Directed by: Jim Sotos
Written by: Erwin Goldman
Starring: Bo Hopkins, Patrick MacNee, Susan Strasberg, Dana Kimmell and Aleisa Shirley
Reviewed by: Josh G.
Why are all the boys dying to meet Melissa?
From the man who brought us the horror version/remake of 73's Forced Entry comes a mediocre mystery slasher flick that pits big stars alongside each other by some lucky chance of the draw. Many will ignore this because of how monotonous Sweet Sixteen often is, giving us a bit of the same old with a bit of small town racism thrown in for ‘controversy’. At times a film about a young teenage girl growing up (Aleisa Shirley, who looks suspiciously older for the role being played), at others a cheeky drama about a good natured family piecing together an ‘exciting’ killer puzzle while not giving a rat’s ass about the friends and acquaintances being lost along the way. Yes, it is true that when I first watched Sweet Sixteen, I did not feel the rush a good slasher regularly gave to me, but as with 1980's Prom Night, I found repeat viewings took a liking to me. I appreciate the effort, and thinking it through, it kind of makes me feel guilty for judging it too harshly at first, because I should have gone in awaiting a TV thriller. When you don’t go after the materials you are craving, sometimes they sneak up on you in the end.
Melissa Morgan’s (Shirley) sixteenth birthday is coming up, and her parents Joanne and John (Susan Strasberg and Patrick MacNee) are planning a traditional party just like the days long before. But Melissa is anything but traditional. She wants to drink and sleep with the guys, no matter who they are or what their motives are. It’s a shame that the people this troubled child keeps bumping into are ending up dead. When questioned by Sheriff Burke (Bo Hopkins) about her whereabouts, she is overcome with her own pride and blames the local Native Americans, Jason Longshadow (Don Shanks) and elder Greyfeather (Henry Wilcoxon). The locals don’t take too kindly to ‘their kind’, indulging Melissa’s lies down to a new low. Burke’s wholesome daughter Marci (Dana Kimmell) and average southern town son Hank (Steve Antin) are closing in on the details of the case, being classmates of the infamous Melissa Morgan. However, nobody really knows much about her. Not even her own father can believe she is the same person he raised. So could this girl, not even of legal age yet, be a killer at heart? Perhaps the answer will come when Melissa finally turns the dreaded age of...Sweet Sixteen.
Low in body count up until the final few scenes, with generic dialogue and tired plot, what makes Sweet an addition to the genre that you might enjoy? Suspense is sorely lacking and to say it contains a solid cast in any department is stretching the truth. For half of the runtime Melissa is a self-centered bitch who somehow is supposed to be our main character. Then with one little talk with good ol’ murder mystery novel-reading Marci Burke, her personality is transformed into an innocent caring butterfly. Awww. How...inconsistent. Though what makes it stand out is not its wallowing qualities, but its attempts that follow halfway through. Native racism was nothing new for 1983, but if you can’t put your heart into the murder story, perhaps the tale of Longshadow and Greyfeather (not stereotypical names at all) versus the redneck drunkards will add some spice that was otherwise missing from the stew. I guess it was eventual that Sweet Sixteen would take this route. After all, it is pretty much fact that any horror flick Susan Strasberg touches is mixed in with a Native subplot (The Manitou; The Returning).
“Cute. Real cute.” I don’t know how many times the word “cute” is spoken out loud, but how I wish the song “Melissa” would play over and over again until my ears bleed. Whenever a fan, writer or other jumps on the topic of Sweet Sixteen, there is always one thing that is brought up. Melissa Morgan’s own vocal theme song! How amazing is that? The only reason you need to watch this movie right this moment. But seriously, these are the moments of the picture that make things all worth while. Like Prom Night, the simpler the better; simpler meaning a TV-like thriller, not standard slasher fair. It contains onscreen murders, but the dark tone of most slasher flicks is absent and instead I felt more of a safety because it was so obvious that I was watching a movie. A drive is in this product to make you feel uncomfortable in spots, like the shower scene with fifteen year old Melissa at the beginning and constant swearing, but with the comedy flying out left and right from Dana Kimmell (“How can you kill somebody with a rake?”) the whole thing is a peaceful story that just happens to have some sinful scenes. In my opinion, Dana Kimmell is more of the star of Sweet Sixteen, because through her so-so acting, she seems to be the one the audience is drawn to the most. Acknowledgment of Friday the 13th Part 3 or not, she’s a scene stealer.
Effort is made to create a shocking killer reveal, but I am afraid it just wasn’t concealed well enough. One of Hank’s lines in the first half of Sweet is a dead giveaway to the identity, and if you step away from the television for a few minutes after gathering enough info, there is only two people that make any sense at all to be the answer. And what do we get in the finale? A dark chase scene, lackluster confrontation, and worst of all an explanation that makes no sense whatsoever without filling in the blanks yourself. At least the party was decorated nicely. But I have troubles with deciding Melissa’s stable personality, a reason for all of this happening, or even the direction that the story was initially going to take. Key moments that were so important before seem to slide off a character’s mind like butter on an egg shell, with no guilty conscience from anybody involved with the film from a watcher’s stand point. I guess what I mean to say is that Sweet Sixteen is walking a thin line to be called a horror flick, but watching it with an open mind would be the only way for you to take enjoyment out of it. Simple Sheriff, simple slashing, simple story.
Code Red’s 2008 DVD of Sweet Sixteen is one thought to be shelved forever. The print used for the director’s cut has soft colors and twitching light problems, but at least it has a disclaimer on the disc and back of the DVD case to warn people of the lower quality. And best of all, it is much brighter than that Vestron video tape, because now you can see the killings and the ending! Rejoice! The original theatrical cut is also available as an extra, the version shown on video with the only substantial difference being an opening dream sequence with Marci Burke in a cool spooky old house. This print is far worse than the director’s cut as it is incorrectly framed, leaving way too much room for heads to breathe, with a gross dark, grainy and color warped picture. But unless you really love that opening scene, the director’s cut is better. It cuts to the chase by introducing Melissa and doesn’t mislead you like the true horror beginning. Though I love me some cheesy monster make-up. Audio crackles come in and out, but is fine by me. I mean, this was a release that was damned to resignation that returned for distribution because the fans wanted it. A few seconds of cuts in the reel make little difference when we have the widescreen beaut finally available. With an audio ‘conversation’ (no real commentary thanks to a company fuck up), cast interviews, photo gallery and a trailer, it is a great release for fans of the movie, slightly mucked up transfer aside. Oh yeah, and an embarrassing intro by Scott Spiegel (wh-why?). But hell, I just adore pretty little teenage (ahem, early 20s) Melissa, cute determined Marci, and safety slasher whodunits. Meddling in the forgotten zone, it is a pleasure to see this resurrected again, even if it only gets part value. And what a great poster art. Rent it!
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