FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Jun 4, 2014

SWEET SIXTEEN (1983)

Sweet Sixteen has been near the top of my "super must see" list for a long, long time. I'm not exactly sure why that is- I never heard that it was some amazing slice of horror pie that will change your life or something. Wait, maybe I am exactly sure why that is. It stars Dana "Chris motherfucking Higgins" Kimmell! It features Susan "The motherfucking Manitou" Strasberg! 'Twas borne of my favorite era ('77-'83)! But perhaps most of all, my desire to see this film grew and grew simply because it always managed to elude my grasp. Never saw it in a theatre or during the home video era. Never found a crappy VHS copy anywhere. Code Red released the Director's Cut on DVD a few years ago, but we were never in the same room at the same time. I finally added this shit to my Netflix and they sent me three cracked, unwatchable copies before I got one that would play. Finally- finally!- Sweet Sixteen and I snuggled on up together last night. After all the years, after all the hardship and heartache, was this movie everything I'd hoped and dreamed it would be?


It hurts my heartplace to say it, because look at that bitchin' title card...but while I want to say that Sweet Sixteen moved from my "super must see" list to my "this movie is my past, my present, and my future" list, it only ended up earning a post on my "okay, I saw that" list.

Far worse, however, is that sending the title "Sweet Sixteen" trough the crazy straw that is my brain means that this song of all time has been stuck in my head for a while now. I will not deny that it is catchy in that adult contemporary / Time-Life Singers & Songwriters Collection way that yes I enjoy so sue me...but my goodness, by the 15-second mark I fully expect Chris Hansen to come around the corner and ask Benny Mardones to please take a fucking seat.


While he's here, Mr. Hansen can also ask Sweet Sixteen to park it because it opens with a full-frontal shower scene of the "camera lovingly lingers" variety featuring 15-year-old Melissa (Aleisa Shirley). Man, I get so squidged out by these shower scenes where the characters are underage (Stepfather, I'm talking to you). Come on, movies, why you wanna try to make me feel like the kind of person who hears "Into the Night" and is all, "Finally! Someone knows what I'm going through!"

Melissa is new in town and she gives no fucks about what anyone thinks. She's that kind of character that feels terribly early 80s to me- always trying to score drugs, ciggies, sex, booze, and any combination therein. It seems to me that characters no longer have that seedy appeal, or if they do revel in their bad sides, they're punished for it. Why can't we just let sleazy characters be great? I blame Janet Jackson's Super Bowl nipple. Then again, I place the blame for a lot of things on Janet Jackson's Super Bowl nipple.

I mean, who eats apples like this anymore, amirite

Anyway, it seems that whenever Melissa takes a fancy to some young townie lad, he ends up dead soon thereafter. Is Melissa a crazy person? Is she a crazy person who kills? Is she a succubus or a werewolf or a bigfoot or a Satanist or something? Or is Melissa innocent and the town's native folk are murderers, as she insists? Well! That's the crux of the film, and it's a novel twist on the slasher formula. Instead of nonexistent or useless authority figures, Sweet Sixteen plays more like a murder mystery as Sheriff Burke (Bo Hopkins) attempts to take a McGruffian bite out of crime. A big, mumbly bite because look, even though Bo Hopkins was on Dynasty and Dynasty is second only to Dallas, he is such a GD mush mouth all the time I can't stand it and I'm not sure why he was ever cast in anything.

Hmm, I seem to have a lot of feelings about Bo Hopkins's acting. I had no idea they ran so deep. Thanks, Sweet Sixteen!

screencap chose for the dangling canvas mushroom wall art...gawd I love that people were into weird shit then

Sadly, a novel twist does not a terribly good film make. In the end, it's all a bit too dull to be overly enjoyable. It doesn't help matters that the print is so dark that you can't make out anything that happens after the sun sets. Like, say, all the murders, which happen at night. Its frustrating, particularly since they're the only real moments of action in this quiet snoozer. At least one of the bodies is found during the day so we know for sure that someone was, in fact, killed the night before.


While I was not bowled over, I'm not gonna sit here and LIE AT YOU and say that Sweet Sixteen is without its charms. I'm not gonna do it, so don't ask me if I will in some perverted attempt to pervert my nobility to help fulfill your anti-Sweet Sixteen agenda. Charms, it has them! To wit:


Larry Storch is in the house! And so are the giant jars of pickled eggs. I've seen so many jars of pickled eggs in dive bars both real and fictional, and I never understand the WHY of it all. Who would ever eat one? Perhaps in the comfort and privacy of one's own home, yes, but..those jars...sitting there, so...questionable...they're not something you want to have anywhere near your mouth hole in any capacity- they're more like jars full of "souvenirs" kept on a dusty shelf in a serial killer's basement. And I just know that if I were ever drunk enough to get wicked hungry and therefore slur out "One pickled egg, please," the bartender would reach right in, grab one, give it to me, and wipe his hand on the ass of his jeans. What I am saying is that I doubt the use of tongs would ever come into play, and if there's one thing I learned in the 90s it's "No Tongs, No Thanks (The 'H' is Silent)" because TLC sang about it.

No wait, that was a song about condoms and AIDS. Was it TLC? It might have been En Vogue. I don't know, the 90s were weird, but not in a "dangling canvas mushroom wall art" kind of way, which is a shame.


FEAST YOUR MOTHERFUCKING EYES on Dana Kimmel's cascading hair wave. It is glorious. How does it defy the laws of physics so? I don't understand at all how it works. How do you fashion the very fabric of space and time out of hair? It must be the natural state of things, like Wave Rock in Arizona. It should be designated a national monument, at the least. (Yes, I assume she still wears her hair this way because why wouldn't you?)

Hmm, what else? Well, Melissa spends a lot of time looking at herself in the mirror, and I guess that's neat.



At Melissa's Sweet Sixteen birthday party, her mom Joanne (Strasberg) opts to wear a number from Miss Havisham's Junior Casuals Collection.


As Marci, Dana Kimmell is the polar opposite of Melissa: she's annoyingly perky and gung-ho about everything. She's a total do-gooder who's determined to solve these murders, but you can't help like her, because yes, cascading hair wave, but also because she gives Melissa one of her mom's old handkerchiefs for her birthday. And she thinks this is a good idea. In other words, Marci is pretty great.

There's a weird moment, however, when her sheriff dad drops her off at school; he goes to kiss her on the cheek, but at the last second she turns and kisses him full on the mouth and it's just...too big. It's too big of a kiss. Immediately afterwards, Kimmell just stares at the ground as she walks away,  and you get the feeling that it was a reflex on her part and it shouldn't have happened. Because it shouldn't have happened.

brother digs it, though

Also of note:

  • parts of the film actually takes place on an Indian burial ground! I know it's an old chestnut of a joke in horror movies, but Sweet Sixteen is the real deal.
  • Like Laura Mars and Jennifer before her, Melissa has her own theme song. This kind of makes the whole thing worth it.
The Eyes of Melissa Mars

So yes, ultimately I'd have to say that Sweet Sixteen was a letdown. Although who knows...perhaps this is simply because I was expecting a good ol' fashioned slasher flick (it doesn't quite qualify). Or maybe it's because I put it on The Pedestal of My Mind during all those years it eluded me- it could only be a letdown. But that's okay, I can't stay mad at Sweet Sixteen. I'm just gonna have Benny Mardones creepily sing me out as I sail away blissfully on Dana Kimmell's cascading hair waves. Ain't nothing wrong with that! 

1 comment:

Dan B. said...

I was let down the first time I watched Sweet Sixteen. But, some time around viewing number five, I got into it. I would recommend playing it a few times in the background while you're doing something else. And then, sit down and focus and give it another try. It's not a world-breaker. But, it won me over. Keeping in mind-- I love The Last Slumber Party