Alice, Sweet Alice In Gialloland

  • videoarchives
  • October 25, 2022

You’ve all been good little Catholic girls patiently waiting for American Giallo Pt. 2 – today it arrives in a yellow raincoat holding a butcher knife! Eli Roth returns to discuss Alfred Sole’s dizzying slasher Alice, Sweet Alice with Quentin and Roger. Then, they finish this epic two parter with J. Lee Thompson’s Happy Birthday To Me, before giving out some awards and passing out from too much birthday cake. I’ve got trivia, tape covers and fan art on today’s Counter Talk, so let’s prepare the kebab…

Dear listeners, we love reading all your suggestions and recommendations for films you want to see discussed on the show. But be warned – Quentin and Roger have very firm opinions on what films they’ll cover, and it’s not easy to crack the Video Archives canon. They watch tons of movies that they’ll decide afterwards are not quite interesting enough to bring to the podcast. This ruthless culling even applies to movie suggestions from our guest customers – just because they’re coming on the show doesn’t necessarily mean they get to choose what they’re watching! But Alice, Sweet Alice was an Eli recommendation that made the cut, and if you haven’t seen it, it’s an essential watch for giallo lovers, thematically rich without skimping on killer setpieces.


Today’s discussion touches on director Alfred Sole’s life and career, which is a truly fascinating arc we only scratched the surface of. Sole got his degree in architecture, and worked as an architect as a young man before breaking into filmmaking. His directorial debut was an adult film called Deep Sleep, made for only $25K with a crew of his friends and family. Due to the release of this single indie picture, Sole was not only charged with violating New Jersey’s obscenity laws, he was excommunicated from Paterson, NJ’s Roman Catholic diocese.

Sole’s fury at the church was a major inspiration for his second film, Alice Sweet Alice. But his masterpiece, only fully appreciated years later, did poorly in theaters, and he moved away from directing into production design. Sole never stopped working, and his career eventually took him as far from Deep Sleep as possible; he became the lead production designer for Veronica Mars, the MacGyver reboot, and 152 episodes of Castle. He died earlier this year at 78, but his life had many acts, and one of them gave us this singular film.

The Alice, Sweet Alice VHS box shows Sole’s talent for simple, chilling iconography - a mask, a knife, a doll, and the title written in blood:

This is a memorably creepy cover…but in what’s becoming a pattern here on Counter Talk, the art for the American release is blown away by the Japanese poster design. This piece is unreal, from the Madonna figure in a raincoat holding a two-faced baby, to that eerie blood-red reflection in the butcher knife:

You can find this film under a few different names - it was called “Communion” in some markets, and re-released in 1981 as “Holy Terror” after Brooke Shields became a star, emphasizing her role. The newspaper ads for Communion place it in the same lineage as Psycho, The Omen and Carrie - not at all coincidentally, all of these films were namechecked in American Giallo Pt. 1.

Look closely at that Holy Terror ad…audiences in 1981 had the chance to watch exactly the same double feature the Video Archives crew watched, sticking around for Happy Birthday To Me!}

As we hinted on the After Show, J. Lee Thompson’s bonkers take on giallo came at the tail end of a golden era of holiday-themed horror films. 1978’s Halloween, of course, is the grandaddy of them all, but 1980 alone saw the release of Christmas Evil, New Year’s Evil, To All A Goodnight (another Christmas-centric horror), Mother’s Day, Terror Train (which took place on New Years Eve), Prom Night, and the original Friday The 13th (not exactly a holiday, but close enough). Graduation Day, My Bloody Valentine and the Thanksgiving-set Home Sweet Home would come out the next year – but the producers of My Bloody Valentine, seeing the studios quickly run through the best holidays, realized that everyone has a birthday, and decided to capitalize on a birthday-themed horror before anyone else could.

(What’s your favorite holiday horror? Are any good unused holidays still on the table – maybe a Hanukkah horror? Write to us and let us know – and while you’re at it, give this memorable turkey day trailer another watch…)

The Happy Birthday To Me VHS cover replicates the film’s iconic poster, as well it should. The image is indelible, and that tagline isn’t lying – if anything, it downplays just how wild things get by the end:

Finally, here’s Quentin’s birthday cake, which we all ate between taping Alice Sweet Alice and Happy Birthday To Me, sending us all into the home stretch of this mega-episode on a sugar high:

Thank you for coming out to The New Bev last week for a screening of our first two American Giallo films, Dressed To Kill and Eyes Of Laura Mars! They’ll be showing Alice, Sweet Alice and Happy Birthday To Me this Thursday the 27th and Friday the 28th, so it’s not too late to get some giallo in before Halloween weekend. Here’s listener Scott Reynolds outside the marquee:

We also love seeing your fan art – you know I can’t get enough of The Illustrated Man, and I was delighted by listener Jeremy’s Video Archives-themed take on ‘skin illustrations’. The pigeon double take, the beach ball alien, it’s all there…I can picture it filling up with new illustrations alongside the Video Archives shelves:

On next week’s After Show, we conclude our bonus interview with Eli and finish off our American Giallo series. Then, it’s on to something completely different…follow us on Twitter and Instagram, rate and review us on Apple Podcasts, and keep listening to Video Archives!