Director: Jim Sotos
Code Red DVD

When you reflect on the numerous and loving shots of Aleisa Shirley in her white cotton top and panties, SWEET SIXTEEN is a little disturbing given that Aleisa's character Melissa is supposed to be all of fifteen. Aleisa Shirley was probably in her early twenties at the time of filming, but you can't help feel like Chris Hansen and Dateline NBC's "To Catch A Predator" are waiting just outside of your front door to interrogate you before the cops haul you off to jail, especially during the film's fully nude, opening shower scene. Released during a peak of stalk and slash horror films that overpopulated theaters in the early 1980s, SWEET SIXTEEN is an appealing thriller that plays better as a who-done-it mystery than it does as a slasher picture for which it was originally advertised.

When her father (Patrick Macnee, THE HOWLING) relocates the family to a small Texas town, Melissa (Aleisa Shirley) finds herself the center of attention and the object of affection for the neighborhood men, young and old. Trouble is, any perspective beau who gets too close to the promiscuous teenager winds up dead with multiple stab wounds to the chest, arms and back. While the town locals and Melissa’s father suspect Native American, Jason Longshadow (Don Shanks, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF GRIZZLY ADAMS) as their prime suspect, Sheriff Dan Burke (Bo Hopkins, THE WILD BUNCH, TENTACLES) prefers to rely on the facts and the help of his inquisitive daughter (Dana Kimmell, FRIDAY THE 13th PART III), before passing judgment too soon. However when the whole town gathers to celebrate Melissa’s sweet sixteen, Sheriff Burke will have to put in for overtime if he is to connect the pieces and unmask the killer before his son (Steve Antin, THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN), smitten with the beguiling Melissa, gets too close for comfort.

While a mediocre slasher, SWEET SIXTEEN benefits greatly from an impressive cast of familiar faces and genre stalwarts, which raises the entertainment value well above its pedestrian plot. Bo Hopkins plays a small-town sheriff for the one billionth time, but it's a role that he wholly owns and is obviously comfortable with. Confident and laidback, Sheriff Burke is a likeable member of law enforcement, who conveys a surprising lack of urgency when initially investigating the murder of local riffraff Johnny, played by Glenn Withrow (THE OUTSIDERS). Dana Kimmell’s portrayal of Sheriff’s daughter Marci, a junior detective with the brains of Velma and the looks of Daphne, is a memorable, often comedic role that was strong enough for director Jim Sotos (FORCED ENTRY, HOT MOVES) to recommend her when producers called him inquiring about a lead for FRIDAY THE 13th PART III.

Patrick Macnee's screen time is sparse, but he uses it wisely, as the frustrated and easily agitated father of the licentious Melissa. Working with a script that had yet to be completed when camera’s started to roll, Patrick and Bo’s performances are all the more impressive given that their final scenes together where more or less ad-libbed, on the spot. Susan Strasberg (SCREAM OF FEAR), who plays a much more pivotal paternal role than Macnee as Melissa's mother Joanne, is equally impressive as an attractive wife and mother who reluctantly returns to the small town where she was born and raised. Henry Wilcoxon, whose illustrious career started in the early 1930s with several roles for Cecil B. DeMille, barely has a speaking part, but his character Greyfeather is imposing and central in setting up the town’s animosity toward Native Americans. While there are seemingly no small roles in SWEET SIXTEEN, what with minor characters being played brilliantly by the likes of Larry Storch, Don Stroud, and Michael Pataki, too much time is spent with them as apposed to Aleisa Shirley’s Melissa. I understand that with the more ancillary characters (the greater the number of potential suspects) but with only a few death scenes that are light on gore and pass too quickly, I would have liked to have spent more time with Melissa. While certainly attractive, I’m still not quite sure what it is about her that makes her to die for.

A Century International Release, until now the only way to see SWEET SIXTEEN was to get your hands on an old VHS tape. Thankfully, Code Red DVD has saw fit to resurrect SIXTEEN, along with Jim Sotos' HOT MOVES, so that young and old alike can sit back and relive the joys that 1980s entertainment has to offer. Taking a step beyond the call of duty, Code Red has included both the director’s and original theatrical cut for this release. The most noticeable difference between the two edits is that the original theatrical cut features opening credits that highlight Marci Burke’s obsession with murder mysteries, where as the preferred directors cut doesn’t waste any time, opening with the before mentioned shower scene. Both versions are presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and bare a warning, found on the back of the DVD case, that the quality present does not meet the usual high standards of Code Red but that the best possible effort was made using the source material provide by the licensee. While the cut and paste job is rather evident throughout both versions, with the film often fading or turning a light shade of red, such flaws are forgivable given the circumstances and in no way distract from enjoying the proceedings. Mono audio is acceptable with dialogue easy to understand and follow for both cuts.

Aleisa Shirley provides an introduction to the director’s cut of the film along side screenwriter and director Scott Spiegel (INTRUDER), which is a bit hokey but the two are having fun, a spirit that is continued on to the films audio commentary. Labeled as an audio “conversation”, the track features Scott and Aleisa joined by director Jim Sotos as they watch and reflect on the film at Scott Spiegel’s “den”, which based on the location of the film's introduction, appears to have been decorated by Forrest J Ackerman. I don’t know if Scott gives tours, but I’d certainly pay a fair price to check out his “den”. The audio commentary is lighthearted and informative and actually quite enjoyable, but unfortunately suffers from what sounds like a poor digital transfer as voices consistently sound distance and mechanical. Jim and Aleisa discuss the film further, this time joined by Bo Hopkins, for an on camera interview that runs just shy of 20 minutes and mainly consists of the three catching up and praising each other for their fine performances. A still gallery runs through the film's original press book and is included along with the original theatrical trailer. Code Red trailers for NIGHTMARE, STUNT ROCK, RITUALS and BALALAIKA CONSPIRACY round out an impressive release that makes the most with the best resources available. (Jason McElreath)