Sweet 16 (1983)

MAY 30, 2018


I remember reading somewhere along the line that Sweet 16 was not really a slasher film, and just sort of in the vicinity of one, lumped in more for its cast (Friday the 13th Part 3's Dana Kimmell stars, and a few years later co-star Don Shanks would play Michael Myers, which didn't help the somewhat erroneous association) than its body count or vibe. So I kind of wanted to see it out of curiosity, but never put much effort into it - I sure as hell wasn't gonna blind buy it or anything like that. But it's on Amazon Prime now, and I pay like 100 bucks a year for the damn service and rarely use it outside of the "free" shipping (I gotta check to see if I'm getting $100 worth of free shipping every year...), so I figured I'd finally see what all the non-fuss was about.

Ironically, I found it more slasher-y than expected! Sure, it doesn't quite fit the mold of the era, but it's got a body count of I think five (Halloween's count!), a whodunit approach, and even a dumb sequel setup ending. But it's also missing a number of the key ingredients, particularly a proper Final Girl; Kimmell's character spends most of her screentime trying to take after her sheriff father (Bo Hopkins) and solve the case, only to sit out the entire climax while Hopkins solves the mystery himself. And since the killer is only targeting dudes that hit on the other main girl, Melissa (she's the one turning sixteen, with the climax being at her eponymous birthday party), she's also never on the killer's radar. That along with the lack of any chases keeps it from full on slasher territory, in my opinion, but I wouldn't throw a fit if it was in between Splatter University and Terror Train on someone's shelf.

Actually, what it REALLY feels like is a giallo more than anything else, albeit without the style. With the POV kill scenes (as opposed to a masked/costumed killer one could see and say "Oh, the Sweet 16 killer!") and occasionally icky moments, I found myself thinking about those films than Happy Birthday to Me or whatever. For starters, like most gialli it's impossible to discern the motive until someone shows up at the end and tells us about some buried secret, unlike a slasher where even if you don't know who the killer is you know what their deal is (i.e. My Bloody Valentine - whoever the Miner is, he doesn't like people celebrating Valentine's Day). And then when we do hear the motive it sounds very much like any number of Italian films, with the killer trying to work through some childhood trauma by offing everyone that reminds them of someone in their past, in this case their father. In fact, I recently watched an actual giallo called Eye in the Labyrinth that more or less had that same idea, oddly enough. In place of those older films' rampant misogyny we get some racial discomfort, with people suspecting a local Native American man (Shanks) as the killer simply because he's an Indian, and the local good ol' boys have some choice attitudes towards him even before the murders start. So if you ever wanted to see what a Texan giallo was like, you should check this out.

Anyway I kind of enjoyed it. The mystery is pretty good; I didn't peg the killer until it was revealed, which is always a plus (as long as it's not a cheat, that is) and again it had a couple more kills than I was expecting, changing the suspect pool. It's a shame that Kimmell's character didn't do more of the sleuthing, however, especially in the back half where it becomes pretty clear that Hopkins couldn't possibly be the killer, canceling out a perfectly good suspect and a potentially interesting plot point. If her dad WAS the killer, she'd have to choose between her only parent (the mom is deceased) and some strangers, which would have been interesting to see play out. Then again, I don't think she's the best actress in the world so perhaps it's better in the long run for the movie to not give her too much of the movie's heavy lifting. Plus it's funny to watch Hopkins going through microfiche as he solves the mystery, while the lab tech who is in love with him practically throws herself at him non-stop even though he barely seems to notice.

As for Melissa, it's odd - the plot revolves around her, but she's kind of a secondary character. She's introduced as a sort of vixen/troublemaker, i.e. the kind of girl who might end up getting killed early on (think Laura Palmer), but then she softens a bit after people start dying, for reasons that don't have much of a payoff. The thing is, she never really has any scenes to herself besides a shower scene that's inserted for no real reason (and is a bit of an eyebrow raiser since the character is only 15 - the actress was 20 in real life, but still), so it's kind of hard to get a real grasp on her or even see her as the major character the plot insists she is. We spend more time watching Hopkins be a cop than anything else; hell I think Michael Pataki as the town's mayor might even have more screentime, even though he ultimately doesn't have anything to do with the narrative. Sure, we need red herrings in a movie like this, but when they come at the expense of developing a primary character, it's not the best maneuver.

Ultimately it's the kind of movie I'm glad I didn't see until I was an adult; had I rented it when I first heard about it at age 13 or so, I probably would have been bored/disappointed with the lack of kills. But now that I am more familiar with gialli and also simply more patient, I could mostly get on board with its low-key approach to the material. It's got a great mix of young faces and character actors (in addition to Hopkins and Pataki, you got Susan Strasberg and Patrick Macnee as Melissa's parents) and just enough action to keep it from being the "Lifetime Thriller" type film it often resembles. Like the other day's Girls Nite Out, it's a "slasher completionists only" kinda deal, but for different reasons. Basically: it's fine.

What say you?

P.S. If you don't have Amazon Prime, you can also see the movie on Pluto TV, a free service that mimics a cable lineup. Only downside is that their ad breaks are inserted at random, sometimes mid-sentence, so it can be an off-putting viewing experience (not to mention annoying since the ads repeat a lot). But hey, it's free, so you get what you pay for.


Post a Comment

Movie & TV Show Preview Widget