Sweet Sixteen movie 1983 art

Sweet Sixteen – A Horror Flick Worth Remembering 40 Years Later

The ‘80s was a time where big studio films made a huge impact, but smaller independent films also had a chance to play with the big boys thanks to the mainstream introduction of video stores. This was especially the case in the Horror world, which was literally and figuratively making a killing financially. Such a money maker at the time, sometimes even little independent films found success. Then there were others that may have flown under the radar, but are still worth remembering like Sweet Sixteen. Given a limited theatrical release in late January of 1983, Sweet Sixteen now celebrates 40 years…and there is plenty to discuss.

Susan Strasberg as Joanne Morgan in Sweet Sixteen (1983)
Susan Strasberg as Joanne Morgan in Sweet Sixteen (1983)

Directed by Jim Soto (who directed 1975’s Forced Entry, as well as 1984’s Sex Comedy Hot Moves), Sweet Sixteen actually features a really impressive cast that included Bo Hopkins (who appeared in main major studio films), Susan Strasberg (a Tony Award nominated actress), Patrick Macnee (famous for his role in The Avengers series), Don Stroud (who has appeared in a massive list of films), Dana Kimmell (known for her role in 1982’s Friday the 13th Part III), Don Shanks (easily recognized for his role in The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams series), Steve Antin (who many know from 1982’s The Last American Virgin and 1985’s Goonies), as well as first time Actress Alesia Shirley (who went onto several other known films such as 1983’s Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone).

This cast in place, the story is not all too complicated, as we follow a teenage girl named Melissa (Alesia Shirley) who is finds herself in the thick of trouble with a matter-of-fact father (Patrick Macnee), seemingly sweet mother (Susan Strasberg), and a thoughtful local sheriff (Bo Hopkins) looking to solve a murder. However, what lines beneath the surface of Melissa’s family tree is far more disturbing.

While some speculate about Melissa’s family history, not much information is presented; even Soto, as well as the cast, stated that is really open to interruption. Ironically enough, much of the character’s were developed as the film was being shot… so what you see is almost happening in real time. These factors were not even considered, the film did not do well in critics eyes… but have critics ever really been kind to independent Horror films?

Alesia Shirley as Melissa Morgan in Sweet Sixteen (1983)
Alesia Shirley as Melissa Morgan in Sweet Sixteen (1983)

Critics aside, Sweet Sixteen is not nearly as awful a viewing experience as they make it out to sound. This could be largely in part to the very decent, to strong performances, by the entire cast. Doing what they can with the material they are given, there is nothing overtly scary about the film; other than perhaps some of the blood curdling screams thanks to Strasberg, and the certain psychological elements that make you think. Furthermore, in Sweet Sixteen’s climax, Strasberg gives a stellar performance that is both unhinging and heartbreaking at the same time.

Still available if you are interested, Sweet Sixteen was released to DVD by Code Red back in 2008. The director’s cut, unfortunately, image transfer is rather grainy. Thankfully seven years later Code Red put it out on limited edition Blu-ray; and this is probably the most clarified transfer of the film you will ever catch with its HD transfer. As mentioned, limited and now out of print, copies are selling on eBay for upwards of $40.00. Everything put into consideration, Sweet Sixteen is still a worthy Horror film to explore, a gem for fans of this era, and worth reflecting on even after forty years. 

Sweet Sixteen (1983) movie poster
Sweet Sixteen / Sweet Sixteen Productions (1983)

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