This is the sixth in a recurring series I will be doing highlighting obscure, unknown, forgotten and underrated horror movies. The goal is to bring to light great horror of yesterday and today that just is not on most people’s radar. Just assume spoilers will be included. Enjoy.
Obscurity. This is the world of 1970’s horror movies. Buried by an avalanche of horror that was produced in the 1980’s further obscured by low production qualities, loss of original prints and very low budgets which left some movies completely unwatchable to the modern eye. Certainly, there are many great and iconic films to come from the 1970’s like Alien, Suspiria, The Exorcist and The Omen but once you get outside of the top 25 or so from the decade, quality takes a nose dive faster than the general public’s awareness of the films.
Many of the horror films in the 1970’s played more like dramas and murder mysteries with a subtle hint of the horror element. During this period there were many movies which fell into the ‘Giallo’ category. Many of these films like Deep Red and A Bay of Blood were seen retrospectively as the progenitors of the slasher sub-genre, which is one of the 1970’s greatest exports to the horror genre. One film commonly overlooked in this discussion (as well as the creepy kid horror and coming of age subgenres) is the 1976 classic Alice, Sweet Alice.
Have you ever watched Alice, Sweet Alice? No? OMG, let me tell you about it.
Alice, Sweet Alice is one of those films that is just waiting for a group of intellectuals to decipher all of its potential deep meanings and symbolism. Let me see if I can go through some of them with a limited amount of intellectual effort as I could put into such things:
First there is the religious aspect and the obvious interpretations. The movie opens as Alice and her sister are preparing for their first communion and it’s at this first communion ceremony where Alice’s sister is strangled by the masked killer, put into a wooden box and lit on fire. Throughout the movie while looking for the killer the parents seemingly spend more time with the local priest than they do with the police. As the identity of the killer is revealed as well as her motivations, to kill sinners, the movie begins to work as an early version of Se7en. An interesting tidbit of information, the director, Alfred Sole, before the release of this film directed a XXX film Deep Sleep and due to this was prosecuted in New Jersey for obscenity and ex-communicated from the Catholic church. Is this film trying to tell us something positive about the Catholic church? Is it trying to condemn the church, as message from Alfred Sole to the institution that turned their back on him and his art? Only Alfred Sole will know.
Another interpretation for this film is that of a young girl coming of age movie. Alice’s age is never said but she is somewhere between a child and a woman. Throughout the film she is suspected of murdering her sister due to her newly found attitude issues. Perhaps her violent actions are a metaphor for her leaving the innocence of being a child behind as she grows into adulthood? It is revealed that Alice has hidden the fact that she is menstruating from her parents. Perhaps her behavior is a reaction to her parent’s divorce? Or maybe, just maybe it has something to do with the grotesque, fat, slovenly, cat hoarding landlord who tries to molest young Alice? Or the creepy cop who comments a little too much on young girls’ breasts? Or the doctor at the girl’s school who stares a little bit too long?
Me personally? I have no want or need to invoke such firing of brain synapses required to interpret art, I simply enjoy it. When I sit down to watch a movie I still see it as escapism, I don’t want to be bothered with reality of the social/political drama of the day, for an hour and a half I want to be entertained. I want good story, mediocre or better acting and for a horror movie, blood, breasts and beast. And for those like me, there is enough fun and gore to enjoy as there is Catholic symbolism.
The pacing of the film starts out slow, even though a girl is lit on fire and a woman is stabbed multiple times by a masked figure to great hysterics. We follow the police and the parents as they try to find their daughter’s killer and debate whether Alice could really do something so terrible. Many of these 1970’s horror movies play out more like drama then they do pure horror movie and these movies need the first act to give you all the character details necessary to make you care about the characters and understand them and their motivations. Alice, Sweet Alice is no different as the first act is basically, here are all the characters and all you need to know about them.
The second act, interestingly enough, reveals the identity of the killer, something that typically takes place in the finale of the film, but this movie does it to ramp up the violence and for the killer to provide some motivation. We get a man stabbed multiple times, beaten with a brick, beaten with a shoe and shoved out of a window. The killer is revealed to be an assistant at the church, Mrs. Tredoni, who mentions that children are punished for the sins of their parents. She assaults Alice’s father for committing pre-marital sex and having a child out of wedlock, she attacks Alice’s mother for being a whore and screams at a priest for giving communion to a whore before violently stabbing him to death. Perhaps the religious interpretation is correct?
With the killer revealed, the third act is all tension to the inevitable finale. The tension is thick, by this time you know Mrs. Tredoni is the killer, you know what her motivations are and who might be next, and it puts you right on the edge of your seat waiting for it to happen. Every scene she’s either lurking, ranting or wielding a knife. Is she going to kill again? Is she going to be captured? Is she going to be reckless or reserved? This is great story telling and this is great tension.
Alice, Sweet Alice is a phenomenal proto-slasher flick which is really director Alfred Sole’s masterpiece. Other than the XXX film that got him excommunicated from the church, his only other film of note was the 1982 slasher spoof Pandemonium that starred Paul Ruebens aka Pee Wee Herman. A fantastic film that can either be interpreted deep or looked at shallow as the bloody slasher it is.
Want more from this series? Just search below: