In Paterson, New Jersey in 1961, Catherine Spages (Linda Miller) is visiting Father Tom (Rudolph Willrich) with her two daughters, nine-year-old Karen (Brooke Shields) and twelve-year-old Alice (Paula Sheppard), who both attend St. Michael’s Parish Girls’ School. Karen is preparing for her first communion, and Father Tom gives her his mother’s crucifix as a gift. A jealous Alice puts on a translucent mask, frightening Father Tom’s housekeeper, Mrs. Tredoni (Mildred Clinton). Later, Alice steals Karen’s porcelain doll and lures her into an abandoned building. She scares Karen with a double mask and locks her in a room. When Alice lets her out, she threatens her that she’ll never see the doll again if she tells anyone what happened.
On the day of her first communion, Karen is attacked and strangled in the church transept by a person wearing a translucent mask and a yellow raincoat. Her body is dragged away and dumped into a bench compartment, which is set on fire with a candle, but not before the crucifix is ripped from her neck. Smoke begins to fill the church. Meanwhile, Alice enters the church, carrying Karen’s veil. She kneels in place to receive communion when she hears a scream. A nun has entered the back room where the confessionals are located and discovers Karen’s dead body. People run in, horrified. Catherine is inconsolable.
After Karen’s funeral, Catherine’s ex-husband Dominick (Niles McMaster) arrives to help track down the killer. Annie (Jane Lowry), Catherine’s sister, moves in to help Catherine through her grief, but it is clear that Alice and Annie despise each other. Catherine sends Alice to deliver a rent check to their landlord, Mr. Alphonso (Alphonso DeNoble). When he fondles and attempts to molest her, Alice grabs one of his cats, distracting him so she can escape. She then goes down to the basement, where she lights a candle and puts on her mask. Meanwhile, descending the stairs to go shopping, Annie is attacked by a rain-coated figure in a mask who stabs her several times. At the hospital, Annie cries to her husband Jim that Alice tried to kill her. Catherine says that Annie is only accusing Alice of Karen’s murder to divert attention from her own daughter Angela, who was absent at the time of the murder. Alice is sent to a mental institution for evaluation.
At the hospital with Father Tom, Dominick receives a hysterical phone call from someone claiming to be Angela, saying that she has Karen’s crucifix and is in hiding. They agree to meet at an abandoned building. Outside, Dominick spots and then follows the rain-coated figure. He goes inside and up the stairs where the killer stabs him in the shoulder, and he is knocked out by a brick and tied up. Dominick regains consciousness and sees that the killer is in fact Mrs. Tredoni. She reveals that she stabbed Annie, whom she mistook for Catherine, whom she considers a whore. She calls Dominick and Catherine sinners because they had premarital sex. After Dominick bites the crucifix off her neck, Mrs. Tredoni beats him with a brick and pushes him out of the window.
After a pathologist (Lillian Roth) analyzes Dominick’s corpse, the crucifix is found, and Alice is released. After hearing of Dominick’s death, Catherine tries to visit Father Tom. He is not at home, but Mrs. Tredoni invites Catherine in. Mrs. Tredoni tells Catherine that she murdered Karen because her own daughter died on the day of her first communion; she then realized children are punished for the sins of their parents and that Mrs. Tredoni since devoted her life to the church and specifically, Father Tom. Mrs. Tredoni seemingly threatens Catherine with a knife when Father Tom arrives and the pair leave to pick Alice up from the mental institution, as the police have eliminated her as a suspect since she was incarcerated when Dominick was killed.
When Catherine and Alice go to church, Mrs. Tredoni sneaks into the apartment building. As Mrs. Tredoni bangs on Catherine’s apartment door, not realizing the pair are not in, Mr. Alphonso wakes up screaming, as Alice had put a jar of cockroaches on his belly before leaving. He spots Mrs. Tredoni and mistakes her for Alice. She stabs him twice and runs downstairs. However, Detective Spina witnesses her running out of the back entrance without the mask on.
Mrs. Tredoni goes to church, where the police are stationed outside. Father Tom denies her communion. Mrs. Tredoni points at Catherine, screams that he gave communion to a whore, and violently stabs Father Tom as the police rush in. Father Tom dies in Mrs. Tredoni’s arms. Alice walks out of the church with Mrs. Tredoni’s shopping bag, placing the bloodstained butcher knife into it.
For a film shot on a $350,000 budget and a 20-day shooting schedule, with a small and ever-changing crew that included many friends and family members (“Some of the end credits are made-up names to make it seem like a bigger budget movie,” Sole admits), Alice Sweet Alice is original and very well-made. To the film’s credit, its title character is not shown as a clichéd Omen-style demon-child or a Bad Seed-esque sociopath, but as a youngster coping with adolescent angst and the confusion of her own emerging sexuality amid a dysfunctional, broken family. The film’s shock sequences. especially the lengthy warehouse murder, prove the relatively inexperienced Sole to be a superb craftsman, with choreography of sound, action and image worthy of a minor Hitchcock and certainly equal to ’70s thriller specialists De Palma and Argento. At its heart Sole and Ritvo’s script is strongly anti-Catholic. The film portrays Catholics. especially the women, as slaves to the empty, archaic rituals of the Church and repressed and twisted by its over-whelming, omnipresent guilt. It is that facet of the Church not demonic forces, that leads to the psychosis and bloodshed that run through the film. “Making Deep Sleep had gotten me excommunicated from the Catholic Church, and I guess I was kind of pissed off.” Sole explains.
My main goal was to really capture the feeling of America and Catholicism at that period in the ’70s. Because I thought that was so important to the story. I set the murder before the mass – take my body, take my blood. That was my main goal in making the film. I wasn’t really paying attention to the outside world. My inspiration for these movies was that I loved horror films and, so, obviously it’s dark. It was Halloween and one of my neighborhood stores had the mask in a window, and at that time, in the ’70s, a clear plastic mask was kind of rare. I saw it in the window and the sun was hitting it and I said, “I gotta have this mask,” I bought several masks. And the same thing with the doll, the three-headed doll. I forget where I found it but I found it at some store and thought it would be perfect for her to have this doll in her hand. It took us a year to make this movie; we were stopping and starting, so I was gathering all this stuff prior to even starting production. So, I had the mask already, I had the doll. I developed the knife for the stabbing with my neighbor, who was an Industrial engineer. He made the knife for me. And I was just waiting for the funding. And that’s why, in the movie, I had (the killer) stop by the store and look at the mask, because that’s what I did.
“Mostly, though. I was into the symbolism of the Church. Like the communion you’re given wine and crackers, and it’s supposed to represent the blood and flesh of God: a whole room full of people eating the Skin and drinking the blood of God! it’s so bizarre and paganistic. I got off on the idea of incorporating actual death into those surroundings.” The entire cast was local and mostly nonprofessional: many of them were making their film debuts, including Sheppard and Niles McMaster (as Alice’s father), who later had a supporting role in the infamous Bloodsucking Freaks (1976). The late, 400-plus-pound Alphonso DeNoble, who played the unforgettably sleazy Mr. Alphonse, was a “local nut” whose regular job was as a bouncer at a Paterson gay bar. Lillian Roth, a 1930s star who disappeared in a haze of eight failed marriages and alcoholism, only to be rediscovered by TV’s This is Your Life. made a rare appearance as Alice’s pathologist. “Lillian was a sweetheart, and had the greatest. unbelievable Hollywood sob stories,” Sole says. And then there was little Miss Shields. “I saw her picture in a magazine and tracked her down through her mother.” Sole recounts. ‘Her mother has this rep of being this stage mother bitch but both of them were so sweet. Brooke’s mom cooked for us, helped out with the costumes; a really nice woman.” Paula Sheppard was actually nineteen when asked to play the role of the possibly homicidal preteen and this slightly wizened maturity gives Alice an aura of world-weary tragedy and awkwardly earned sympathy, even while she’s stealing her sister’s dolls or choking cats.
The production was periodically postponed during filming, with Sole stating that sometimes two to four week breaks would be taken between filming sessions due to budget issues. I watch a lot of movies and I’m a big fan of the movies; I always notice how important the score is. Music can make or break a scene. When a scene is not very great, the add on of music can influence that, and also when there’s no music. I think there are times where you don’t need music, so I’ve always said music can construct films. I wanted that feeling of tension and that feeling of a beating heart in the subconscious. Credit must also go to composer Stephen Lawrence’s rich, elegant and genuinely creepy neo-classical score, but what truly gives Alice, Sweet Alice its razor-sharp teeth is its amazing gallery of offbeat characters.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Brooke Shields was the first to be cast in the film after auditioning in New York City in 1975; director Sole had seen her modeling in advertisements prior, and contacted her mother about the film, expressing his interest in her playing the role of young Karen. It was also actress Paula Sheppard’s debut. Sheppard, a college student, was 19 at the time she played 12-year-old Alice, and was discovered by Sole working as a dancer in a local university’s stage productions. Alphonso De Noble, a New Jersey native, was cast as the tenacious landlord after director Sole had seen him impersonating a priest in local cemeteries. Sole had originally sought veteran stage actress Geraldine Page for the role of Mrs. Tredoni; Page, however, could not play the character due to obligations in a Broadway production, but recommended fellow stage actress Mildred Clinton, who played the role.
The film was shot on location in Paterson, New Jersey in 1975, though the film is set in the early 1960s; many of the crew, including cameramen and sound designers were from New York City. Sole, a native of Paterson, was working as an architect at the time and used several historic buildings which he had worked on restoring as filming locations, lending the film a modern Gothic aesthetic.
The murder scenes in the film in particular have been described by genre scholars as “stark and shocking,” and noted for their use of “powerful imagery” correlating with the film’s religious overtones. Catholic iconography is featured prominently throughout the film, including votive candles, crucifixes, and rosaries, as well as artistic depictions of the Virgin Mary in sculptures and paintings. For the film’s special effects, which included multiple murder sequences by bludgeoning and stabbing, Sole hired friend William Lustig, who would later direct the cult horror film Maniac (1980). Lustig also worked as an assistant cameraman on the film.
At the end of shooting, Sole and Ritvo were lucky enough to find Richard Rosenberg, a New York lawyer who coughed up the money to finish the film. Unbeknownst to the naive duo, Rosenberg’s money came with a catch the clause that final copyright be signed over to him. While the film won first prize at the Chicago Film Festival and high praise from critics (including Roger Ebert), Rosenberg’s inexperience as a producer led to a distribution deal with Columbia Pictures falling through, with the film eventually pawned off to struggling Allied Artists in 1977. Euphoria and disappointment came hand in hand as Sole watched his first serious film project meet its unfortunate fate, as Allied tacked on a schlocky horror movie opening and ad campaign typical of the time. ” I shot and created the poster and I had it already planned and even though the film was out of my hands, it was still great to see it with audiences back then.” he says. ‘They loved it. It was considered pretty bloody at the time, and when Aunt Annie got stabbed in the foot. people just went nuts.”
Sole enjoyed great success in England with the film, but Stateside Alice quickly faded from sight. mostly ignored by critics or derided for being “crude, gross and unpleasant.” The film was re-released in the early ’80s as Holy Terror to cash in on Shields’ then current success in The Blue Lagoon and other films: Rosenberg subsequently forgot to renew the film’s copyright, and it is now in the public domain. As a result. cheap video copies show up everywhere, and the film has even been shown on local PBS affiliates! “It’s a good thing that people can easily get to see it.” Sole says. “I never made any money from the film, I lost it. I still owe my mother money for that movie!” At least having tasted creative satisfaction with his second feature. Sole could only look forward to a future of bigger and better things. “I had gotten calls from agents, and had met a lot of people in the business. So I flew out to California.” he says. “And I couldn’t get arrested.
Director Alfred Sole Interview
You are a self-confessed Hitchcock fanatic. How deep is your commitment to the horror/fantasy genre?
Alfred Sole: Who isn’t a Hitchcock fan? I lean towards horror as it offers so many varied opportunities. COMMUNION is a “kill me, kill me, and have fun” picture. My next, GRAY RHAPSODY, is a different psychological drama with more character development.
I made Deep Sleep (1972) as a start in the movies. Tax shelters were around and where I live there are lots of lawyers and bankers, so I scrounged the money, just to get started. It’s been a long haul with COMMUNION. The film has been around for 18 months and although we won an award at the Chicago Film Festival, we didn’t make a distribution deal straight away which meant I’ve been in debt for some time. Columbia had the picture originally. I went to Hollywood to cut it for them, and then they dropped it. Now Allied Artists has it, which is strange, because they wanted it originally. It’s only now that I feel reasonably secure and able to do what I want rather than make films like Deep Sleep.
You co-wrote the screenplay with Rosemary Ritvo, why did you want to write this particular story?
Alfred Sole: COMMUNION was made because the characters in it were people I knew. They were not murderers, but there was a real Mrs.Tredoni and a Father Tom in my life. Also, when I was little I was frightened by the statues in the church. In fact the whole ambience of a church, to me, is one of fear. I used it as a Gothic castle. The Mass is take my body and my blood, it is a sacrifice. I thought it would be a good idea to have a murder going on during the ritual Communion with those little girls, all symbolic brides of Christ. I have been accused of being anti-Catholic. That just isn’t true. I wasn’t making any statements about the Church. It was only that milieu I wanted to use.
How did you write with Rosemary?
Alfred Sole: We were in a room together. I would come in and would jot down all my ideas. I would run them by her. She just opened a door. She started reading poetry to me. It just somehow worked.
It’s a movie with a lot of female point of views.
Alfred Sole: Yes. She kind of told me stories about her aunts and relatives. She came from the same kind of really Catholic-Italian background. She was really like my rock.
You have said that the 1973 movie Don’t Look Now was an inspiration for Alice.
Alfred Sole: It was a BIG inspiration.
Story-wise or the production design of it?
Alfred Sole: Story wise. That little girl with the raincoat, she had that yellow slicker. I was just blown away by Don’t Look Now. . It’s one of my favorite, favorite films. Every once in a while I rent it and watch it. It still holds up. And it had one of the most amazing sex scenes put on film. It was amazing. That movie was the most underrated movie. It was very popular in England. In the United States it didn’t do too well.
The nun falling in the beginning of the film…no stunt person?
Alfred Sole: I asked her to fall and she fell.
Who mixed the blood?
Alfred Sole: We did. But we got the blood from Halloween stores. There was also a place in New York where make-up artists went. I use to read about this stuff then go to New York and find these places to buy it.
For HALLOWEEN they say the mask was a William Shatner mask with the eyes cut out? Where did the mask that plays prominently in your film come from?
Alfred Sole: It was a mask we found in a department store in Chinatown. It was the beginning of those clear plastic masks. I was so turned on by that.
The scene where Niles McMaster is thrown out of the building was amazing to me. How long did it take to set up?
Alfred Sole: I read once that they use mirrors in movies. We didn’t have money for a stunt person, so we made a dummy, and we positioned the mirror on the ground, and that’s how we did that. The dummy is thrown beyond the mirror, and then the actor’s head hits the ground, popping the glass bottles.
And then her head pops out at the top of the screen. I mean that was coordination. No walkie-talkies?
Alfred Sole: No.
You just shouted?
Alfred Sole: Yeah. “Mildred, come out!” It didn’t take long to set up. We shot it very quick. The problem I had was with the glass. I had gotten there the day before. That’s the Roger locomotive building. I know that building really well because I was helping restore that building. Originally we were just going to throw the dummy off. And I thought, “This looks like shit.” It’s like this stuffed thing that we made. It was terrible. I remembered the broken mirror scene in that Rita Hayworth movie by Orson Welles (The Lady From Shanghai). He had that scene with the mirrors in the round. I thought of that when I did this. Believe me, everything I’ve done I’ve seen in another movie.
Isn’t the plotline just a bit too baffling for your average horror fan?
Alfred Sole: You’re right, of course. I was scared to go near Mrs. Tredoni in case I gave away the story too early. It was a structural and directorial problem that I had to hope worked out. The murderer’s motivation is a little woolly but it doesn’t diminish the shocks.
It was 1975 when you made Alice but you set it in 1961. Why? Didn’t you think that making a period piece made it more difficult to produce?
Alfred Sole: I set it in ’61 because that was the era that you were not allowed to get a divorce. That was a period in history when getting a divorce was a big deal. And that was the whole thing about the psychology behind the church and divorce. That was the whole thing about setting it in the 60’s. I think in the 60’s the Catholic Church was always the strongest in terms of the control of the people and what it meant to working class and upper middle class. I always remembered listening to people talk about getting a divorce, and God forbid you get a divorce. My mother would say, “I can’t divorce your father because we’re Catholic.” You know what I mean. It was that kind of working class mentality of the church. In those days it was a big deal if you got a divorce. Movie stars went to Vegas and it was a big deal. I remember in my house when Liz Taylor and Debbie Reynolds were involved in a big divorce – my mother was addicted to that stuff. But the 60’s, I wanted that. I knew where to find that stuff. I knew the architecture [in Paterson] was from that period. I knew that period really well.
What are your feelings about using explicit blood and gore?
Alfred Sole: The way COMMUNION is cut makes it look more bloody than it is. You probably thought you saw more than you actually did. If that’s the case then I’m pleased. It shocks, and I’m glad. I went to see a cheap mafia movie once and no one blinked at the violence, but when one of the characters spat, the audience gasped. We are so jaded toward violence these days that I wanted to say, “Hey, when you kill someone, it hurts.” I purposely used parts of the body that an audience could relate to. When Aunt Annie gets stabbed in the foot, well, everybody has stubbed his toe at some stage. And when Dominick gets hit repeatedly in the mouth with a brick, a lot of people have phobias concerning their mouth. At the Virgin Islands Film Festival a child psychologist asked me if she could show the film at one of her seminars because she wanted her children to realize that violence isn’t fun like it’s portrayed on TV cop shows. I think I put across the feeling of hysteria very well in those particular scenes.
The scene where Alice strangles the cat I is quite strong, how was that done?
Alfred Sole: It looks like she hurts it, but she I doesn’t at all. It was a series of quick cuts that I thought was important. I had to show Alice was capable of doing that sort t of thing, which was of course to throw the audience off guard.
The film was shot in your home town of Patterson, New Jersey. Was it purely a budgetary concern, or did you need that familiarity?
Alfred Sole: Both, really. The total budget for the film was $400,000. We were raising funds at the same time we were shooting the picture. We had to stop at one point be-cause the money ran out. The church in Patterson was always a great place to murder someone, so I thought. It gave me the feeling that if someone was being murdered, life goes on as usual, which is what Hitchcock puts across so well. Here we are in this office and right there in the bathroom somebody could be murdered and we wouldn’t know it. I love that aspect of filmmaking and that’s what GRAY RHAPSODY deals with. Due to a three second brief encounter at the start of the picture, the main character’s whole life is ruined. Do many people realize that just by one person touching you, you affects everybody else’s life? I’m very into that way of looking at life.
Did you have money at that time to make Alice?
Alfred Sole: No, I didn’t have a lot of money. I started raising money then. But I decided I’d start casting. When we finished [the script] Alice Sweet Alice, I went to a lot of theater. I used to sneak into the second acts. That’s how I took it to Geraldine Page. I went to the box office and I left a script for her. And I was in love at the time with Geraldine Page. I don’t remember what the piece was, but I saw it and I left the script with a note, and believe it or not, but about three weeks later I got a call from Geraldine Page thanking me for leaving the script. She turned it down of course, but it was like I could not believe I got a phone call from Geraldine Page. It was like this big actress.
No money AND you started casting?
Alfred Sole: Yeah. There was Brooke Shields’ picture in a magazine. At the time she was this little model. She was like 12 or 13 going on 30. It was a whole series, and I don’t know if it was Vogue or one of those magazines, but these German fashion photographers dressed her up like an older woman. And I tracked her down. I knew she lived in New Jersey. Or her father lived in New Jersey. I went to see the mother. The mother and I hit it off great. And she was looking for something for Brooke. I don’t know if she took me serious or not, but I told her I wanted Brooke to be in this movie and she said, “Okay we’ll do it.”
She had no objections to the script? Her daughter dies in it!
Alfred Sole: No. She loved it. She thought it was great. And then I had a cousin who studied acting with Andre Gregory, from My Dinner with Andre. My cousin wanted to be an actor, and he was taking classes with Andre Gregory. They were doing a play in Connecticut at some college, and I was there auditing certain classes, and I saw this girl dancing and I thought “Oh my God, that’s Alice.” It was Paula Sheppard. That’s how we met. And I went up to her, and I started talking to her and I said, “Someday I’m going to make this movie and I want you to be the star.” She looked at me like, you’re a…you know. She was great because she wasn’t quite a midget and she wasn’t quite ummm…
Well, there was the prosthetic, of course, but being all-of 9 years old, I thought being burned in a deacon’s bench meant you would get all charcoaled, like you would a steak, so I had no idea what I would look like. And because we were filming in the basements of all these churches… Filming the movie was almost as scary as the movie itself, and I think it’s one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. Although I don’t see a lot of them, so… But they did my makeup, and when I looked in the mirror—it was literally part of a cracked mirror, just a piece of a mirror—and they said, “This is what you look like!” And it looked like I had pizza stuck to my face, at which point I started to cry. And all the tears went down on the prosthetic, and they kept going, “Don’t cry! Don’t cry! Please don’t cry! You’re going to ruin the makeup!” – Brooke Shields on her Alice Sweet Alice experience
On your side shots she looks the same height as Brooke but Paula was 19, Brooke was 12?
Yeah. The whole thing about Alice was if she didn’t get enough love and attention because she wasn’t pretty she would either grow up to be a killer or she’d grow up to be…well, she’d never be normal. That was the whole thing with Alice, because I loved Alice. Her lot in life was not to be pretty. I started getting some money. I got my friends to give me some seed money. And then we started shooting.
There are some surprise castings in the film, Linda Miller (Jason Miller’s wife), Louise Horton (George Roy Hill’s wife), Lillian Roth and Brooke Shields.
Alfred Sole: I didn’t have any money for a casting director, so I mailed the screenplay to the four top agencies in New York. It began to get read by a lot of people and all these people rang me up. I didn’t pursue to them. Estelle Parsons wanted to play Aunt Alice but the Screen Actors Guild wouldn’t let her do it on a deferred payment basis until they read the script and liked it. By that time, it was too late for Estelle. But we made the first union film in history on deferred payments, as the Guild let us continue. Brooke’s mother is as a friend of mine, and after this she turned down Audrey Rose (1977) and did Pretty Baby (1978).
Were the actors demanding?
Alfred Sole: One actress was. Linda Miller was a nightmare. She was the actress from hell. As a matter of fact she slit her wrists on the set. She was Jackie Gleason’s daughter. And someone told me I should go see her because she was this up and coming actress. They said she was really good. And I went to see her in this play. And she was married to the priest in The Exorcist, Jason Miller. They were living in New Jersey. We have made peace with each other over the years and we’ve come to like each other, but she was a nightmare. This is an absolute true story. We were shooting a scene, and all of a sudden, Linda comes running in screaming with both of her hands up in the air. She had cut both her wrists, blood coming down her wrists. I thought, “That’s it. It’s over. I don’t have a movie anymore. I’m done.” We were three quarters of the way through. So, we shut down. It wasn’t deep enough. If you notice, you’ll see all her dresses are really tight around the sleeves. And she came back and finished the movie.
Do you remember the scene?
Alfred Sole: Yes. We had a fight. She had this thing, she was Jackie Gleason’s daughter and she didn’t want any one to know that she was Jackie Gleason’s daughter. I mentioned it to someone. Meanwhile, she was going around telling everyone else she was Jackie Gleason’s daughter. I mentioned to someone and she came after me because I had told some of the extras who she was. They came up and starting talking about her father to her. How much they loved her father. And the next thing I knew we were having this huge fight. She really ripped me a new asshole for saying something. And the next thing I knew she came on set and she had cut her wrists. You never knew if she was going to be stable or not.
Did you have drivers pick her up to make sure she showed up?
Alfred Sole: No. We’d just wait and pray that she showed up.
Isn’t Alphonse De Noble’s grotesque portrayal of the fat landlord rather un-necessary comic relief in the film?
Alfred Sole: I guess so. The budget only allowed us to provide him with one set of pants, as he is obviously a big man and we had to get them special ordered. So his idea of the pee-stain went wildly over the top, but we had to let him get on with it.
Alphonso was in BLOOD SUCKING FREAKS? Did you see him in that or was this before that movie?
Alfred Sole: He was a bouncer in a gay bar. This is how I met Alphonso. He had this racket going on. He would dress up as a priest and hang out in Paterson at the graveyard. And when people would visit their loved ones they’d say, “Oh father can you say a prayer?” And they would give him some money. So he had this thing going on and that’s how we met. I went to visit somebody at their grave, and there was Alphonso. He was a real character.
Were the actors getting paid?
Alfred Sole: No.
Were you afraid you would never get them back after a break?
Alfred Sole: Yeah. I had seven different cameramen, different sound men. I did the wardrobe. I did the special effects. I put names on the film because I wanted it to look bigger than it actually was. We gave all these big credits because we wanted it to look like this big movie. I was location scouting. I did all the props. My next-door neighbor made the knife for me. I did most of the makeup. I couldn’t afford a stunt person so I got a dummy. We let it fall out of the building and you saw it through the broken glass. And then I had the actor fall in front of the camera. That really worked.
Was Brooke Shields a big name model at the time?
Alfred Sole: She was really hot.
She was a hot commodity and you didn’t pay? Did you put her or your actors up at a hotel?
Alfred Sole: We did it in Paterson. They all drove to Paterson. Everybody came from Paterson except for Brooke Shields. We got Terry (Brooke’s mom) some money. She came to the set every day. She loved my mom. They would cook together. Terry would even help cook. Terry was a sweetheart.
So they were working on deferred payment?
Alfred Sole: Yeah. Everybody was basically working in that way.
At what point did you say ‘I have enough money, I’m ready to shoot’.
Alfred Sole: 25,000 dollars. That was my key. It was always 25. The other one I started at 25. And now I had 25.
The executive producer with you was Richard Rosenberg. Who was he?
Alfred Sole: I was the client and he was my lawyer. I made a deal with him that if he did the legal stuff I would give him screen credit. Actually, he was my lawyer during my criminal charges. That’s how we met. And then I designed his house for him and we became friends. I remember having to sign all these papers from Richard because of tax problems. We had a distribution deal with Columbia Pictures. One of my clients had set that up. I remember going to the office of Columbia Pictures in New York, and there were all these Academy Awards and a beautiful corporate office, and I thought I died and went to heaven. They decided to release the picture. They asked me to cut a few scenes shorter. It was part of the deal. Not only that but they made a book deal. There was a book called “Communion”. A paperback.
Based on your movie?
Alfred Sole: Yeah. I have it. It’s from Bantam Books. It was one of the first times they were releasing a book on a movie. They were bragging about how they were doing this tie-in. So, they flew me to LA to shorten the movie. I got a phone call from Richard Rosenberg saying that we lost the deal because the motion picture association gave it an X and Columbia is dropping the project. And I was devastated because here I was with Columbia Pictures and I had a book deal. The book went through. The book was already going out. They were going to release the book and the movie at the same time. I’m cutting the movie and Richard is saying, “It’s your fault that it’s getting an X rating.” I then got a phone call from my friend who put this deal together saying he (Rosenberg) is a thief. They dropped the picture because he was buying off everybody. During the making of this movie he would say, “If you want this ten thousand dollars you have to sign these papers.” I was just signing all these papers that he was throwing in front of me. I was directing. I wasn’t being stupid. I just didn’t care. I just wanted this ten thousand dollars because we were just raising this money as we went along just to finish. And the picture cost, like, two hundred fifty thousand, and he was raising more money than he needed. I don’t care if you say this or not but he was really, really sleazy.
Is this the same shyster lawyer you mentioned earlier?
Alfred Sole: Yes.
Is he living?
Alfred Sole: He’s living. And when we got dropped, I went to him and confronted him with that. And he just blew me off. We didn’t talk after that. And then later all this tax stuff came out. I had no idea what he was doing, where he was getting this money. What was going on? But I do know that I would hear stories and I would say, “I’m not seeing money.” We were struggling to make this movie, and somebody came by and said they invested ten thousand dollars in your movie and I would say, “You did?” Well, how come I don’t have THAT ten thousand dollars? He was raising more money and pocketing it.
You didn’t get a weekly salary?
Alfred Sole: No! My mother was cooking every day for the crew and paying for it herself. I mean that’s how we were working. Nobody got paid. Rosenberg was giving us money but we were begging every week to keep going. He was bragging about keeping us going.
So Rosenberg said he had twenty five thousand dollars and you said let’s begin?
Alfred Sole: No. I had raised twenty five thousand dollars with my friends. Then I went to him because I needed a lawyer. I asked him if he wanted to get involved with movie making and he did because he was a young guy and he took care of all the legal stuff. At one point he came to me and said “it cost a half million dollars to make this movie” and I KNOW it wasn’t that. I said, “Excuse me?” The most it ever cost to make a movie with me was three hundred thousand dollars. I know. I know what we were shooting. I know what money he gave me. He took care of everything so I signed off a lot of rights to him. Basically when I got done he owned the movie. My family was upset because I wanted them to get money back. This is the same story that all filmmakers talk about.
Did it get a wide distribution?
Alfred Sole: Well, it played but it was limited. It wasn’t treated like this big movie. It was this little horror movie.
Did you go opening day to see it?
Alfred Sole: I would go to New York and sit in a theater because I couldn’t resist it. But I was totally disappointed because Columbia had this whole big campaign going. Allied Artists treated it like this drive-in movie. They changed the name and I hated the name. It went from Columbia Pictures – the top – I don’t know what they saw but it went from a big book tie in, to nothing for months, then Allied Artists and a sleazy deal.
It won Saturn awards…each time Brooke came out with another movie.
Alfred Sole: Yeah. We won the Chicago Film Festival. Roger Ebert loved the movie, I remember that.
Who owns Alice now?
Alfred Sole: I do.
It says copyright Alfred Sole on the cover art and IMDB says Harristown Funding.
Alfred Sole: That’s me. I own it.
Richard K. Rosenberg
Stephen J. Lawrence
Cinefantastique v06n04/v07n01 (1978)
Rue Morgue 063
Rue Morgue 169
Stu Segall Productions Interview