Alice (Paula E. Sheppard) is a troubled child who is jealous of the attention her mother Catherine (Linda Miller) gives younger daughter Karen (Brooke Shields), so much so that she likes to bully her and then complain when Karen goes crying to their mother. It is almost time for the little girl's first Communion, and so Alice is taking every opportunity to upset her, including locking her in an abandoned factory, although she relents quickly when her sister starts to panic. But how deep do Alice's feelings of resentment travel? Would she be so psychopathic as to actually attack her - even kill her?
Alfred Sole did not make many films during his directorial career, but the ones he did offer the world were, it's safe to say, fairly distinctive. It's a tie between whether this film or his weirdo ape lust follow up Tanya's Island was the more memorable of his works, but few who see Alice Sweet Alice are likely to forget its peculiarly grim take on religion, specifically Catholicism which according to this spawns nothing but misery. Certainly nobody we see in this benefits from its influence, from Alice's dysfunctional family all the way to the New Jersey town's priest, Father Tom (Rudolph Willrich), who finds all his faith comes to naught in the face of the evil it has unleashed. But what the film asks us is, could a child be responsible?
Or is a child so twisted by the guilt the religion has brewed inside her mind that she is willing to turn to murder? What leads us to this question occurs in the first fifteen minutes, when at the Communion Karen is suddenly strangled by someone who looks like Alice in disguise: she wears the same bright yellow raincoat and has a mask covering her features that we have seen she likes to wear. However, we have also seen that her coat is widely bought, and those masks are on sale in a local store, so could it be that we are being misdirected? In truth, the final shot means that we are never one hundred percent sure, but there is a killer revealed who you could settle on as the culprit for every death depicted.
Nobody in the film saw that it was an Alice lookalike who killed Karen of course, so we are not as much in the dark as they are, not at first anyway. But Sole goes out of his way to make the viewer uncomfortable, from the grotesque landlord Mr Alphonse (the massively corpulent Alphonso DeNoble) to the violence, which looks uncomfortably realistic for such a low budget movie. It's a pity that the director opted to go for histrionics in the dramatic scenes, although to his credit the grief that Catherine exhibits feels genuine and understandable, but too many of the clashes between the characters end with lots of yelling. It could have been a tighter film in its suspense as well, as often the tension is allowed to slacken.
But in its favour, that tension never quite evaporates, even when perhaps too soon we see the identity of the killer. Whether Catholicism, or religious belief in general, can turn its adherents into raving slasher villains is debatable, after all there are millions of people who consider themselves religious who wouldn't dream of bumping anyone off, but this does not seem to have crossed Sole's mind when he was writing the film (with Rosemary Ritvo). Indeed, he comes across as having a real problem, an overwhelming grudge in fact, about the faith that informs the savagery of the behaviour it brings out. Scenes such as Alice's aunt, another who argues with her, getting stabbed in the legs and feet by the raincoat wearer are truly nasty, and that's only in the opening half of the story. It all boils down to how much the outlook that the characters cleave to can mess with your mind, and if it does create bigotry how far it will pollute your rationality. Music by Stephen Lawrence.