Brooke Shields gets star billing in the ads for "Alice, Sweet Alice," an obscure horror melodrama that has surfaced at a few area theaters. It's a familiar reflex on the part of distributors who suspect they need all the help they can get to market a movie.
Shields is actually about No. 10 on the list of featured players in "Alice," a mannered, gratuitous exercise in Grand Guignol dreadfulness that was made by and with unknowns in Paterson, N.J., shortly before "Pretty Baby" went into production in New Orleans. She appears as the first victim of the extremely nasty Alice of the title, a kid psycho in the bad-seed tradition portrayed by Paula Sheppard.
In fact, Shields' character doesn't survive the first reel. As Karen, Alice's favored, beautiful little sister, she stands directly in the line of psychotic fire. With grisly improbability, Alice croaks Karen moments before her First Communion; mysteriously separated from the line of girl communicants, Karen is strangled with her communion candle, stuffed in a chest and set aflame.
If Shields' career flourishes as it should, "Alice" may enjoy a trivia-quiz sort of fame as her forgotten debut movie. The director, Alfred Sole, also reveals enough raw kinetic and manipulative ability to suggest that he might be heard from, assuming he contrives less rickety and revolting platforms in the future.
The transparent weaknessess of the scenario may have encouraged Sole to bear down on the creepy, bloodthirsty interludes. As far as one can tell, the finger of suspicion always points exclusively at jealous, rotten little Alice. Sustaining her reign of terror demands not only inordinate obliviousness from the adult characters but also a desperate expository subterfuge, the introduction of a second resident psycho with the same modus operandi. Although it won't do, Sole struggles with a vengeance to make it do.
In all fairness, Brian De Palma thrillers like "Obession" and "The Fury" are vulnerable on the same grounds. Sole also seems to be obsessed with Roman Catholic rituals, icons and myths, which are exploited for extra jolts of morbidity and queasiness.
Shields has already transcended this inauspicious debut. With luck, Sole may also.