31 Days of Halloween — Day 5: Alice, Sweet Alice (1976) — by Dr. Shock

Alice, Sweet Alice 1976

Editor’s note: Dave “Dr. Shock” Becker is a host on Horror Movie Podcast and the Land of the Creeps horror podcast. He is also the mastermind behind DVDInfatuation.com, a movie review blog where he is watching and posting one review every day until he reaches at least 2,500 movie reviews. Follow Doc on Twitter: @DVDinfatuation.

My good friend and fellow podcaster, Jason Pyles (aka Jay of the Dead of Horror Movie Podcast), has been singing the praises of 1976’s “Alice, Sweet Alice” for years. Yet, despite his often-passionate recommendations, this is the first time I’ve ever seen the movie. There’s no good reason why, I suppose; I just hadn’t gotten around to watching it.

And now, I have.

Set in the early 1960s, “Alice, Sweet Alice” takes us to the small town of Patterson, New Jersey, where what should have been a peaceful First Communion ceremony at the local church instead becomes the scene of a horrible murder. It seems that a masked killer has taken a special interest in the Spages family: mother Catherine (Linda Miller) and daughters Alice (Paula Sheppard) and Karen (a very young Brooke Shields), and many in this close-knit community, including Catherine’s sister Annie (Jane Lowry) and the entire police force, believe the murderer is none other than Alice Spages! Try as they might, neither Catherine nor her ex-husband Dominick (Miles McMaster) can convince the authorities that their daughter is innocent. Even Father Tom (Rudolph Willrich), a catholic priest who’s taken the family under his wing, has his suspicions that Alice is deeply disturbed (due mostly to her erratic behavior in school), and fully capable of committing such atrocities. But is Alice truly the guilty party, or is the killer still on the loose?

Now, that’s far from the most detailed synopsis ever written for “Alice, Sweet Alice”, but the reason it’s so basic is that I don’t want to spoil a single second of this film for you. What happens at the church during the First Communion service shocked the hell out of me, and there are other moments throughout that had a similar effect. Trust me when I tell you, this is not a movie you want to know a lot about before sitting down to watch it.

So, what can I talk about? Well, I really liked the gritty look and feel of “Alice, Sweet Alice,” which gave it a ‘70s exploitation vibe; and while the kill scenes aren’t the goriest you’ll ever see, they’re certainly brutal, and occasionally happen so quickly that they catch you off-guard.

In addition, the performances across the board are strong, especially that of Paula Sheppard as Alice. From the start, it’s obvious that Alice is a very peculiar girl. She has a tempestuous relationship with the family’s obese landlord (Alphonso DeNoble), whom she insults every chance she gets (though not without reason, as we learn later on); and is jealous of her sister, Karen, who appears to be their mother’s favorite (a scene with the two young siblings in an abandoned warehouse is one of many destined to stick with you). There are even some uncomfortable moments when Alice seems to be exploring her sexuality. Whether she’s a killer or not, Alice definitely has deep-seated issues, and Miss Sheppard (in her screen debut) does a fine job with what I can only imagine was a difficult role to play.

One last point: “Alice, Sweet Alice” features a major twist with regards to the murders that, had it come at the end of the film, might have sunk it. But because there’s still plenty of movie to go (about a half hour or so), the filmmakers have time to explain this surprising turn of events, and while I’m not sure I buy it 100%, at least I understand it.

If you haven’t seen “Alice, Sweet Alice”, take my advice: don’t read anything about it (other than this, of course), and don’t watch the trailer. Go into the film completely cold. You’ll be glad you did.

And be sure to thank Jason for championing this movie. I owe you one, sir.

— Dr. Shock

Links for Dr. Shock:
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Dr. Shock also appears on this horror podcast: Land of the Creeps

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7 thoughts on “31 Days of Halloween — Day 5: Alice, Sweet Alice (1976) — by Dr. Shock


    Day 05 – Return of the Living Dead II (1988)

    My memories of Return of the Living Dead 2 can best be summed up as “Enjoyable and far more fun than the original.” As it turns out, sometimes your memories can be wrong. Very wrong. On the surface, Return 2 should have been a success. After all, if I had to compare it to any film, the first one that popped into my head was Evil Dead 2. Both Return 2 and Evil Dead 2 were essentially remakes of the original with enough tweaks to “Get away” with calling it a sequel in name only. Another similarity is the fact that both sequels stood out from their predecessors by injecting a lot more comedy into their film. For Evil Dead 2, that worked out just fine seeing as the original Evil Dead was a fully serious horror and the addition of comedy freshened up the story some. Unlike Evil Dead, Return of the Living Dead already had a good amount of comedy, causing it’s sequel to come across as more cheesy than entertaining.

    The over reliance on comedy was one of the clearer weaknesses of Return 2. It was simply one corny gag after another, while none of them resembled anything scary. In the original film, most of the zombies are attempting to make it seem as if they’re in pain and in desperate need of brains to reduce their agony. In Return 2, the zombies are not only not noticeably in pain, but they rarely even act like zombies. There’s many times where they’re just hanging out as if they’re not undead. It’s a little jarring to see zombies acting so unlike zombies. Although I’m not a lover of the original Return, even I have to admit it found a good balance between comedy and still taking itself seriously. Return 2 is never able to find that sweet balance.

    Personally, my biggest gripe with Return 2 were the characters. Frankly, I could not get into any of them. Initially, I got a few chuckles out of the young Jesse and his far too intelligent one liners, but this kid quickly became grating and just annoying. Although I’m a big Thom Mathews fan, the random return of Mathews and James Karen (Freddy and Frank from the original film) seemed fairly pointless to me. With new character names and occupations, their story was identical to what happened to them in the original film. The problem is it didn’t fit in the story at all. In the original film, the zombies were created due to Frank showing Freddy the zombies in the barrels down in the basement. All of the other teens were friends of Freddy so that even once Freddy’s role was diminished, he was still naturally tied into the story. Here, Joey (Mathews) and Ed (Karen) were not responsible for causing the zombie outbreak and other than a quick run in with Jesse, they weren’t involved with the other characters prior to the events of this movie. To make matters worse, Joey’s girlfriend, Brenda, has to be one of the most annoying characters I can remember seeing recently in horror. She screams and whines every time she has a line to say. If that wasn’t bad enough, she has one of the lamest deaths ever as she just gives in and allows Joey to eat her brain after Joey became a zombie. What a worthless character.

    Despite the fact that the film was a massive disappointment, it wasn’t all bad though. Some of the comedy gags did work for me, despite how cheesy they are. For example, the one moment of the film that I always instantly think of when it comes to Return 2 is the cameo of the Michael Jackson Thriller zombie. Sure, it’s a stupid brief moment, but I always get a kick out of it. Likewise, I liked the moment with the zombie hand being detached, landing on the road, and giving the audience the middle finger. I also found the make-up on the zombies to be superior to the original film. In the original, a lot of the random cannon fodder zombies look as if all they did was throw some mud on the extras and ruled that was good enough. At this point, I’m actively struggling to think of more positives to say about this film.

    Overall, Return of the Living Dead II was a massive disappointment and destroyed my nostalgic memories of it. By injecting more comedy into the film, it became a corny mess that never finds it’s place unlike the original. The return of two of my favorite actors from the original feels forced and only became another negative due to my severe dislike of Mathews’ new girlfriend. The best recommendation I can give it is since it is so light on the scares and heavy on the cheesy gags, it’d likely work well with younger horror fans as they’re in that middle ground between watching things like Scooby Doo and Paranorman before watching more teenage appropriate horror. With the DVD not even including the original music and score, it just isn’t worth watching for any fans of the original though.

    Rating: 4/10

  2. Day 5: Baskin (2016)

    Rating: 6.5/10 (rental)

    — — — — — Contains spoilers — — — — —

    What I liked:
    – The artistry of this film is off the charts; it’s like a Dario Argento fever-dream
    – The soundtrack and sound design are awesome.
    – The colors and lighting, well-timed slow-motion sequences, dutch angles and key close ups are all beautiful.
    – The pacing is a bit jarring, juggling between endless dream loops and high-octane gore sequences; this creates a feeling of disorientation, which I’m guessing is intentional.

    What I didn’t like:
    – The story doesn’t really make sense; at least not to me.
    – The movie ends in a way that discounts everything that happened in the last act; it wasn’t the first time the film did this, either, and it flies in the face of the “we’re at a crossroads” line from earlier.

  3. Day 5: Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015)
    Rating: 6.5/10

    This was a fun teen zombie movie. At least I’m assuming some of the jokes will play better for teens. Not too bad, but not too funny or scary.

  4. Day 5 – The Uninvited

    ***Spoilers Below***

    The Uninvited, a film I just discovered was a remake of the Japanese film A Tale of Two Sisters”, which is something I had never seen before. In most ways, The Uninvited is a satisfying film. Overall, I found it to be solidly watchable if not revelatory. The performances, especially the drop dead gorgeous Elizabeth Banks, are pretty good. There’s a twist in this film that I literally figured out at the earliest opportunity. At this point, the Sixth Sense plot twists should really be outlawed. The only people who don’t see these things coming are either under age 10 or are texting through the movie. This was one of the most obvious cases of an imagined character. I won’t detract it from my score of the film. Overall it’s just a middle of the road, fun to watch flick. 6.5/10

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