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Old 10-29-2008, 01:19 AM
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Sweet Sixteen




Reviewer: Rhett
Review Date: October 28, 2008

Released by: Code Red
Release date: 10/14/2008
MSRP: $19.98
Region 0, NTSC
Progressive Scan [Director's Cut]
Interlaced [Theatrical Cut]
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
1983




inline Image inline Image
Director's Cut
Theatrical Cut

What is it about a girl coming of age that brings all the Freudians out? The enormously epic Canadian slasher, Happy Birthday to Me, offers a very twisted psychology behind its main character with the titular birthday. Apparently coming of age means suddenly unleashing the repressed memories that come with discovering sexuality and adulthood. And if Bloody Birthday ever taught us anything, it’s that having your birthday in a slasher film is never good. Added to the list of Freudian birthdays gone wrong on DVD is the newly released and oft requested Sweet Sixteen. Notable mainly now for introducing us to future Friday the 13th Part 3 final girl, Dana Kimmell, Sweet Sixteen has nevertheless been one of the most sought after slasher titles not yet on DVD. It’s here now, though. What would Freud think?


The Story

inline ImageThere’s a new girl in town. As her theme song will let us know repeatedly throughout, her name…Melissa (Aleisa Shirley, sadly one of her only roles). She’s a girl from the big city and her tough girl bravado sends men’s heads rolling…literally! Her unbridled sexuality makes itself apparent right from the start, when she tries to seduce Native American tough guy, Jason Longshadow (Donald Shanks of Michael Myers fame). She propositions him to take her home, but he grabs her arm and tells her to scram. When the guy that Melissa takes home instead ends up with his neck sliced open fingers immediately point to the colored guy. Melissa isn’t quick to refute it either, distorting the truth to make it look like Jason was actually hitting on her. Nothing like a Caucasian to reinvent history with Native Americans, eh?

inline ImageFirst to find the body is Marci Burke (Dana Kimmell). She’s a confessed mystery novel obsessee, but despite her credentials in mystery plotting, all she can say when she sees the body is “Did a bear do that?” A bear. In Texas. Nice job there, Sherlock! Her dad, Sheriff Dan Burke (Bo Hopkins) almost mocks her in following up with a question about her sanity. When another man falls to the blade, the town has a rally demanding the “red nigger” be put behind bars. The sheriff is quick to break it up, but the animosity holds true. Not surprisingly, Jason’s father, Greyfeather (Studio Era standout, Henry Wilcoxon, in his final role) is found hung, and even less surprising is the verdict that it was suicide. With Jason now behind bars though, the killing will stop, right?

inline ImageTo help break the tragic mood, Melissa’s mother, Joanne Morgan (Susan Strasberg of Bloody Birthday), decides to throw her girl a sweet sixteen party. Sixteen?! Wait…didn’t we just watch her take a naked shower? Apparently Sheriff Dan thinks the party is a good idea, too. Jason doesn’t want to miss out on the festivities, either, breaking himself out of jail. Once he’s out, the killings start anew, with greater frequency. A skinny dip in the lake becomes a bath of blood, and there are more than just ghost stories around the campfire. The killer is out there, and it’s going to take more than just a mystery novel reading sleuth-to-be to stop the carnage.

inline ImageRemember that feeling of bad taste you get while watching D.W. Griffith’s KKK glorification, The Birth of a Nation? Well, the same sort of rule applies here nearly seventy years later with Sweet Sixteen. Funny that the Native American Henry Wilcoxon started out in racist Hollywood playing anything but native caricatures, from Marc Anthony to the King of England, but that fifty years later in his career, would be reduced to a hick kicking. It’s not just like the characters in the film are racist, but the film itself plays heavily on the stereotype of the leering, threatening man of color. The whole time the plot hinges on trying to convince you that “Tonto Jr.” is the killer, and why should you doubt it? Even the protagonist lies to set him up. If it’s okay that our lead character wrongfully vilify an “Indian” as a violent and looking for sex, then we’re dealing with some pretty corrupt worldviews.

inline ImageOnce you get past the racism, there’s little to keep you going throughout the rest of this pretty stagnate mystery. There certainly isn’t much slashing going on, and when it does happen, it’s bodies covered in syrup. Introducing Marci as a veteran when it comes to mystery plots, the film promises some playful self-referentiality in the same vein as Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much. It doesn’t deliver though, with her sleuthing really contributing nothing to the plot, and by the end her character pushed to the periphery. She becomes a screamer, and nothing more. The most interesting thing about her is how her father keeps kissing her with an open mouth (apparently Bo Hopkins way of trying to pick her up, if the supplements are accurate). The rest of the fine cast of character actors is mostly wasted in languishing exposition apparently made up on the spot.

inline ImageAdmittedly, though, the film does finish with a fabulously Freudian finale. He cared about dreams, right? So it’s fitting then, that you sleep through most of the film and wake up for the racy resolve. The killer comes totally out of left field, but with the revelation comes a history of abuse, repression, psychosis and at the heart, family. It seems culled from a totally different film, but at least the director’s cut (more on that later) at least hints at the teetering relationship between sexuality and memory. The final shot, coupled with the tragic audio, hints at a chain still unbroken – a dark reality that hides behind the beauty of order. Coupled with the bombastic ballad of cheese, “Melissa”, it’s a moment of dark subversion in an otherwise snoozer of a flick.


Image Quality

Oh dear. Sweet it ain’t. Code Red presents Sweet Sixteen in two different versions for this disc, the director’s cut or the theatrical cut. The theatrical cut is one of the worst transfers I have ever seen. Terribly framed with way too much head room and objects often cut off on bottom, it is always frustrating to look at. It’s not off by a small amount either, we’re talking a good 40% off of how the image should be composed. To add insult to injury, the theatrical print is filled with scratch lines and bad splices, and the night scenes are rendered far too dark. It’s tough to make out any of the kills at night. There is also some bizarre green ghosting that outlines any moving object throughout the interlaced frame. Colors are inconsistent and often times washed out. Kicking this while it’s down, it’s also poorly interlaced. Yuck!


inline Image inline Image
Director's Cut
Theatrical Cut



The director’s cut is thankfully better framed, but it is no doubt culled from a print down the hierarchy of distribution, and is thus softer than the theatrical cut. There is some shimmering that happens throughout static backgrounds and there are generally more splicing issues apparent, including the final optical zoom. On the whole though, the director’s cut is far better transferred, with more consistent colors and a much better handling of contrast. The night scenes are significantly more visible in this cut than the theatrical. It is also transferred in progressive scan, and thus looks a lot more flattering. Still, it is far from reference quality.


inline Image inline Image
Director's Cut
Theatrical Cut



Count this disc up as a sort of trial run for Code Red. This was in fact their first DVD they produced, but because they were unsatisfied with the botched transfer job done by their transfer company, they planned on shelving the disc completely. Fan demand has asked for it, though, and while the transfers on both cuts are lacking, at least it is finally out now in its original aspect ratio (sorta, if you count the theatrical misframing).


Sound

Whichever cut you watch, Sweet Sixteen is going to sound crackly with a layer of light hiss throughout. There are some drop outs on both cuts, although I noticed a few more in the director’s cut. Both are a tad shrill, and some bits near the end can be tough to decipher, including Susan Strasberg’s tell all monologue. It’s acceptable, but like the video, could use a lot of cleanup.

Supplemental Material

inline ImageOkay, first thing’s first: Which cut to pick? The director’s cut is actually twenty seconds shorter than the theatrical cut, but don’t worry, the limited gore is intact on both prints. The differences in runtimes are basically accounted for at the start of each cut. The theatrical cut focuses on Dana Kimmell and a gothic nightmare right out of her mystery books. The director’s cut focuses on Aleisa Shirley, with plenty of additional shots of her nude in the shower. While at first glance the director’s cut may seem more exploitative, it also rightfully frames the film on the Melissa character. Considering the Freudian eruption of the finale, and that lingering final shot, the added sexuality, in addition to a voyeuristic bedroom tilt across her family photos, is far more effective. The title cards are different, and Melissa’s shower in the middle is excised from the middle of the director’s cut since it shows up instead at the start (with additional footage). That’s about it for the cuts, and considering the director’s cut is better transferred than the theatrical, there’s no question which you should be watching.

inline ImageNow, for the extras. In typical Code Red fashion, there’s a number of candid recollections shot on less than professional equipment. The first big extra is an “audio conversation” with Aleisa Shirley, director Jim Sotos and longtime producer and fan Scott Spiegel. More than a conversation, it’s an actual commentary for the entirety of the director’s cut. Like with the video transfer, the people recording the audio really screwed up, and as Bill Norton tells me, the track was nearly unfixable. So what’s presented here sounds understandably awful – tons of clipping, an incredible amount of noise reduction resulting in almost robotic distortion of voices and several drop outs. It’s legible though, and while it may be distracting initially, after awhile the feeling fades since the participants seem to be having such a good time. There is a ton of great information here, like a wonderful anecdote about how Leslie Nielsen was originally cast, but upon wanting ten thousand (that’s it?!) for his role as Melissa’s father, the casting director fumed on the set of Nielsen’s current film and ended up casting Nielsen’s co-star, Patrick Macnee, on the spot. There are plenty more humorous bits throughout, and even if it sounds like shit, it’s still the quality content Code Red is known for.

inline ImageThe director’s cut also has a delirious introduction from Shirley as well as Spiegel, who inexplicably comes in with a Kill Bill axe and hijacks her typical introduction. Only on a Code Red disc could something so crazy ensue! The other big extra is a group interview with Bo Hopkins, Aleisa Shirley and Jim Soto. Hopkins is as relaxed as ever, and the group all just sort of recollect and reminisce about all the actors they worked with on Sweet Sixteen¸ shooting out fine complements for Don Shanks and Susan Strasberg. Not as revealing as the commentary, but a fun twenty minutes with the stars. The stuff about Bo Hopkins’ notorious wrap parties is worth a listen.

The disc is rounded off with a terribly cobbled together trailer that, outside of the quick audio identifier at the end, seems as if it were cut together today with the different prints of the film on this disc. There’s also a video still gallery, which is basically the press kit in segments. It runs just under two minutes. The usual Code Red trailers close off the disc, including a trailer for the Canadian classic Rituals, Nightmare, Stunt Rock and Balalaika Conspiracy. Before you get all excited about a Rituals release, though – again this was Code Red’s first disc (even before Don’t Go in the Woods), so rather than a telling look at future releases, it’s more a hopeful wish from the past.


Final Thoughts

inline ImageSweet Sixteen ends with a psychotic resolve that would make Id slahers like Sleepaway Camp and Prom Night proud, too bad the rest of it is so lackluster. Kimmell’s character may read mystery books, but neither she, not any of the writers on the film, have any idea how to make sense of anything that’s happening on screen. It’s tough to make sense of what’s going on visually, too, with a completely botched transfer of the theatrical cut. The director’s cut is better narratively anyway, and even if it is still below usual Code Red standards, it’s at least much nicer looking than the theatrical cut. The audio is crackly but complete. The audio commentary is a near write-off due to technical issues, but thankfully it’s still audible, and it is joined by the wealth of other cast and crew extras that always give their discs the character they have. This isn’t their best disc, nor their best film, but if you’re one of the boys dying to meet Melissa then this should be worth your while. All others seek out some better slashers instead.

Rating

.
Movie - C

Image Quality - D [Theatrical], B [Director's cut]

Sound - C+

Supplements - B+





Technical Info.
  • Color
  • Running time - 1 hour 27 minutes
  • Rated R
  • 1 Disc
  • English mono

Supplements
  • Theatrical and director's cuts of the film
  • Audio commentary with actor Aleisa Shirley, director Jim Sotos and moderator Scott Spiegel
  • Introduction with Aleisa Shirley and Scott Spiegel
  • Group interview with Aleisa Shirley, Jim Sotos and actor Bo Hopkins
  • Still gallery
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Code Red trailers

Other Pictures

 

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Old 10-29-2008, 03:31 AM
Victim
good review. Thats sad news about the quality of the picture and audio commentary. I think I'll pick it up used if I can find it since I already have the VHS but i want to hear the commentary
 
 
Old 10-29-2008, 03:35 AM
Just a correction: it was the transfer and the commentary and shooting the interview that was our very first. The actual putting this as a DVD (authoring, editing the interview, etc) was done earlier this year. We almost spent a year trying to fix the commentary! We did bill the "guilty" on our thank you credits though!

We did try to get Dana Kimmell, her co-star, Paul Kratka gave our phone number to her, she did call us, was a very friendly girl, but declined to do an interview, sadly. I am always wondering if it has something to do with the fact she dated Bo Hopkins during the shoot (this was mentioned in the commentary), and we did tell her he is on the DVD when she asked.

Last edited by CodeRedDVd; 10-29-2008 at 03:38 AM..
 
 
Old 10-29-2008, 03:50 AM
Moderator
Did they date? I thought it was only stated that Bo was hitting on her and they played back a recording of it at the wrap party. That would probably be a big reason she'd want to distance herself from the project, either way, though.
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Old 10-29-2008, 04:10 AM
I thought she just hated horror films now, based on what people tell me. She really is a nice, sweet girl though. It's funny Bo played her dad when they were only like 13 years aoart!
 
 
Old 10-29-2008, 06:09 AM
Moderator
I've read those things about her hatred of horror too - but I don't really buy it. She did the commentary for FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 with Paul and everyone else, so it must be something with Bo or the film itself.
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Old 10-29-2008, 03:49 PM
Horny Spirit
Doesn't look much better than the public domain version I own. So that's two shitty transfers for Code Red in a row. Too bad.
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Old 10-29-2008, 04:29 PM
Soul Stealer
I'm only grabbing this for the widescreen aspect. I ripped my VHS and cleaned it up with filters (NeatVideo) - it looks really nice. Dumped the VHS and grabbed the DVD so I have a few options.
 
 
Old 01-05-2009, 06:47 PM
HackMaster
The song from this sounds like Hearts Strong, Strong Wind...
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Old 06-22-2009, 01:28 AM
I used to consider renting this alot in the 90's.... glad I never bothered. thanks for taking one for the team!
 
 

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