thigh or the foot (in a scene that has given the film its legs, so to speak), they’re hit in the face with shoes, or they’re dumped from high places. These moments often lack score as well, making them even creepier.
It’s not a perfect film as it does leave you with a few questions at the end (not to mention a brief moment of animal cruelty), but Alice, Sweet Alice is more than just a genre film looking to get a large body count. The emotions of the characters, the impact of the murders, and the relationships and dynamics between mothers and daughters and husbands and wives gives the film an edge over its slasher counterparts. And with a score by Stephen Lawrence that seems like an Sicilian mobster film and funeral dirge combo, it oozes atmosphere until the final frame.
Arrow Video debuts Alice, Sweet Alice on Blu-ray in the U.S. with a 2K restoration taken from a new 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative, which was performed by Warner Bros. Picture Imaging. The negative also includes the original title Communion. To say that this a vast improvement over any previous home video release of the film would be an understatement. It never looked that good on VHS or DVD, but it soars on BD. The grain structure is solid, though not altogether even due to the stock used at the time. Overall clarity is improved ten-fold with high levels of fine detail in close-ups, in backgrounds, and especially in shadows. The color palette is often lush outside of drab New York apartment environments while skin tones are entirely natural. Black levels are deep, though occasionally lightened up by grain, and overall brightness and contrast levels are precise. It’s also stable with only minor speckling leftover.
The audio for the film is included in English mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. Though from a single channel source, it’s much of the same. There’s a lot of texture to it; whether it be rain, kittens meowing, or people whispering, it offers plenty in terms of atmospherics. Dialogue is always clear and discernable, and even sound effects have a surprising amount of impact. It’s also clean with no leftover instances of hiss, crackle, distortion, or dropouts.
This release also offers a bounty of bonus materials, including a vintage audio commentary with director Alfred Sole and editor Edward Salier, moderated by William Lustig (who also performed duties on the film as a special make-up effects assistant, albeit and admittedly briefly); an audio commentary with author Richard Harland Smith, who gives a thoughtful analysis of the film, as well as plenty of background information about its cast and crew; First Communion: Alfred Sole Remembers Alice, Sweet Alice, a 19-minute interview with the director about how he got into the film business and the making of the film; Alice on My Mind, a 15-minute interview with composer Steven Lawrence who speaks about the film’s score and plays a few excerpts; In the Name of the Father, a 16-minute Skype interview with actor Niles McMaster; Lost Child: The Locations of Alice, Sweet Alice, a 12-minute walkthrough of the film’s shooting locations, hosted by Michael Gingold; Sweet Memories: Dante Tomaselli on Alice, Sweet Alice, a 12-minute interview with filmmaker Dante Tomaselli, cousin of Alfred Sole, who discusses his connection with the film; 2 short deleted scenes, which are presented without sound as the elements for them could not be located; a set of alternate opening credits with the title Alice, Sweet Alice; the trailer for the film under the title Holy Terror; the film’s UK TV spot under the title Communion double featured with Tintorera; an image gallery containing 40 on-set photos, behind-the-scenes stills, lobby cards, posters, newspaper clippings, trade ads, and home video covers; an alternate version of the film, entitled Holy Terror, which incorporates footage from the same transfer, supposedly contains extremely minor editing differences (yet oddly enough is 12 seconds longer), and features audio in English mono Dolby Digital with subtitles in English SDH; and the film’s original screenplay, available via BD-ROM in .PDF form. Also included within the package is a 2-sided fold-out poster and a 24-page insert booklet featuring cast and crew information, the essay Malice, Sweet Malice by Michael Blyth, and restoration information. All of this material is housed within a slipcase and a standard clear case with reversible artwork, which features new artwork on one side and the U.S. theatrical art for Alice, Sweet Alice on the other.
Many have tried to dismiss Alice, Sweet Alice as nothing more than a garden variety slasher film and lumped it in with everything that came after it. However, it has more in common with something like Psycho than it does with Halloween or Friday the 13th. It’s competent in all the right ways, and being that it was made with a lack of budget as the funds were acquired while filming, it’s all the more remarkable that it not only has a solid story, but a visual and aural cohesion as well. Arrow Video has finally given the film the treatment that it deserves, making it one of the year's true highlights. Highly recommended!
– Tim Salmons