Oh God, I love this movie. Including the best/worst theme song in history, and showcasing one of the greatest meltdowns by a once-respected actress ever, it is a pure delight. Somehow I missed out on this gem for way too long, only having recently received it in the mail. PLEASE don’t make the same mistake.
Let me start by saying there are two versions of this film that are available in DVD – the Director’s Cut and the Original Theatrical Version. I’m actually going to review the Original Theatrical Version, for no other reason than it begins with this title frame, which let’s face it, is wonderful:
It also includes an insane opening in which Dana Kimmell (one of Tower Farm’s favorite leading ladies, having come to our attention in Friday the 13th: 3-D) sits in a church (or some place with stained glass windows and candles) during a thunderstorm reading a book called “Murder Mystery.” She then opens a door and sees a zombie. Let me just be clear here that this is NOT a zombie movie. It’s actually not a supernatural movie at all. Why is this opening included? I have no idea. It is mysteriously missing from the Director’s Cut, so I’m guessing someone else decided it would be a good idea. By the way, Dana Kimmell looks a good two or three years older in this bizarre sequence than she does in the rest of the movie – complete with a totally different hairstyle – so that’s wonderful.
Anyway, suddenly we’re on to the real movie, which takes place in some kind of hillbilly desert town near a Native American reservation. One of the Native Americans is played by Henry Wilcoxon, who was in the 1932 version of Cleopatra that I spent the better part of my childhood being obsessed with. Yes…the guy who played Roman Marc Antony in the 1930s is now playing an old Indian in the 1980s. This, as are many things we mention on Tower Farm, is clear proof that my brother and I create the world.
Next we meet Melissa, played by Aleisa Shirley, who is the new girl in town and wants nothing more than to do drugs and have sex. Melissa kind of looks like a pissed off Valerie Bertinelli, and utters what is possibly the greatest pickup line in the history of film: “You guys ever play with girls…or just yourselves?” It actually works on some poor schmuck, and soon they end up in the back of his pickup truck in the middle of the desert, with her head between his legs. Wow. And when the guy finally drops Melissa back at home, we find out she’s supposed to fifteen, although it’s clear that Aleisa Shirley is at least twenty. Let me just say that Melissa is now officially my favorite slasher movie character ever.
Anyway, the idiot who just got the blowjob from a fifteen-year-old is killed soon thereafter, once his car runs out of gas…and again, it’s in the middle of the desert. I’m not really sure how the killer knew the guy’s car would run out of gas in this particular secluded spot, but it sure it convenient.
Soon the town’s Sheriff is on the case, played by the awesome Bo Hopkins. If ever an actor looked like the Sheriff of a small, hillbilly town in the desert, it’s Bo Hopkins (look him up on IMDb and marvel at the number of times "Sheriff" shows up in the list of characters he's played). What Mr. Hopkins does NOT look like, however, is anything resembling a Native American. However, we later learn that he’s half-Native American. I would say this is about as realistic as Donna D’Errico being the descendant of Tony Todd in Candyman 3. Or Shannon Doerty and Jason Priestly being twins.
Aside from Hopkins, with who I’m now totally obsessed, the cast here is stellar. We’ve got Don “Michael Myers” Shanks as Jason Longshadow, a red-herring Native American character. We’ve also got the wonderful Susan Strasberg as Melissa’s mother. Susan had an incredible career, stretching from major Broadway success in The Diary of Anne Frank to starring in perhaps the most confounding movie ever made, The Manitou, in which she gave birth to a troll or something out of her neck. You all know there’s nothing Tower Farm loves more than a once-respected actress who ends up in low-budget horror, and I’m voting to immediately induct Susan into our Sleazy Women Hall of Fame. Her performance in this movie is not to be missed.
Meanwhile, Sweet Sixteen is a real showcase for Dana Kimmell, who – again – suddenly
looks several years younger than she did in the zombie opening. Dana plays the Sheriff’s daughter, who is an amateur sleuth and spends the movie trying to figure out who the killer is. Basically, she’s playing Nancy Drew, except with a Flock of Seagulls-inspired hairdo:
But the star of this movie, plain and simple, is Aleisa Shirley as Melissa. Hell, she even gets her own theme song. The composition “Melissa” must be heard to be believed. The piano-driven ballad, which includes the incomprehensible lyrics “Melissa…what are you thinking, sweet Melissa? Are you with her still, Melissa? You look so far away…” is kind of like the “Theme From Mahogany” being sung in a karaoke bar by a drunk guy who doesn’t know the words. By the way, as the theme song blares over the soundtrack, this is the shot we get of the character; if this is not a long lost Jordache Jeans ad, then I’m out a hundred bucks:
As soon as the song mercilessly ends, we get another awesome Melissa seduction scene, in which she humiliates the captain of the football team for calling pot “herb” and agrees to meet him near some dumpsters behind a bar so they can do “a little of everything.” God, can I say again how much I love Melissa? This seduction scene, by the way, is so loosely edited that there are long pauses before each line of dialogue, which in turn makes the characters look like they have some sort of mental problem.
Of course, the dumb jock ends up being knifed. Now, this is the second kid that’s been killed just after being with Melissa. But rather than focus on her, the entire town turns against the Native Americans.
Next up we find ourselves at a funeral for the two dead kids. Yes, you got that right…the town is doing a double funeral! At the funeral, we finally get the tense confrontation between Melissa and Dana Kimmell, with Dana pretty much accusing the girl of murder…and then it inexplicably ends in the two of them becoming best friends! I know this sounds like an exaggeration, but seriously…within about 45 seconds, Dana goes from calling Melissa a “stupid little bitch” to Melissa calling Dana’s character, Marcie, “Marce” as if they've known each other for years.
Things hurtle toward a climax at Melissa’s sweet sixteenth birthday party. Even though Melissa’s the new girl in town, and up until now nobody seems to know her, the entire town turns out for the big bash. Mind you, this is the same town that just held a double funeral for two unrelated kids, so they’re clearly a confused bunch. My favorite thing about the party, by the way, is this girl carrying the cake, who can’t contain her excitement at being on camera:
Melissa ends up taking a moonlight swim – nude, of course – and before you know it, her mother has a crazy meltdown and kills some people. Yes, our gal Susan Strasberg is the knife-wielding villain here, and she’s awesome. Susan gets a chance to let loose with dialogue including, “Ssssh! Here’s coming! We have to hide! NO! DADDY DON’T!!!” There’s no real explanation given here, but I guess we should assume Daddy did some very not-nice things to Susan as a little girl. There’s also some talk about Susan and her sister trading places or something…but, I’m pretty sure nobody in the cast actually knew what was going on.
Anyway, the real ending to the movie comes with the swelling of my favorite song, “Melissa,” and a freeze frame of Melissa staring crazily into the camera and holding a knife. So I guess Melissa’s crazy too, now, just like her mom. Maybe. Or maybe nobody quite knew how to end this thing and that just seemed like a good idea at the time. What matters is that we get to hear “Melissa” again. And then it starts all over again as the credits roll. Is this soundtrack available somewhere? If so I need it immediately.
Well…it should be pretty obvious that I loved this movie. Like Pieces before it, I expected absolutely nothing and came away with a new appreciation for slasher movies. This movie is the kind of wonderful mess that we live for here at Tower Farm, and therefore it’s well-deserving of…