Night #26: Sweet Sixteen (1983)

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Melissa…”

Directed By: Jim Sotos

Sometimes you stumble across things that are not just good or bad, but sort of indefinable. Sweet Sixteen falls somewhere on that spectrum. Well actually, it probably falls across all three.

So what is Sweet Sixteen? It’s ostensibly billed as ‘horror’ and there are certainly horror elements to it. But it’s more thriller, with some melodrama and a touch of coming-of-age thrown in.

First of all, you can imagine my disappointment when the first face you see is that of Dana Kimmel, last seeing shitting up the screen in Friday The 13th Part 3(D). She’s in a spooky house reading a book while a storm rages outside. Suddenly there’s a zombie at the door but surprise! It’s just a fake out and we soon get to the real meat of things. We’re in a good old redneck bar (It’s not really a redneck bar as there’s no southern accents, but one guy inexplicably sounds like one) when an old native American walks in and things get racist as fuck. Anyway, redneck’s younger brother meets a girl named Melissa outside. She’s new in town and ready to bone down. After that’s aborted, thanks to an intervention from slumming actor Patrick Macnee, the younger brother gets offed.

So ok we do have a slasher movie on our hands. Or do we? Disturbingly, after firmly establishing that Melissa is actually 15 years old and soon to be 16, we get treated to a fully nude shower scene, which might’ve flown in 1983, but in 2016 it has me reaching for the curtains less I get spotted and thrown in the beast wing. Weirdly this is actually the opening scene in the ‘Director’s Cut’ version, and the fake opening with Kimmel is nowhere to be seen. In hindsight it really makes no sense they chose to open with that given that A) It’s pretty misleading and B) Kimmel isn’t really the star. Maybe someone was trying to capitalise on that sweet Friday The 13th Part 3(D) action, which they wouldn’t do if they had actually seen it.

So the friend of the dead kid is Dana Kimmel’s brother (It was about an hour before I realised he was a minor character in The Goonies) and they’re both children of the local sheriff. She’s currently reading a book lazily titled ‘Murder Mystery’, which shows about the level of effort they took with this movie. It also means she has this annoying habit of playing Scrappy-Doo to her father’s Scooby. She also has a weird, maybe sexual, fascination with Melissa. We see her watching Melissa at school while this song called, appropriately enough, ‘Melissa’, plays.

Anyway, Melissa asks a football player out (She’s a real go-getter is our girl) but of course he winds up dead. Melissa blames one of the local Native Americans and then he ends up dead thanks to a good old fashioned lynching. The whole time Melissa is just generally concerned about turning into a woman, and Dana Kimmel gets bitchy.

So I don’t know what to make of all this. There’s clearly something being said when a girl’s impending womanhood is triggering murders. The way the movie occasionally loves her body, it seems to be suggesting that she’ll be tainted once she turns 16 as she’s somehow more pure now. It never says if she’s a virgin or not, but we’re to suspect she is, even with her being as forward as she is. There’s kind of a creepy subtext to all this that doesn’t entirely feel accidental, but the movie doesn’t quite know what to do with it. Indeed, while the killings seem to revolve around her, she actually does very little. Though when we do get to learn who the killer is (We can rule out her for a start, which actually would’ve been more interesting, and thematically relevant), it actually makes some sense. It does sort of tie in to what we’ve seen already, but only just about.

Still, I have to give marks to the movie doing something fairly interesting with itself even though there’s some astoundingly cheap filmmaking on display. I don’t know if it was just the version I watched, but scenes suddenly change colour, or the image gets cropped to where a shot that has two characters on screen now just has one. It’s a strange, zoomed in effect that gets a little disorienting. And when you have a scene set at night you might as well forget it, because they really did seem to be filming at night given now dark it is.

Still, even with all that, I sort of liked it. It’s like the rough draft of something better. There’s enough quirk and its own sort of weird charm that it kind of won me over. Though maybe it was just that awesome song. Now after me. One, two, three….

“Melissaaaaaaaah…”

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