• Alice, Sweet Alice (Arrow Video) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: August 6th, 2018.
    Director: Alfred Sole

    Cast: Lina Miller, Mildred Clinton, Paula Sheppard, Niles McMaster, Tom Signorelli, Brooke Shields
    Year: 1976
    Purchase From Amazon

    Alice, Sweet Alice – Movie Review:

    Alfred Sole’s 1976 picture begins when a ten-year-old girl named Karen Spages (Brooke Shields) is murdered in a church on the day of her first communion. Her older sister Alice (Paula Sheppard) exhibits some strange behavior, skulking about the apartment building where the family lives sporting a strange, semi-translucent mask – naturally, people start to wonder if maybe she didn’t have something to do with Karen’s death. In fact, most of the other people in the building seem to think she’s more than just a little strange. Her mother and father - Catherine (Linda Miller) and Dom (Niles McMaster) – who are no longer together, don’t seem suspicious of Alice at all, however.

    When Alice’s aunt Annie (Jane Lowry) accuses the girl of attacking her with a knife, the police become involved but Dom and his former brother-in-law, a kindly priest named Father Tom (Rudolph Willrich), decide to do some investigating of their own, wondering if Annie’s equally troubled daughter Angela (Kathy Rich) might not have had something to do with all of this. Soon enough, Alice is sent to a psychiatric hospital… but while she’s interned there, another murder occurs. This leads to Alice’s release, but it seems someone has it in for the Spages family…

    More of a psychological thriller than a traditional slasher picture, the film (originally to be named Communion and also known as Holy Terror) is a bit of a slow burn but an effective one. Occasionally a bit on the melodramatic side, the film tells an interesting story with some unexpected twists and turns keeping audiences engaged from start to finish. Shot on location in and around Paterson, New Jersey the picture does an interesting job of working Catholic imagery and iconography into the production to nice effect – particularly in the last scene. The film is well-shot and makes good use of some solid location work, the apartment building in particular has a strange vibe to it that really suits the story quite nicely. The film also does a good job of building up the family dynamic that exists between the different characters. This is where the melodrama inherent in the story comes into play, but it suits the characters well enough and never feels too overdone.

    Performance-wise, Brooke Shields is the biggest name in the film (something various releases of the movie have done their best to capitalize on) but her part is really pretty minor and she’s not in the film for more than a few minutes. Paula Sheppard, who would show up in Liquid Sky a few years later, is very good in her role. She plays Alice well, bringing a mischievous sense of playfulness to the part when called for but also able to convey both sadness and confusion believably. Linda Miller (who went on to do Night Of The Juggler) and Niles McMaster (who had a part in Bloodsucking Freaks!) are pretty strong in their respective parts, while Jane Lowry chews a bit of the scenery as Alice’s hysterical aunt.

    It's worth noting that the elements used for this release (the original negative) use the original Communion title card.

    Alice, Sweet Alice – Blu-ray Review:

    NOTE: The Blu-ray portion of this review is based on a test disc, not a finished retail version of the release.

    Arrow brings Alice, Sweet Alice to Blu-ray on a 50GB Blu-ray disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer that is taken from a ‘brand new 2K restoration of the theatrical version from the original camera negative.’ Framed in its original 1.85.1 widescreen aspect ratio, the movie looks great. Previously released in the UK by 88 Films on a disc that was sourced from a print, this new negative sourced transfer looks much, much better. The biggest difference is in the color reproduction, the image no longer looks murky and faded but crisp, clean and nicely hued. Black levels are strong and detail is considerably improved here as well, as are depth and texture. There’s a little bit of noticeable damage in the opening credits but otherwise, the image is pretty much pristine. On top of that, it retains a proper, filmic texture from start to finish, meaning we get plenty of natural looking film grain and no noticeable problems with noise reduction or edge enhancement.

    The only audio option on the disc is an English language LPCM mono track with optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing provided. Clarity and quality are fine. The track is properly balanced and quite clean. Dialogue is easy to understand and to follow, the score sounds good, and there aren’t any issues with any hiss or distortion to note.

    Extras start off with a brand new audio commentary with Richard Harland Smith that starts off by positing that this film is not only underrated but misunderstood. He makes the case for this, and then goes on to discuss the themes that the movie deals with as he talks up the locations used in the film such as the Patterson United Church from the opening, Brooke Shields’ involvement in the picture, where some of the interiors were shot (including a building that was once the home of the Mayor of Patterson), the film’s connection to Annie Hall, the original script and changes that were made as the film evolved in its production, the weirdness of Alice’s relationship with Mr. Alfonzo and Alfred Sole’s troubles with the law. He also talks about the tension that exists between the family members in the picture, the unique use of stairs in the movie, the use of New York theater actors in this and other NYC area horror movies of the day, the production design and its importance to the film, some of the more unique camera movements featured in the film and quite a bit more. It’s well-researched and interesting, covering a lot of ground and delivered in Smith’s typically listenable style.

    Also included on the disc is the archival audio commentary by Director Alfred Sole and Editor Edward Salier that has appeared on earlier DVD editions of the movie and on the 88 Films Blu-ray release. Moderated by Bill Lustig, it’s an interesting, well-paced track that has Sole talking about how and why this movie came to exist, the locations, the cast and more. Salier talks about putting the film together and working with Sole on it. Some good stories here about shooting in the New Jersey of the 1970’s, working on the film with only a modest budget, the costumes used in the film, and quite a bit more.

    Moving on to the featurettes, we start with First Communion: Alfred Sole Remembers Alice, Sweet Alice, a nineteen-minute piece in which the director talks about how his love of movies led to his getting into the film business, getting his start with the X-rated Deep Sleep and the trouble he got in with that production, moving on to make Alice, Sweet Alice, where the ideas for the picture came from and how he financed the film, casting the picture, working with Shields and her mother, how he did a lot of ‘learning as you go’ on the shoot, legal troubles that came from Deep Sleep while he was shooting Alice, Edward Salier’s editing on the picture, the film’s distribution, the paperback tie-in that was released under the Communion title and more.

    Alice On My Mind is an interview with composer Stephen Lawrence that runs fifteen-minutes. In this piece he speaks about how he came to write the score for the movie, what went into creating the opening title music, how he pictured ‘a cloud of bad karma’ over the city which is what he tried to set to music and his thoughts on the picture. He plays some selections from the film on his piano in this piece too, which is kind of neat. He also talks about how he got into the scoring business, his background as a pianist and the different tasks that he did in the music business before and since (he worked on Sesame Street!).

    Actor Niles McMaster is up next in the sixteen-minute In The Name Of The Father. In this featurette, which was conducted via Skype so keep your expectations in check as far as quality goes, he talks about his time in the Marine Corps, getting into acting after coming back to the United States and dealing with some personal issues and working in real estate for a while. He talks about doing live theater in Chicago, his thoughts on working with Sole and Sole’s background in porn, his thoughts on religion and Catholicism, how he got along with this co-stars and having to clear out of the morgue they were shooting in when a fire brought five bodies in and cut the shoot short. He also talks for a few minutes about his work on Joel Reed’s infamous Bloodsucking Freaks, which they shot over two weeks in SoHo – he shot this at night and during the day worked on a soap opera.

    Lost Childhood: The Locations of Alice, Sweet Alice is a sixteen-minute tour of the original shooting locations conducted by author Michael Gingold. Here we get a chance to check out the area where the church and rectory buildings used to be (it’s now some office buildings), some of the homes that were used in the film, the public school that doubled for the children’s shelter in the film, a park that was used in the shoot (including some deleted material from that scene that was never used and the accompanying script pages), the Ivanhoe Wheelhouse that had an active waterfall when the movie was made (dried up when Gingold arrived there) and a few other spots.

    Sweet Memories: Dante Tomaselli On Alice, Sweet Alice is an eleven-minute piece in which filmmaker/musician Dante Tomaselli, who is the cousin of Alfred Sole, talks about how he was six years old when the movie was made. He talks about how his father supplied the dresses, veils and gloves used in the church scenes, getting to know his uncle as he grew up, getting invited to the set of a Mary Lambert music video to hang out with Sole (who worked as the production designer on the video), how he was uncomfortable hearing about Deep Sleep when he was a kid, his own personal love of horror films even at a young age, his thoughts on Alice, Sweet Alice and the impact that the film still has to this day, not being able to see the picture until he was older (via the Goodtimes Video VHS), reading about the film in Fangoria and learning that it had a fan base, auditioning one of the actresses from the film – Mildred Clinton - for his debut, Desecration, and the remake of the film that he’s been working on for some time now.

    Arrow also includes two deleted scenes from the film that were discovered when scanning the negative. They’re presented without sound as there was no audio found – the conversation at the park that is shown in the locations featurette, and a quick bit with the clerk that gives Dom Spages the phone. This runs just short of three-minutes in total. The alternate opening titles that use the Alice, Sweet Alice title are included here and run just over a minute in length, as is a UK TV spot and the film’s original theatrical trailer (which does an amazing job of overselling Shields’ involvement and that uses the Holy Terror title).

    The alternate Holy Terror cut (1:47:13 versus the feature version’s running time of 1:47:05), which was released on VHS in 1981, is also included here. It incorporates the alternate title card and is features some slightly different, and admittedly quite minor, editing differences. Still, great to have it here. It’s been sourced from the same restoration used for the feature version but conformed to a tape found in the Warner Brothers archives bearing the Holy Terror title. You can watch it with optional English subtitles.

    Rounding out the extra on the disc is a substantial still gallery, menus and chapter selection. For the BD-Rom equipped, you can also access a PDF of the film's original screenplay.

    Alice, Sweet Alice – The Final Word:

    Alice, Sweet Alice is an interesting and effective thriller with some decent performances, solid twists and an unusual but intriguing vibe to it – essential viewing for horror fans. Arrow Video has done an excellent job bringing this one to Blu-ray with a great presentation and an impressive array of extra features. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Alice, Sweet Alice Blu-ray screen caps!