31 Screams in October, Vol. 4, #4: Sweet Sixteen (1983)

Posted: October 4, 2018 in Movie Review

4. Sweet 16 (1983)

Director: Jim Sotos

Starring: Bo Hopkins, Susan Strasberg, Patrick Macnee, Don Stroud, Dana Kimmell, Don Shanks, Aleisa Shirley

I’m not even sure anymore how or when it was that I first became aware of “Sweet Sixteen.” I only know that it is directly tied to my fondness for the “Friday the 13th” franchise… particularly the early entries. Those films, in my opinion, have always been the standard-bearer for the slasher genre. As it happens, “Sweet Sixteen” features actress Dana Kimmell (the lead in “Friday the 13th Part 3,” a role she got thanks to her work here). Apart from a rerun of an episode of William Shatner’s early 1980s cop show “T.J. Hooker,” I’d never seen Kimmell in anything else, so I figured why not take a look?

There’s a new girl in town, Melissa Morgan (Aleisa Shirley), and she who has a knack for attracting every slack-jawed horny male who sees her. There are a few problems though. The first is that Melissa is only fifteen, just on the cusp of her sixteenth birthday. The second, more pressing matter is that those who come into contact with her have this unfortunate habit of turning up dead the next morning. Maybe it wouldn’t be so easy for us to suspect her after just one incident, but the fact that it keeps happening does not cast her in the most positive light.

The ugliest part of “Sweet Sixteen” is not the violence (which is depressingly tame), but in the bizarre and unfortunate choice of including racism in the plot. In this case, the racism is directed at Native Americans, as they are the subject of ridicule from the drunken locals and are even accused of the murders by Melissa herself. First, she fingers Jason Longshadow, who works on her father (Patrick Macnee)’s archaeological dig. Jason Longshadow is played by Donald Shanks, who would go on to wear the Michael Myers mask in both “Halloween 4” and “Halloween 5.” Melissa next accuses Greyfeather (Henry Wilcoxon) because she saw him standing over a body. Greyfeather is eventually killed by two of the racist locals seeking vigilante justice.

Dana Kimmell’s role in the movie is Marci, the daughter of the town Sheriff (played by Bo Hopkins). Marci is an aficionado of murder mystery novels and is enthusiastic about solving the murders herself, Nancy Drew-style. At one point she aggressively accuses Melissa of giving false testimony, openly calling Melissa a liar before catching herself and apologizing. Despite being the daughter of a law officer, Marci’s never seen a dead body before. It’s the kind of thing her father wanted to shield her from. Good luck with that one, Dad! From her performance here, especially in regards to her ability to scream when the situation calls for it, the reasons for her casting in “Friday the 13th Part 3” are clear as crystal.

Sadly, much of the 90-minute run-time of “Sweet Sixteen” hovers over the dull end of the entertainment spectrum. In between the murder scenes, as well as the aforementioned racism, not much else of note is actually happening. The movie does everything it can to try to keep you guessing as to the identity of the killer. When the arrow is pointing towards Jason, he doesn’t help his case by breaking out of jail. Unless you’re extremely perceptive, it’s unlikely that you’ll see the final reveal coming. I find it kind of funny that we end on almost the exact same closing shot in “Sweet Sixteen” as we do in “Alice, Sweet Alice.”

While “Sweet Sixteen” is in desperate need of a more engaging plot, it does boast a decent supporting cast. In addition to Kimmell and Macnee, Michael Pataki makes his second appearance in this year’s marathon. He’s nowhere near as entertaining as his character from “Graduation Day,” but he’s no less welcome. You’d be advised not to seek out the song that plays over the closing credits until after seeing the movie. “Melissa” sung by Frank Sparks, kind of spoils the last scene of the movie. I will say this, though: “Melissa” is every bit as catchy of a tune as “Angela’s Theme” from “Sleepaway Camp,” and will remain in your memory long after anything else about “Sweet Sixteen” has drifted away.

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