Sweet Sixteen (1983)
WRITER: Erwin Goldman
DIRECTOR: Jim Sotos
STARRING: Bo Hopkins as Sheriff Dan Burke
Susan Strasberg as Joanne Morgan
Aleisa Shirley as Melissa Morgan
Dana Kimmell as Marci Burke
Don Stroud as Billy T.
Patrick MacNee as Dr. Morgan
Steve Antin as Hank Burke
Don Shanks as Jason Longshadow
Logan Clarke as Jimmy
Michael Pataki as George Martin
Sharon Farrell as Kathy
Henry Wilcoxon as Greyfeather
Larry Storch as Earl
Glenn Withrow as Johnny
QUICK CUT: Melissa just moved to a small rural town from the big city, and as all the boys take a hearty interest in the new girl, they each develop a nasty case of dead.
Melissa -Our female lead, the new girl in town, and the latest thing to catch all the boys' eyes. She's pretty big on lying, desperate for attention, but underneath it all she's a good person. OR IS SHE?
Sheriff Burke - A very gentle authority figure in this small, Texas town. He's good to his kids, very friendly, and good at his job. But don't mess with him, either. He DOES have a badge and a gun.
Marci Burke - The sheriff's daughter, too smart for her own good, and she loves mystery novels. Marci also has a knack for mysteries herself, and is very likely to follow in her father's footsteps. If she's not suspicious of you, she's a nice young woman. OR IS SHE?
Hank Burke - Marci's brother, and also as goody two shoes as the rest of his family. He has his flaws, he occasionally dips into bad boy territory with smoking and such, but for the most part, he's a stand up kid. OR IS HE? Ok, I'll stop that.
Joanne Morgan - Melissa's mother, and someone who used to live in the town the family has returned to. She's a bit of a cipher, and the target of undue attention from other men in town.
Dr. Morgan - Melissa's father, and an archaeologist. And randomly British. Because he's Patrick Macnee. What're you gonna do? He's protective of his daughter, and his dig site. He's also more than willing to work with the sheriff to get to the bottom of everything.
Jason Longshadow - A local Native American, and the target of frequent racism in town. He works at the dig site that Dr. Morgan runs, and an early target of Melissa's affections, although he quickly rebuffs her. He's quick to anger, likely from a lifetime of racism, and he often speaks with his fists first.
THE GUTS: This movie has some weird opening credits. They have a few people starring, then a few more co-starring, then even more as special appearances. There's a lot of special appearances, even. It sounds less weird than it actually looks. It's like they wanted everyone to be special.
After the odd credits, the movie begins on a torn picture, and pans all around a typical young woman's room. Well, typical until it hits the tarot deck, stopping on the upturned Death card. I guess tarot isn't that odd, but it's not exactly normal either.
Then it's time for the nudity! This is how we meet the main character of the movie, Melissa. In a state of complete undress, in the shower, and we get to watch most of it. I may or may not be complaining.
GAH! Sudden scene change from that to a cowboy busting through batwing doors. Well, that killed the mood! And nearly gave me a heart attack.
An indian, who is called Greyfeather, which I mistook for half the movie to be Greyfather (Hi, dad!) comes into the bar, and instantly the rest of the patrons give him crap. Ahh, blatant racism! That's a great way to start your movie. Teenaged nudity and racism!
Once they start harassing Greyfeather, another Native American walks in, and I swear he is the spitting image of the Green Ranger. Or maybe the lead singer from the Foo Fighters.
Anyways, words are said, weapons are drawn, but nothing really happens since the bartender draws a shotgun. Rather than be perforated, the Native Americans leave.
Melissa shows up outside and tries to hook up with Jason, but he shoos the youngling on home. But not before some other white rednecks see them together, and tease Jason over THAT too. It ain't easy being an Indian in this movie.
Once they've chased off Jason and Greyfather, the two punks come back over to flirt with Melissa themselves. I'm surprised they're willing to take the cast-offs from the lesser man.
Melissa plays hard to get, and the guys get bored. She quickly turns around and regains their attention, which probably isn't hard to do in Podunk, Texas. Johnny gives Melissa a ride off in his truck, leaving his friend Hank behind.
We immediately cut to the pair of them making out, so at least the movie is wasting no time there. Melissa is just about to pleasure Johnny, when she suddenly sits up after hearing a noise. She instead asks for a cigarette. Oh, I bet that made Johnny feel great.
As if that wasn't enough to kill the mood, Johnny tells her that they're parking atop an old Indian burial ground. Nooo, the sex might disturb their eternal rest! Zombie Indians bent on stopping premarital sex!
Johnny drives Melissa home, and we learn she's there because her father is an archaeologist who just moved to town for a dig. She sees he's home, and immediately worries about him catching her smoking pot. And apparently her dad is Batman, since he suddenly appears out of nowhere right outside Johnny's door when he gets out of the truck.
The kid tells Daddy Macnee what they did that night, much to Melissa's dad's chagrin. See, Melissa is only fifteen, and shouldn't be doing half the things we've seen her doing, or saying half the words that come out of her mouth.
Johnny drives off rather than confront Mr. Steed, and his truck runs out of gas somewhere...well, everywhere around this town is kind of the middle of nowhere. He stumbles off into the field, and suddenly he's stabbed and sliced up. Good thing the killer was waiting just where he ran out of gas!
The next day, Hank shows up to breakfast with his father the sheriff, and his sister is reading a mystery novel, generically titled MURDER MYSTERY. She gets to the end, and complains about the murder weapon, wondering how anyone could be killed by it. How long until I get to throw that complaint right back in this movie's face?
Sheriff Burke gets a call about Johnny's missing truck, and the missing kid, so heads out to find it, taking his own kids with him. It's bring your children to a murder scene day!
And yeah, that's pretty much what happens. The menfolk poke around the truck while Marci wanders off. It's not long before she finds Johnny's corpse, and the movie does some unintentionally hilarious jump zooms into her face and the body. This is what you get for wishing something interesting would happen, Marci.
The sheriff gets his kids to school just in time to see Melissa arrive as well. Well, that's handy. He has a quick word with Melissa's parents, and then a chat with the last girl to see Johnny's penis alive.
What follows is a stream of lies out of Melissa's mouth. She doesn't know where they went, but Johnny clearly told her they were on the Indian burial ground. No one threatened them last night, but there was the creepy lurkingness she senses that stopped her blowjob. And then she says that Jason grabbed her and tried to kiss her, when it was the other way around. Our heroine, victim, and potential murderer, ladies and gentlemen!
Since Jason was hired at Dr. Morgan's dig, he and the sheriff head up together to question him about Johnny's disappearance. And I just want to point out that Macnee steps off camera to get his things, and comes back wearing the most out of place fedora I've seen in awhile. Indiana Jones, he ain't.
They get to the dig and question Jason, so he gives his side of the story. At least, I think so. The audio is not great, and everyone is talking in serious, mumbly tones, which doesn't help any. It's barely understandable, but it feels like you're trying to overhear a conversation across the room.
After calling in some favours to get some help with the murder investigation, the sheriff meets with Melissa's mother, just as the town chairman, George Martin is heading out. He better, I hear there's a lotta people waiting for the next Game of Thrones novel!
Back at school, Marci is spreading the word about Johnny's murder, and this town is taking it rather in stride. I remember when someone died in my school, just by accident, and it was like everything just stopped. It was a tragedy. For these kids...eh, it's a Tuesday.
Some guy with a football sees the new girl, and gets her attention by throwing the ball at her. The jock hits on her, and misses her bad jokes while they chat. This flirting is almost painful to watch. Tommy is a total meathead, and pretty much agrees to anything Melissa says, and she's not much better in the acting department. The scene is just...awkward. But then, they're teens.
Anyways, they make a date to smoke pot later that night, and I'm wondering if this movie is trying to sneak in a message about the dangers of getting high or doing drugs, like some horror movies do about having sex. It's only victim #2, but pot keeps being involved.
That night, the sheriff leaves his kids home alone with strict orders to lock the doors and do their homework. His car isn't even out of the garage before they sneak off. Marci at least wants to stay home and not be out where there's a killer, but once she's alone, she rethinks her decision and chases after Hank. It's not long before Mrs. Morgan shows up to pick them up, and take them...um, we don't really know where.
And unsurprisingly, Tommy is waiting for his pot, oh and Melissa, but gets a knife in the back. And the front. And the face.
Once Tommy is stabbed to death, the movie cuts (sorry) to the town meeting about what to do about the murder. The redneck asshats from the bar are naturally blaming the Indians. The sheriff takes offense, since he's surprisingly half Indian, and makes his position clear to his friends with just a slight beating.
With the rednecks busy yelling about Indians at the meeting, Jason actually has a chance for a peaceful drink at the bar. At least, until Melissa shows up looking for trouble, and dressed for it. She stumbles around outside, and instead of trouble finds Greyfeather and what's left of Tommy.
A brief aside, the foley artists need to be smacked. Or whomever was recording audio on set, but I presume they dubbed over that. The sound of people walking on the pavement and gravel around Tommy's body is so loud it starts to drown out the dialogue. And it's really not ok to still hear it when people aren't talking and just shuffling their feet, either.
Melissa blames Greyfeather for the murder, since he was the only one there, so clearly it was his fault. She makes the mistake of saying this right in front of the drunken asshats, so they rush off to take care of things.
The sheriff and his Scooby Kids head up to the reservation to question Greyfeather, but by the time he gets there, all he finds is the old man hanging from a noose.
The next day, George Martin is taking a break from producing the new Beatles album to talk to Burke about Greyfeather's apparent suicide. They all head off to the double funeral for the kids, which makes things convenient I guess, but where's the coffin for Greyfeather? I'll presume seperate, Native ceremonies.
Marci can see what's going on with Melissa, her lies, the cries for attention, and confronts her about it after the funerals, shaking her up over Greyfeather being killed based on Melissa's accusations. It's a pretty effective little scene. Melissa is visibly disturbed by the blame being thrust upon her, and it paints Marci as a pretty smart girl.
Although things take a random turn when Marci suddenly feels bad about calling Melissa on her crap, and Melissa instantly forgives her for being mean. And they become almost instant friends. No, that's not awkwardly hamfisted at all.
On the drive home, Marci wonders what connects the two dead kids, and everyone can see it's Melissa but her. Well, she saw it too, but now that she's randomly, suddenly friends with her, she's not seeing it anymore. Hank says Melissa was the last one to see Tommy alive, but it's pointed out that he was dead when Melissa discovered the body.
"That's what she says!" is not the best argument against that. You can't just suppose the person is lying to fit your hypothesis. You can get anyone to be the murderer at that point.
It is so damned jarring to see the formerly smart Marci suddenly defending Melissa. That was just such a backsliding of her character development. What the heck happened there? Did someone decide the female couldn't be the smart one? And I love how everyone's talking like Melissa has been there for ages, but she's only been in town for what? Three days?
Later, Dr. Morgan shows up at the sheriff's to tell him that Jason has been fired for stealing from the dig site. Bad Jason! No redhead for you! Morgan hands over a list of stolen artifacts, including DUN DUN DUN, a bunch of knives. And yes, the music does get overly serious at this revelation. And so does Patrick Macnee's acting as he talks about the five knives.
The sheriff's friend who was looking into the case for him finally calls back, and tells him that she's found some cases with matching M.O.s, as well as interesting stuff about a particular Jason.
But don't worry about those missing knives. That little subplot diversion is wrapped up in the next scene, when the sheriff finds them at Jason's.
This is as good a spot as any for this. Throughout the movie, they cut to scenes of Melissa just...doing nothing. Staring in the mirror, fixing her hair, whatever. And they play a part of their main theme song, called appropriately enough, "Melissa". It's this plinky little tune about Melissa, but usually they don't sing any of the words. I can't decide if this is atmospheric, or annoying. I lean towards the latter because the music is just so odd.
And finally, the big day arrives, Melissa's birthday party. Or barbecue. Or whatever. The whole cast...er, town is there to greet the new family. George Martin even set aside his writing to come say hi, and hit on Melissa's mom some more.
Marci and Hank give Melissa their present, a handkerchief, which strikes me as an odd present. But I never pretended to understand teens. Even when I was one of them.
Meanwhile in the records department, the sheriff doesn't believe the coincidental stabbing that his friend found really has anything to do with his case, and wants to look through the physical records himself, rather than trust the computer. I'm surprised they even had this stuff on computers in 1983.
Another woman interrupts and tells the sheriff that one of the knives had some blood on it and they're testing it just to make sure someone didn't make a meatloaf and ketchup sandwich instead.
The sheriff calls deputy Frank and tells him what's going on, and to stay sharp. Which of course means the instant he tries to feed Jason in his cell, he kicks deputy ass and breaks loose. And by ass, I actually mean face. He even jumps on top of the cop to punch him. Nice guy.
Back at Melissa's party, the rednecks are going on about how much she turns them on. Eeeww. And the movie seems to have fallen into the same temporal dilation field that Sledgehammer lived in, as Melissa can only move at 12 frames a second while blowing out her cake. She blew out all the candles, so I hope she wished for her boyfriends to stop dying of fatal stabbing accidents.
Which better come true fast, because Hank is heading off for a walk with her, and that hasn't ended so well for her other suitors.
I will say, it is nice to see actual research being done by the sheriff. It always seems like people finding things out on their own, through hard work, is lost in cinema these days, and too often the bad guys just monologue it all. They get a call that it was squirrel blood on the knife, which can only mean one thing; Squirrel Girl has been murdered! Quick, somebody call Iron Man!!
Also, the suspect they've been trying to find stuff out about died in 1956, so I guess we're dealing with a zombie slasher. Especially when we see the dead person is Melissa's mother.
Melissa runs off into the darkness to go skinny dipping, and Hank doesn't hesitate to follow. Well, he does, but mostly because it's dark out. And not at all because there's a big, angry Native American fresh out of a jail cell.
The McRedneckersons turn up at the lake to drain their lizards, just as Melissa is coming out of the water, and again with the skeevy creepiness. These two better die, because they clearly deserve it way more than anyone else has in this movie.
Fortunately, that's when Jason decides to show up to get revenge for Greyfeather's suicide. At least, that's the plan. I'm honestly surprised, after what we've seen him actually do, that Jason goes down so fast. Sure, there's two of them, but it's two drunken idiots to Jason's sober, pissed off, knife weidling self.
This gives the pair all the incentive and motivation they need to go after Melissa. So, they're murderers, they're idiots, they're drunks, and they go after underage girls. Please, someone with a knife, anytime now!
Hank shows up to try and stop them, but he goes down from one punch. Which is fine, since it would have been a huge embarassment to Jason if Hank took these guys out where he couldn't.
Melissa fights back and gets knocked out with everyone else. Redneck #1 sends Redneck #2 to get some water to wake her back up. While he's off doing that, #1 gets a knife in the back like everyone else who has touched Melissa so far. Finally.
Redneck #2 returns, finds his brother, and is sent to meet him in the deepest pits of Hades where the pair of them belong. Especially #2, since he was more than wanting to just leave Melissa unconscious while they had their fun.
Whomever is making stabby goes to finish up their hat trick by killing Hank, but somehow just knicks a motionless target. He doesn't rabbit until after he's hit. But bonus credit for actually running.
Marci has gotten bored and goes looking for her brother, but she finds the two rednecks instead. She also finds Joanne Morgan cradling Melissa. She tries to help the two Morgans, but she stumbles into the time dilation field again, which is probably fortunate. Mrs. Morgan pulls a knife and is about to stab Marci with it. If not for the slo-mo, the sheriff might not have had time to dive in and get his daughter out of the way.
Once they are away from Joanne by just a few feet, she puts the knife down again. I guess she's only truly dangerous if you invade her personal space, or she's just too lazy to try and get someone barely out of arm's reach.
Sheriff Burke tries to talk Mama Morgan down, and starts calling her Patricia, and she starts calling Melissa, "Joannie". Seems like the real Joanne Platt was her sister, and they were both abused by their father, whom Patricia killed. Joannie couldn't take it, and killed herself, and Patricia took her sister's place all these years. Seeing her daughter blossoming into womanhood and becoming the target of the same affections she ended up suffering through made her snap. Which is a way more coherent story than I ever expected going into this.
The sheriff continues to try and get the knife away from Patricia/Joanne, but she decides to kill herself rather than deal with anything she's done, which is rather random.
He tells all this to Dr. Morgan, who takes the fact that his wife has been crazy for 20 years, not really Joanne, and everything else almost in stride. Again, just another Tuesday in Rattlesnake Gulch, Texas. Or maybe he's just that British.
Jason wanders from off camera with a bandage on his head, and they're all like, "Well, good thing that's over". Um, what about the whole thing with him stealing knives? Trying to kill people? Are we just going to let that slide? I guess he won't be seeking revenge since the Redneck Brothers are dead, but still.
The movie wraps up with the Burke kids trying to console Melissa, but she's all mumbly and fine, and stumbles back to her house. The blanket wrapped around her falls away, and we see this stunned girl, clutching a knife. So, I guess in 20 years this will all happen again? Sigh.
And we zoom ever closer to Melissa's face and hear the shouts of her mother growing louder and louder. Yep, Melissa's gonna be the next Patricia, I guess.
Video: Iffy, at best. It's not horrible at times, but at others it damn well is. I don't blame the movie too much, since it is a director's cut cobbled together from some poor sources. The movie is so little known, with so little preservation done, that this is, at the time, the best they could find and put together for DVD. It's watchable, but there's some bad cuts and jumps in the film, and a lot of scratches. Shame. The night scenes can be hard to see, and everyone looks very red, as you can see from the caps.
Audio: A mono audio track is provided, and it's not too bad. Aside from unfortunate foley, and only a few mumbly moments, everything is clear, and the sound works well.
Special Features: It has features, but they're pretty lacking. There's the original cut of the movie, which somehow looks *worse* than the cobbled together director's cut, but at least it's there. An awkward intro with a producer and grown up Melissa, which tries to be funny, but is instead painful. A commentary track that is recorded even more poorly than the movie, and a twenty minute video with Aleisa Shirly and Bo Hopkins discussing the film. That last is probably the best part.
Sound Byte: ""If anyone in this town decides to take the law into their own hands, I'll be on your ass like a junebug on shit!" The sheriff to the town. I love Southern sayings.
First Blood: 15 minutes in, Johnny falls in the field.
Best Corpse: Well, everyone is killed pretty much the same way. Since we get to actually see Johnny's murder, I go with his.
Blood Type - B: Some decent bloody stabbings, but nothing too gory.
Sex Appeal: Melissa does like to wander around without any clothes.
Movie Rating: For a cast of this caliber, it sure has some flaws. And many they are. But it's not too horrible. It's made well enough, the plot is surprisingly coherent, even if no one making the movie understood it at the time. I don't want to judge the lighting or sound too harshly, because of the nature of this transfer. But even so, the shooting is just kinda there, and that's the problem. The movie can be a little dry and bland. Not quite so much that you're bored, but it's nothing special in anything. I am disappointed that Marci didn't get to solve the case, since they were building her up as a new Nancy Drew, and shifting her character to amateur detective to Melissa's friend was so forced and once it happened, Marci became pointless. And revealing the mother had a sister who was really who she was, and the mother had really been dead for 20 years came too much out of nowhere, not until the movie needed an ending. But it's not terrible. Three out of five dead boyfriends.
Entertainment Value: For a movie this bad, it sure has a good cast. Patrick Macnee is always a treat, and he does a great job. Even if he's so British they had to come up with some excuse to make that work in Texas. The sheriff, Greyfather, even the kids, were all good actors. They just weren't given great material. And it shows when Melissa is hitting on Tommy and she's visibly uncomfortable. So yeah, there's a good cast to watch, and some amusement in the plot, but it's almost too coherent to be super fun. There is no major WTFery here. But again, it's not terrible, and an ok experience. Three out of five dead rednecks.