SWEET SIXTEEN (1983) Blu-ray
Director: Jim Sotos
88 Films

88 Films discovers that even SWEET SIXTEEN is on the calendar of holiday horrors with their Slasher Classics Collection Blu-ray.

When the kid brother (Glenn Withrow, THE OUTSIDERS) of local bigot Billy (Don Stroud, GAMES) is found stabbed to death, suspicion falls upon Native American youth Jack (Don Shanks, REVENGE OF THE NINJA) who had an altercation with Billy and his redneck buddy Jimmy (Logan Clarke, WONDER WOMEN) over their harassment of elder Greyfeather (Henry Wilcoxon, CADDYSHACK). While Sheriff Dan (Bo Hopkins, THE WILD BUNCH) is trying to prevent the locals from forming a vigilante group – with little help from town chairman George (Michael Pataki, GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE) – his mystery-loving daughter Marci (Dana Kimmel, FRIDAY THE 13TH: 3D) turns her focus on the last person to see Jimmy alive: new girl Melissa (Aleisa Shirley, SPACEHUNTER: ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE) whose father John (Patrick Macnee, THE HOWLING) is in town on an archaeological dig and whose locally-born mother Joanne (Susan Strasberg, SCREAM OF FEAR) is trying too hard to find friends for her daughter. When the next guy to ask Melissa out, football team captain Tommy (Tony Perfit), is also stabbed to death, Melissa points the finger at Greyfeather who becomes the target of a lynch mob. Believing that Melissa wants attention and is insecure despite all the boys drooling over her and all the girls envious of her seeming city sophistication, Marci befriends her just as the sheriff starts having suspicions about the other girl. As the town gathers for Melissa's sweet sixteen – including some uninvited guests with unwholesome desires – the sheriff discovers a similar M.O. to the current murders in the town's recent past, and his son Hank (Steve Antin, THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN) may be the next victim.

Coming relatively late in the slasher cycle, SWEET SIXTEEN is a lopsided mix of small town coming-of-age drama and slasher in which the body count is restricted enough by the plot that the identity of the killer becomes obvious early on with some throwaway dialogue that draws too much attention to itself. The interesting supporting cast – including Sharon Farrell (NIGHT OF THE COMET) as the sheriff's amorous records clerk, Larry Storch (F-TROOP) as a bartender, and Michael Cutt (NIGHT OF THE DEMON) as a deputy – is game, particularly Stroud, but the young leads are less interesting: Melissa as scripted has to be ambiguous – it doesn't help that she is followed around the film with a sappy theme song – for the whodunit aspect while Marci contributes little to the mystery despite her Sherlock Holmes act early on. The novel sunny desert setting is also shared by BLOODY BIRTHDAY (also featuring Strasberg) and DEATH VALLEY, but much of the film's suspense sequences take place in murky night exteriors, and some viewers will probably find tiresome the film's focus on teenage drama over illicit activity (despite Melissa's early nude shower scene). Although the killer's identity is obvious, the climax is effectively performed by the actors even if the staging is sloppy.

Released theatrically by the short-lived Century International, SWEET SIXTEEN captured most of its audience with Vestron's VHS release. In 2006, Code Red released the film on a DVD edition that featured both the film's theatrical cut and an earlier director's cut, the latter opening with a nude shower scene with Shirley while the former features a new nightmare prologue with Kimmel shot by second unit cinematographer Gary Graver (MORTUARY). While the director's cut was seemingly a new transfer of a worn source, the theatrical cut appeared to have been derived from a video master. Derived from an HD master of the original negative, 88 Film's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen encode of the film's theatrical cut (87:58) looks sharper than the DVD release with richer colors and more natural skintones, but the night exteriors will always be murky and the original cinematography may also be to blame for some shots looking sharper than others within the same scene (presumably the film was shot on short ends). In reviewing the Code Red DVD, I thought the faults in the audio quality were due to the same aggressive noise reduction applied to the poorly-recorded audio commentary featuring Sotos and Shirley, but the Blu-ray's LPCM 2.0 mono track reveals that it is the location audio which is at fault while the music and some post-dubbed dialogue sounds fine. Optional English SDH subtitles are included.

While the Code Red DVD included an audio commentary by director Jim Sotos (HOT MOVES) and actress Shirley, 88 Films' audio commentary track is with podcasters The Hysteria Continues who are nicer to Kimmel here than in their podcast on FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III, discuss their reactions to the film as a slasher when they first saw it and how it has improved in some ways with subsequent viewings, positing the film's choice of male victims for the lack of exploitative stalk-and-kill sequences, as well as the minimal behind the scenes information they have been able to scrounge up on the film such as Leslie Nielson originally be slated for the role of Melissa's father. They also point out that the mystery novel read by Kimmel in this sequence – actually titled "Murder Mystery" – utilizes as its cover the poster art for director Sotos' softcore remake of Shaun Costello's FORCED ENTRY. In “Birthday Bloodshed: Remembering Sweet Sixteen” (10:23), "Legacy of Blood" author Jim Harper discusses the slasher film credentials of the cast – including actor/stuntman Shanks playing Michael Myers in HALLOWEEN 5 – makes comparisons to the film GRADUATION DAY, and how the film differs in that female killers usually are seeking vengeance by proxy (like Mrs. Voorhees for her son's death) and suggests that the coda shot may have inspired the ending of HALLOWEEN 4. Like the podcasters he also notes some of the differences between the theatrical and director's cuts. The reversible cover features the same art without the Slasher Classics banner on the inside. 88 Films' Blu-ray of SWEET SIXTEEN is Region B-encoded but the film is also available for Region A-locked viewers from Code Red utilizing the same master and featuring some exclusive interviews (but not the Sotos/Shirley commentary track that was included on the DVD's director's cut which was also not carried over to the Blu-ray). (Eric Cotenas)