(A.k.a. SWEET 16)
One evening in a small middle-American town, Johnny (Glenn Withrow) takes teenage temptress Melissa (Aleisa Shirley) on a date. She's new in town and he's pleased as punch to have scored a date with her. They make out in the back of his truck, smoke some pot and then head back to her father's house. The old man, John (Patrick Macnee) is a cantankerous curmudgeon - "If I see you round my daughter again" he warns Johnny, "I'll have you put in jail". Perhaps he does have a point: Johnny readily admits that he's been drinking beer with Melissa, and it transpires that she's only fifteen.
Johnny needn't worry about John though, as he's not going to survive the night. On the contrary, he pulls up beside a field during his drive home and wanders drunkenly into the greenery ... only to be attacked and ultimately stabbed to death by a mystery assailant.
Enter sheriff Dan (Bo Hopkins), who is called out from home the following morning to the scene of the crime. Rather unwisely, he takes along his teenage daughter Marci (Dana Kimmell). She witnesses Johnny's bloodied corpse and is traumatised for, like, five minutes.
At school later that day, Melissa meets Marci and her brother Hank (Steve Antin) - who clearly has the hots for her. Dan turns up and questions Melissa about her evening with Johnny. The only thing she can remember being untoward was the moment a local Indian, Jason (Don Shanks), caused a minor scene by grabbing her in the local bar and trying to kiss her.
Dan's not convinced that mild-mannered Jason could be capable of murder, but is obliged to interview him nevertheless. He takes John along for the ride, for no apparent reason other than to make use Patrick Macnee being available on that day of the shoot.
In the meantime, John and his wife Joanne (Susan Strasberg) are planning a party for Melissa's impending sixteenth birthday. They see it as being a good way of establishing themselves in the town and getting to know people.
However, there's a spanner in the works regarding that plan: Melissa accepts the offer of a date from jock Tommy (Tony Perfit) at school, and guess what? He turns up slaughtered shortly after venturing out to enjoy some private time with her.
No wonder Marci and her pals are growing evermore suspicious of their gorgeous new classmate. But the young fellas keep falling for her ... and the body count slowly rises. Could it really be that sweet young Melissa is killing off her suitors? Or could it be quiet Jason? Or Melissa's protective father? What about drunken hothead Jimmy (Logan Clarke)? Or sleazy mayor George (Michael Pataki)?
SWEET SIXTEEN was released in 1983 when the slasher genre was on the brink of collapsing under the weight of a slew of inferior knock-offs and needless sequels to the likes of HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH.
It's a taut little thriller with a keen script, stylish direction from Jim Sotos and competent cinematography courtesy of James L Carter. And just look at that cast - that's quite some fathering for a slasher flick.
And yet, the film wasn't a success. This could be because, as already mentioned, it came a little late in terms of the slasher cycle; or perhaps it's because the film is rather reserved when it comes to its bloodletting.
Indeed, there aren't that many murder set-pieces on offer. And what we do get are very quickly edited affairs, with little in the way of build-up or aftermath. It's as if Sotos didn't enjoy shooting the killings and wanted them sneaked in there. It's not that I'm baying for gore, but the quickness of these scenes robs the film of potential tension. There's no real sense of threat.
On the plus side, the cast are generally great and Sotos spends a lot of time affording their characters space to grow. We do get involved. The film always looks attractive, and for once you won't necessarily guess the killer's identity in the first ten minutes. Oh, and it's rather novel for all of the victims to be male ...
SWEET SIXTEEN makes its blu-ray debut in the UK, thanks to the increasingly prolific 88 Films. The film is number 33 in their ongoing "Slasher Classics Collection".
Presented uncut (87 minutes and 58 seconds in length) and in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, SWEET SIXTEEN looks very good here. This MPEG4-AVC file displays the film in 1080p. Some scenes exhibit a filtered softness which is typical of the era, but by-and-large this is a sharp, naturalistic transfer from an impressively clean print (some specks here and there notwithstanding) with strong colours and stable blacks throughout.
English audio comes in a clean, consistent uncompressed 2.0 mix. Optional English subtitles are well-written and easily readable at all times.
The disc opens to a static main menu page. There is no scene selection option but the film does have the option of 8 chapters during playback.
The main extra on offer is an audio commentary track from the guys behind the Hysteria Continues podcast shows. Justin Kerswell chairs the discussion as the team of four discuss their love for the film, how it differs from more conventional slashers, the famous cast, and the interesting fact that the movie had an alternate opening (this version opens with a rather Gothic-tinged nightmare sequence; the alternate opening focused on a naked Melissa bathing in the shower). The rumours that the film began shooting with an unfinished script are covered, as is the unusually low body count. We also learn that Macnee was cast as a last-minute replacement for Leslie Nielsen when a shooting conflict prevented the latter from taking part; the fact that the film appears to have been shot in the autumn of 1981; the team also point out an actor that video nasty fans will know from bigfoot gore epic NIGHT OF THE DEMON ...
"Birthday Bloodshed" is a 10-minute onscreen chat with Jim Harper, author of the excellent book "Legacy of Blood: A Comprehensive Guide to Slasher Movies". He takes us through the backgrounds of the film's surprising cast, makes comparisons to GRADUATION DAY and even gets to mention notorious porn roughie FORCED ENTRY along the way (Sotos directed the 1975 remake starring Tanya Roberts). Harper is an affable, engaging host whose approach is agreeably casual.
SWEET SIXTEEN is perhaps a little low-key for some, but I'd recommend it for slasher fans everywhere. It's stylish, tightly directed, and both the plot and casting are reason enough to make it a highly intriguing proposition. It looks great on 88 Films' blu-ray.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by 88 Films|