Blu-ray Review: Sixteen Candles

When Sixteen Candles comes up in conversation, most people consider it a sweet film about teenagers in the ’80s. Universal promoted the film by declaring “Sixteen Candles is a warm-hearted coming of age comedy that helped define a generation” on an earlier home video release. What if I tell that you’ve been fooled for decades. This isn’t warm-hearted. This is a rather sinister tale that’s been covered with a light dust of confectionary sugar and dazzling sprinkles to hide its true nature. People remember the cute story about a girl whose family forgets her 16th birthday, but gets the dream boy as the ultimate gift at the end. Many critics claim the film is an anti-Porky’s. But was Sixteen Candles morally better than the other crass teen flicks of the time or was it worse?

When John Hughes was a staffer at The National Lampoon, he wrote two separate tales from a teenage perspective. One featured a boy and the other a girl where both woke up with each other’s private parts. I can’t mention the titles because it might cause the algorithm overlord to declare us “one of those sites.” The plots of the stories are like a Freaky Friday in the pants. Both teens start out recounting their shocking discover in a cute and bizarre way as they deal with this new sensation. And both stories end so horrifically nasty and dark that someone who loves the sweet aspects of Sixteen Candles would be stunned. Neither of the stories will leave you warm-hearted. Where did this sinister John Hughes go and the Poet Laurette of Teen Flicks bloom? That wicked sense of humor never left John Hughes during his time at Shermer High. But at some point when the Chicagoan arrived in Hollywood, he must have gotten a nice talk about what worked in a magazine that sold a few hundred thousand issues wasn’t going to cut it in a studio picture. But he didn’t have to go pure saccharine Disney. He could still be a bit devious, but he had to play nice on the surface level. On the surface level, Sixteen Candles is warm and funny teenage coming of age fantasy that ends with a seemly happy moment that leaves audiences delighted and not disturbed.

Samantha “Sam” Baker (The Stand‘s Molly Ringwald) has her 16th birthday completely blown off by her family because everyone is focused on the wedding of her big sister (Blanche Baker) happening the next day. She daydreams about the dreamy Jake Ryan (Vision Quest‘s Michael Schoeffling) at school. She writes his name down on a little quiz her pal has made for her. The paper falls in Jake’s hands. Instead of being an instigation to ridicule, Jake keeps the note. He already has a girlfriend in rich snotty Caroline Mulford (Who’s That Girl‘s Haviland Morris). And Sam is jealous of how mature Caroline looks in the girl’s shower room. She’ll never attract Jake with her body. Even though the film is PG rated, Caroline shows all in the shower. So there was that Porky’s girl’s locker room element to the film. Morris was around 23 when the film was being shot so she’s more mature than a high school senior. The only boy in school that’s openly wanting to hook up with Sam is Farmer Ted (Weird Science‘s Anthony Michael Hall). He’s a nerdy kid who hangs out with bigger nerds (including John Cusack) and is super spazzy. John Hughes sets the audience up to think that Sam’s choices for a lover are the geeky Ted and the dreamy Jake. But this turns out to be a Hobson’s Choice since these guys are both horrible choices.

Farmer Ted is a nerd gone wild. He constantly violates Sam’s personal space whether it be on the bus or the gym dance floor. He wants to press up against her freckled flesh. When she sneaks away from the dance and hides inside the auto shop class, he twice tries to hump her like a lustful dog. Although it’s during this scene that he gets her to open up about being frustrated that her birthday was forgotten and her made crush on Jake. Ted tells her that Jake was asking about her. Sam is so excited about this news that she agrees to give Ted her panties to prove to his nerdy friends that they had gotten frisky on school property. And what does Ted and his betting pals do? They charge kids to come into the boys restroom to see Sam’s worn panties. Farmer Ted is a beginner pimp as he gets the creepy kids excited at the sight. Once again, I ask, what makes this anti-Porky’s?

We’re supposed to believe that Jake is the exact opposite of nerdy Farmer Ted. The rich preppy has a better haircut and school clothes. He is cool, calm and collected instead of a spaz. We feel bad because he’s trapped in a horrible relationship with Caroline Mulford. He’s supposedly more turned on by Sam’s loving glances than his hot girlfriend’s wild ways and smoking graduate school body. But Jake doesn’t break up with mature Caroline. They go to the school dance as a couple. He lets her throw an after party at his parents’ house that goes out of control. The place is trashed and covered in beer cans and toilet paper. Jake calls Sam’s house, but doesn’t get anywhere. When the party winds down, he discovers Farmer Ted trapped in a strange place. After releasing Ted, the two discuss Sam. This is when Jake reveals that he’s not a great guy. Sure he does the valiant thing of getting Sam’s panties back from Ted. But then he goes dark. Your memory might be of him letting Ted drive a drunk Caroline home with his family’s Rolls. The reality is a bit more harsh. The scrawny Ted does liquor shots as Jake tells him it’s perfectly fine to attack Caroline in her condition. So Jake let a drunk freshman get behind the wheel and Farmer Ted does take advantage of the senior girl. John Hughes holds back the scene where Ted gets physical with Caroline so we only get the comical “did we do it” conversation in the church parking lot the next morning. We do see how the drunk Ted has messed up the Rolls Royce that belonged to Jake’s parents. Jake did not act responsibly. On top of it all, Jake might be racist. We see in the opening credits and school dance that there are minority students at Shermer High. But Jake’s after party is all white kids until Long Duk Dong (Mulan‘s Gedde Watanabe) crashes the party with Deborah Pollack. Ultimately Jake is morally worse than James Spader’s character in Pretty in Pink. Yet Jake’s dreamy image doesn’t get dinged.

Sam swoons when she sees Jake in the church parking lot. Instead of going to the reception, she sneaks of with Jake with her dad’s permission. Would you want your daughter driving off to Jake’s trashed house after knowing what he’d just done to Caroline? Sam’s dad (Breaking Away‘s Paul Dooley) has no idea so he give the OK sign to her as she leaves in the flashy sportscar. Audiences weren’t repulsed because they were given the final cutesy image of the high schoolers sitting on the dining room table as Sam finally gets her Sweet Sixteen birthday cake. There’s nothing openly ominous to the scene that’s neatly wrapped by the Thompson Twins’ “If You Were Here.” John Hughes didn’t make the moment go any deeper. We have no idea what Jake did to Sam after their sweet kiss. Although Sam’s bridesmaid dress looks ready to catch fire next to those candles. Did John Hughes imagine a dark ending that he sliced off to make his first directorial effort look warm-hearted and not cold blooded? Sam seemed ripe for the repulsive endings that arrived for the teens in Hughes’ National Lampoon tales.

John Hughes made a movie that’s deeply disturbing and because of the sweet final scene, Sixteen Candles became perceived as the anti-Porky’s. He landed the film a PG Rating even with full exposed Caroline in the shower room. This is what made John Hughes a genius in the ’80s teen film genre. He was able to do just enough of the right things so that an audience didn’t feel repulsed. Rarely does anyone talk about how Jake could have possibly become the Preppy Killer. Jake never had to answer to any of the consequences of his destructive evening. Neither did Ted. Ultimately Sam’s choice between Ted and Jake isn’t much of a choice beyond their haircuts. She’s clueless to what these high school boys conspired to do to Caroline so she keeps her dreamy vs. nerdy delusion. Sam’s naïve nature leads people to view the film as a comical sentimental story about a teenage girl who gets her dream date wish when she turns 16. All of this makes Sixteen Candles a dark grotesque teen masterpiece of the ’80s.

The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The transfer is a new restoration by Arrow Films from a 4K scan of the original negative. You’re getting more detail than the previous Blu-ray release of the film. The Extended Version scene isn’t a quality drop off. The audio is the original lossless mono audio. There’s also a 5.1 DTS-HD MA surround option that opens up the ’80s soundtrack from a single speaker. The English “Home Video Version” mono for the mix you heard when you put the VHS in the VCR. The movie is subtitled in English.

Additional Scene (1:28) features the characters in school cafeteria line. That hamburger looks so tasty. This scene is the big bonus in the extended addition.

Alternate “home video” soundtrack prepared for VHS and laserdisc releases. Turns out they had swapped out or replaced 10 songs. Now you can hear the old home video mix you might have remembered when you rented the tape from me at Video Plaza.

Casting ‘Sixteen Candles’ (9:06) has casting director Jackie Burch go into detail on how she ended up working on the film. She had met Hughes on a film he only wrote. He demanded her as his casting director. She talks of the bond between Hughes and Anthony Michael Hall. Burch is only on audio, but there’s stills and clips to illustrate her tales.

When Gedde Met Deborah (19:02) features a conversation between actors Gedde Watanabe and Deborah Pollack. We get a reunion of the two crazy kids. She talks about how Gedde told her “let’s have fun” when they auditioned together. Gedde swears she got the part because she could life him up. They are so fun to watch together. Jackie Burch invited Deborah to audition during an intermission of a play. Gedde points out that he’s really from Utah.

Rudy the Bohunk (6:26) gives us more time with supporting actor John Kapelos. You might remember him as Carl the janitor in The Breakfast Club. He talks about how his character was supposed to be Waspy at first, but Hughes changed up the script to making them slightly mobstery. He worked at Second City.

The In-Between (7:38) gets us to understand the role of a camera operator with Gary Kibbe. He worked his way up the crew. He worked with D.P. Bobby Byrne on Sixteen Candles. He points out that as camera operator, he’s the first people to see the movie. His eye is on the viewfinder. He enjoyed working with John Hughes. He points out the Hughes hated being in Hollywood.

The New Wave Nerd (8:19) has filmmaker Adam Rifkin (Psycho Cop 2) talk about being a featured extra in the film. John Hughes picked him out to be the main nerd. He’s the wearing the red new wave sunglasses. Hughes ate with the extras now and then. When he was done being an extra, Rifkin asked if he could shadow the director to learn.

Music for Geeks (8:19) allows composer Ira Newborn to talk about working with John Hughes. He talks about composing for a film that is mostly known for the pop songs.

A Very Eighties Fairytale (17:21) is an all-new video essay written and narrated by writer Soraya Roberts, looking at the film from a contemporary feminist perspective. She talks about Hughes’ approach to the young female character.

Celebrating Sixteen Candles (37:58) is from the 2008 DVD release and features interviews with cast, crew and admirers, including stars Anthony Michael Hall, Paul Dooley, Justin Henry, Haviland Morris and Gedde Watanabe.

Promotion includes Teaser Trailer (1:30), Two Theatrical trailers (2:50 & 2:42), Two TV spots (1:01) and radio spots (13:42). This was how they got kids eager to see a PG film.

Image galleries includes 101 Production Stills, Poster art from around the world, Video Art and the ad from when it ran on WGN in Chicago.

Original shooting script gives you a sense how John Hughes really wrote a script.

Illustrated collectors’ booklet featuring new writing on the film by Nikki Baughan and Bryan Reesman.

Arrow Video presents Sixteen Candles. Directed by: John Hughes. Screenplay by: John Hughes. Starring: Molly Ringwald, Paul Dooley, Haviland Morris, Anthony Michael Hall and John Cusack. Rated: PG. Running Time: 92 minutes. Released: April 14, 2020.

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