Alice, Sweet Alice remake plans have moved forward in a big way with Cold Case star Kathryn Morris taking on the lead role of Catherine Spages, mother to a little girl, who may or may not be a psycho killer.
Morris’ production company Revival House and Mosaic Media Group will co-produce this “re-imagining” of the 1976 classic, Tomaselli said.
In the original film, Catherine’s youngest daughter (Brooke Shields) is butchered on the day of her first communion. Older sister Alice (Paula Sheppard) is the prime suspect.
While Alice certainly has “issues,” however, her parents can’t believe she would be capable of murder. Meanwhile, a ghastly knife-wielding figure in yellow raincoat and translucent mask is offing people one-by-one.
Are the crimes related? And if Alice isn’t the killer, then who is?
For those of us familiar with the film, director Dante Tomaselli promises surprises aplenty. In other words, don’t think you’ve got this one figured out just because you’ve seen the original 100 times.
Tomaselli recently agreed to an interview with The Inquisitr in which he discusses plans for his Alice, Sweet Alice remake, and what it’s like to follow in the footsteps of the original director — Castle production designer and cousin — Alfred Sole.
He also discusses the new script, working with a larger budget, where the project’s at in development, and whether we can expect Sheppard or Brooke Shields in cameos.
(Come on, Brooke, wouldn’t you rather do this than The View?)
THE INQUISITR. Anyone who knows me knows Alice, Sweet Alice is one of my favorite horror films. I’m almost obnoxious about it. How do you take this story and make it fresh for people like me who’ve seen the original 100 times?
DANTE TOMASELLI: I understand your obsession. As you probably know, the director of the original, Alfred Sole, is my cousin. Communion, as it was first titled, was shot in Paterson, New Jersey, where I grew up. I remember its World Premiere. I was seven. Many of my relatives were extras, my father, who owned a bridal shop, provided all the white gloves and veils. We were all very proud of Alfred. As a little kid, I used to stalk around my house wearing a yellow raincoat and replica of the famous translucent mask. Back then, I thought that I was the only person who knew of Communion or … Alice, Sweet Alice. I had no idea there were so many fans of the film. It’s a staple of my childhood.
How to penetrate those who already saw the original a zillion times? That was really the biggest challenge while conceptualizing the screenplay. We see so many remakes and know exactly what’s coming because the original is so engrained in our DNA. I don’t want to stray too far from the original’s main ingredients, that’s what fills me with passion. This is a faithful remake, but there are definitely new twists in the script. The original is a disorienting mystery and I aim to retain its mysteriousness, even for those who know the original by heart. There’s an elusive, ethereal quality to the original. You never know what’s around the corner. I’ve created four low budget independent feature films that are mostly about family dysfunction, religious fanaticism and disorientation. I believe all my films so far have been leading up to the re-imagining of Alice, Sweet Alice. A line straight to this.
THE INQUISITR: The idea for a remake has been brewing for several years, and from everything we can tell, you’ve been the driving force. In what ways has the project evolved since you first started discussing it, and why is now the right time? Also, why a remake and not a sequel?
TOMASELLI: Well, I wouldn’t want to continue the story of Alice, Sweet Alice. It ended on just the right ambiguous note. Mainly, there are all these remakes of horror classics these days. And Alfred was getting offers. He sent me some of the scripts and they were awful. He said, “Dante, you direct it, you create this.” I was so happy and relieved to hear it from his lips because I’m fiercely protective of the film. I started to write a script, but never finished. Years passed and I directed my recent film, Torture Chamber.
Once that was completed I started dreaming of Alice again. Alfred contacted me and said there was a possible investor. This turned out to be a false alarm but I’m glad it happened because it got me to finally work on the script. It put a fire under me. I knew I needed a co-writer so I immediately thought of Michael Gingold, managing editor of Fangoria Magazine.
We wrote a screenplay in the past together and it was a terrific experience. So he came on as co-writer and that’s when the script was created. Mike brought so much to the table, a natural communicator, a wordsmith — an expert on horror cinema. Needless to say, he was a huge help. I’m more of a visual storyteller and score composer than anything else. I gave him top billing as one of the writers. Once the script was finally finished, there was little doubt that we made the right decision to write the screenplay.
I knew that the financing was not going to come from my world — the low budget indie horror realm. It would likely come from Alfred’s west coast camp. Soon Alfred called me again with positive news. He put me in contact with his friend, actress Kathryn Morris. I was told by Alfred that she’s executive producing and that she read the screenplay and enjoyed it very much. Kathryn and I started communicating through email and then on the phone about getting it off the ground. She told me about the company that manages her, Mosaic Media Group. They produce lots of high quality movies (Bad Teacher, Step Brothers, The Bank Job, according to IMDb).
Dave Fleming of Mosaic spoke to us on the phone and we all had a magic meeting. He came on board and it was pretty instantaneous. So now Kathryn Morris’ production company, Revival House, is producing Alice, Sweet Alice with Mosaic Media Group.
THE INQUISITR: Where is the remake at right now in the production process — casting, filming, editing, finished script, etc. — and do you have a date for the final cut? Also, is there a firm or general release date on the horizon, and if so when?
TOMASELLI: Alice, Sweet Alice is in development … The screenplay, co-written by Michael Gingold and myself is completed. I’m attached to direct and score. The screenplay is a scary, suspenseful mystery horror tale that honors the integrity of the original.
THE INQUISITR: Who has signed on to star in the remake, and what character information can you provide at this time?
TOMASELLI: Kathryn Morris will star as Catherine Spages, Alice’s mother. Kathryn was the lead in the CBS series Cold Case and had a role as Tom Cruise’s wife in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report. She’s like a chameleon — totally versatile. Slips right into a role. Her character in Alice is modeled after the original Catherine Spages, played by Linda Miller. In keeping with the spirit of the original, Kathryn’s character will look and feel similar, strikingly beautiful, perfectly sculpted dark hair, fiercely protective of her children and plagued by deep Catholic guilt.
The next important casting step is to confirm her husband’s character, Dominic Spages. We have some actors on our radar. Once we have her husband in place, then, the rest of the family — namely Alice — crystallizes. Finding the right Alice will be a mission.
THE INQUISITR: Can we expect any cameos from actors who were in the original film, and what talent from the 1976 version, behind or in front of the camera, is returning to help out on the production? I don’t think I speak for myself when I say it would be awesome to see Paula Sheppard or Brooke Shields back even in a small capacity. Has there been any communications with them on the project?
TOMASELLI: Alfred has a direct line to Brooke Shields. I hope there’s the possibility of a cameo. The original was her very first feature film. Paula Sheppard, the original Alice in a cameo? That’s something I’d love to make happen to please fans of the original, if it’s possible. How old is she now? She’s a bit of an enigma. I was also thinking of Mildred Clinton but sadly she passed away a few years ago.
Female villains are always among the scariest. Piper Laurie in Carrie, Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, Jessica Walter in Play Misty for Me, the old slaughtering women in House of Laughing Windows.
I would place Mildred Clinton’s performance in Alice, Sweet Alice alongside those. An out-of-this-world portrayal of psychosis. Paula Sheppard, too, of course. Her performance as the complex, misunderstood Alice in the original is classic.
THE INQUISITR: Spotty distribution of the original has often been cited as a reason the film didn’t find its audience sooner. It seems like the popularity of Alice, Sweet Alice has grown stronger in the years since its release than it was at the time. Do you have a distributor / distribution plan for the remake? Do you see it as a limited or national theater release, or would you rather take it directly to fans through Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD/digital download?
TOMASELLI: Alice, Sweet Alice was sixth in the Variety 50 Top-Grossing Films for the week ending May 17, 1978. Kathryn Morris’ production company, Revival House and Mosaic Media Group, are definitely planning for theatrical distribution. This will have a higher budget than any of my pictures. We’re all on the same page about how we envision the end result.
For me, I’ll have a larger canvas, a much better budget, script and level of actors. Some directors go from a short film that makes a splash to a feature length decent budgeted movie. I’ve directed four features and I’ve had some great distributors like Anchor Bay and Image Entertainment.
The Alice, Sweet Alice remake, the re-imagining of my cousin’s independent horror film. What could ever inspire me more? It feels like a natural progression. This won’t be a soulless remake. I aim to really deliver and frighten and entertain fans of the original because I am one of those fans.
I also plan to create a film that stands on its own. Already, at its foundation level, the project is marinated in love. As Kathryn, Alfred and Dave Fleming know, I’ve been grooming myself for this movie. All of my four independent feature films are in some way influenced or inspired by Alice, Sweet Alice. And through trial and error — growing, experimentation — I’ve developed a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t.
THE INQUISITR: I wouldn’t call the 1976 film tame. It certainly kept me up at nights when I was younger and the bloodletting was significant for the time period. But as time moves on, it takes a different approach to shock audiences as their tastes evolve. Has that been a concern for you through the development of this project, and what elements do you feel the new film should have that maybe weren’t present in the original?
TOMASELLI: The original is close to perfect, for me. It puts you in a time capsule. I can say the pacing on the remake will be faster. Also, I’ll be toning down Catherine Spages’ hysterics. The screaming was always a bit over the top. As far as music — how could I resist that spine-tingling whispery lullaby theme by Stephen Lawrence?
I will be incorporating and re-mastering different key compositions and soundscapes from the original feature. I love the music from the original and can get lost in it. I’m working on connective tissue music right now. I like to do that before filming. Then I have soundscapes in my head while I’m shooting. I may not always use them but they help me, like, storyboards. I want the viewer to taste color and touch sound. Music and sound design is all-important in a horror film and this remake will have a very similar mood and tone as the original.
THE INQUISITR: On setting and characters: what changes can you reveal between the coming remake and the 1976 version? Definitely understand keeping some things under wraps, but will this be set in modern day? Any new characters? That sort of thing.
TOMASELLI: All of the same characters for the most part. Similar situations, though sometimes different outcomes. Wouldn’t it be boring to know what’s coming next? Definitely some new surprises, but I can’t reveal. You won’t know where it’s going. As far as locations, it’s working-class Italian Catholic Paterson, New Jersey. The main difference is whereas the original was set in the 60s, the new one will be in the 70s.
THE INQUISITR: I believe the human element of the original makes this an extraordinary work. Rather than the horror movie stuff, which is definitely effective, the film really becomes a classic based on its human insight and characterization. A single mom as the main character. Societal taboos of the time period — the divorced parents. Religious fanaticism. The idea a child could be capable of murder. Are there any modern day hot-button issues that could turn up in this remake?
TOMASELLI: It’s true. It’s the human element in Alice, Sweet Alice that really draws you in. And all its layers. It’s an emotionally-charged horror film that deals with family love, sickness, jealousy, guilt and murder. I believe everything here is totally relatable for modern audiences.
Even though this is a 70s period piece, there are still religious families with their religious rituals. And religious fanaticism. Evil cloaked in religion. It’s happening everywhere in the world. Here is a microcosm.
A divorced, devout Catholic lady like Catherine could still easily be living in Paterson, New Jersey, with her two young daughters. Certain Italian-American neighborhoods stand completely still in time. This woman’s beloved daughter could have been tragically murdered on her first Holy Communion by a masked killer. It could happen. I could see it in the newspaper. How does a family cope?
THE INQUISITR: One thing immediately noticeable about Alice, Sweet Alice: it’s a beautifully designed, artistic, and colorful horror film despite the subject matter. How will this film look different and / or the same than the original? And other than the influence of the original film, are there any other horror films — your own or others — that are serving as a guide for creating the world of the Alice, Sweet Alice remake?
TOMASELLI: Alfred will be creating the sets so you know the director of the original has a hand in every visual. Purists of the original can feel safe. And there’s my dream language horror cinema that I’ve been developing over the span of four features. My films speak in dream language. Together, our styles will blend. I worship my cousin Alfred’s art, he knows that. His films and his production design — I want to make him happy and feel at peace.
The remake will be painterly. Misty, rainy. European-looking, very Italian giallo-like with its gothic Paterson, New Jersey, settings and masked-murderer-on-the-loose ambience. I aim to imbue it all with a spine-tingling atmosphere of dread — stained-glass windows, priests, nuns, abandoned buildings, black wrought iron gates, jars of cockroaches, children’s dolls. Beauty and horror. Different sides of the same coin. Of course I’m keeping the landmark translucent china doll-like mask. It’s unforgettable and ghastly. Growing up, the creepy clownish mask gave me many nightmares. And the yellow raincoat, and knife. Brrrr. Heart-stopping horror. The original Alice, Sweet Alice is made up entirely of day scenes. I love the irony because the tagline says, “If You Survive This Night Nothing Will Scare You Again.”
Horror is a base genre in many respects, as it taps into our anxieties about what’s beyond the door for us all, about death and what–if anything–lies beyond. Shame then, that most genre movies get bogged down in pedestrian plotting, exasperating exposition and trivial twists. The greatest horror films are not steered by their scripts; rather, they are works of sensual alchemy. Martin Scorsese once said of Bava’s work–and I’m paraphrasing–that “Bava made films that bypass your brain and go right to your gut.” Indeed his films, and many of the great works of European horror, trade in visceral imagery and sound design to bring their nightmares to grand fruition. And if you’ve ever had a really juicy, heart squeezing, body sweating, wake-up-screaming-and-pull-the-covers-up-close nightmare, you’ll know that plot, character and dialogue aren’t what gets blasted forever onto your psyche. What strikes you and what sticks with you can’t even find articulation for, it just is.
Dante Tomaselli’s latest film TORTURE CHAMBER is a nightmare.
Tomaselli’s modus operandi is right there in his title, as it was with his even more freeform work of imagination, 2002′s HORROR. He’s not here to divert you with 90 minutes of contrived TV level storytelling with dullard “screenwriting 101” mechanisms, rather he wants to damage your central nervous system, to stimulate that primordial ooze that lies bubbling within all of us regardless of race, class, creed or culture. When he succeeds in doing so, he simply has no contemporary peer. Even SUSPIRIA went out for a smoke with muddled dialogue and laughable plot explanations on occasion. This film never really does. It just sticks to what it wants to do, dedicated and unrelenting with just enough set up to hook you.
TORTURE CHAMBER is ostensibly a kind of American Gothic gone to hell, playing with religious iconography but never actively exploiting them in the kind of ham-fisted fashion that many inferior horror films do. In it, a rather unpleasant little boy sits imprisoned in a shadowy institution because his family believes him to be the victim of demonic possession. They’re right, of course, but the allegory is clear: this is a deeply troubled clan and devil or not, no child would likely emerge unscathed.
When the boy escapes his confinement with the aid of his gaggle of reverent followers, he grabs his kindly art teacher/therapist (the always intense Lynn Lowry who, as usual, delivers a layered, emotional performance) and hightails it to a looming castle complete with a torture chamber. The rest of the film sees images smash upon images as his teacher, family and anyone who attempts to track him get theirs on his body twisting devices.
Imagine Ken Russell directing a SAW film but secretly remaking SALO on the sly, and you get an idea of the eye-opening impact TORTURE CHAMBER has in store. Nobody smiles in Tomaselli’s world, no sunshine is allowed and Catholic guilt is a major allegorical force (no surprise that the director is remaking his uncle Alfred Sole’s hyper-Catholic giallo ALICE, SWEET ALICE next). It’s not an oppressive experience, however. From a purely cinematic standpoint it’s consistently energizing. In many ways, this film, in its own humble, economically budgeted way, is the film that Rob Zombie’s THE LORDS OF SALEM thinks it is: a complete and utter surrender to texture and a deep drop into an audio-visual rabbit hole. The performances run hot and cold, sometimes barely registering (again, save for Lowry who really is one of the genre’s most undervalued actors and an authentically gritty turn from THE SOPRANOS’ Vincent Pastore), but Tomaselli doesn’t dwell on these limitations, rebounding instead with another shuddery visage of wrenched flesh, psychosexual obsession, weird masks or wild-eyed stares coupled with Tomaselli’s own punishing music and wall to wall sound design.
Like any self-respecting nightmare, TORTURE CHAMBER traps its audience in an environment and won’t let them go until it’s finished with them. Many won’t connect with the film, searching for a clear point A-B-C thrust that is simply not there. But those who like to get lost in cinema and allow themselves to take a trip will find this film unforgettable. As of this writing I have no idea when or where you’ll be able to enter Dante’s meticulously designed inferno (I was given an advance screener) but when you get the chance, buckle in, turn down the lights and do it. And be warned…