Summer is upon us,and it’s hotter than hell out there. So what better time to take a look back at some classic “summer” horror movies. This list is in no particular order, it was just an idea I came up with yesterday that sounded like fun. All movies I am sharing are from my personal home collection, so anything I’m missing please feel free to share.
Jaws (1975): What really needs to be said of the film that started the summer blockbuster movie craze. A hungry great white shark preys upon the unlucky swimmers in Amity, NY over the summer. The hydrophobic Sheriff Brody heads out to sea with crazed fisherman Quint and shark expert Hooper to hunt the hungry creature down. I’m sure everyone that would even accidentally click onto this website has seen this movie, and if you haven’t shame on you! Even my grandparents owned this amazing film on VHS, allowing me the privilege to watch it more times than I can count growing up. Jaws made people afraid of the water, and for good reason. What’s more frightening than a killer that you can’t see, that’s larger, faster, and stronger than you? It’s also because of Jaws that I can’t wait for the annual Shark Week on the Discovery Channel.
Piranha (1978): What do you get when you release flesh eating fish into a summer resort’s rivers during its grand opening? A hell of a lot of fun! Joe Dante’s blatant rip-off of the infamous Jaws may not be as good as the original, but for my money it’s more fun. Splattered with all the goodness you expect from a Roger Corman produced flick (blood, boobs, more blood, more boobs),Piranha is the equivalent of a mindless summer popcorn flick for horror fans. Even the remake is a ton of fun and worth a watch.
Bay of Blood (1971): Everyone always says Halloween started the whole slasher movie craze, but I say that honor goes to Italian great Mario Bava’s 1971 classic. The original body count movie, Bay of Blood is about a wealthy Countess who is brutally murdered. That sets up our cast of characters all wanting to take over the wealthy bay that the Countess owned. Throw in a group of teenagers out to have a grand time (to fluff up the body count of course) and you have the original slasher movie. Filled with plenty of kills, skinny dipping, and teenage sex that you expect in any horror movie released in the 1980’s, but a full decade before. I mean a famous kill from this movie was ripped off in Friday the 13th Part 2 scene for scene. If for some reason you haven’t given it a spin, do yourself a favor and check out Bay of Blood.
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984): The film series horror fans either love or could care less about. I absolutely love watching the stories of Jason Voorhees trampling through the woods looking for some horny teens to creatively hack and slash (especially those released by Paramount in the 80’s). I know that the obvious choice for this particular list would be the original, but this is my list and my personal favorite has always been The Final Chapter. From Corey Feldman (who I adored as a youngster…stop judging me) as the monster fanatic Tommy Jarvis to Chrispen Glover’s ridiculously bad dancing I don’t have a bad thing to say about this movie. Director Joseph Zito and effects master Tom Savini didn’t hold back on the gore and violence either as this was the most graphic of the series up to date.
Sleepaway Camp (1983): The quintessential summer camp movie, but not for the movie itself which is quite mediocre. With Sleepaway Camp it’s all about the ending, that damn two minutes that has freaked out many a person that was ill-prepared. Horror favorite Felissa Rose plays Angela, a young girl who is traumatized by the death of her father. She ends up at summer camp with her protective cousin. People begin to die, and now everyone left is left trying to figure who is the killer. My most memorable moment when it comes to Sleepaway Camp was the original VHS box in the video store. I remember reading that letter written by a frightened camper begging mom and dad to come get them over and over again. As a child, that was more frightening than the movie.
The Burning (1981): The video nasty classic is another joyous reminder that summer camp sucks! Another rip off of the classic teenage slasher formula, it’s the story of a group of kids playing a prank on the groundskeeper at their summer camp. Prank goes horribly wrong, killer comes back to seek revenge blah blah blah blah. You don’t really care, anyone that watches The Burning watches it for two reasons only: 1. to see a very young Jason Alexander and Holly Hunter, and 2. to watch Tom Savini’s effects once again on full display. I will admit that the movie’s not a “classic” per say, but its a damn fun way to spend 90 minutes, especially that rafting massacre scene. Good stuff.
The Funhouse (1981): Nothing says summer like carnivals and fairs, so why not include a visit to one of the creepiest of all time? Tobe Hooper’s underrated horror flick about four teenagers on a double date who end up trapped in the funhouse with a monster who wants nothing more than to hunt them down one by one. Typical in a Hooper film, the gore is kept to a minimum (similar to the classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre) but still packs a serious punch. Even though I enjoy the gore, filmmakers could learn a lot from Tobe. His subtle approach works so well. Look for the special edition blu-ray and DVD release coming out October 16th from Scream Factory!
Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964): I have no proof that this movie is set to take place in the summer. In fact, if Herschell Gordon Lewis is trying to be factual the movie is set in April. But like I said above, nothing says summer like a festival, and this is the granddaddy of all Civil War celebrations. The movie is set in a small southern city with a population of 2000, who force some Northerners passing through to stop and play their macabre games. The movie isn’t good, but it’s a ton of fun. Even the remake has it’s moments, but nothing can compare to HGL’s original.
Just Before Dawn (1980): A group of people head out in a Winnebago to check out some land one of them inheritated in the mountains. Unfortunately, someone or something calls that land home and isn’t interested in meeting the newcomers. Labeled a slasher flick, Just Before Dawn feels more suspenseful and smarter than most, and is a personal favorite of mine. Director Jeff Lieberman is someone I feel never received the praise that he deserves. Squirm, Blue Sunshine, and Just Before Dawn are all extremely entertaining low budget flicks from the infamous grindhouse era that are well worth looking up. Unfortunately, due to little to no success he quietly disappeared from film making shortly after Just Before Dawn.
Wolf Creek (2004): Three hitchhikers drive out into no mans land Australia, then hike to Wolf Creek National Park. Unfortunately, when they return they find their car dead. Enter Mick, who’s willing to help the stranded hikers. But Mick has a much darker side than our hiker’s were expecting. Violent and shocking, Wolf Creek was a welcome surprise when it came out seven years ago. Call it torture porn if you want (always hated that term), but the time old lesson “don’t talk to strangers” never hit home as hard as it did here.
Don’t Deliver Us From Evil (1971): Hail Satan! Two young girls make a pact to serve Satan, and while on summer vacation from convent school that’s exactly what they do. Spying on nuns, reading erotic literature,bird torture, and teasing men with their innocence all get the ball rolling. The young girls find an abandoned place to hold their own black mass, and using stolen things from the church they do just that. Eventually things go too far and the girls are wrapped up in the middle of a murder. The movie could have gone the typical route for an occult movie of it’s time and been filled with nudity, demons, and gory killings. Instead, it was filmed in a much more artistic way that makes the movie seem much more realistic and naughty. It’s not an overly graphic exploitation movie, but it really hits home with the sheer cruelty of these two young women.
Uncle Sam (1996): Okay, my original idea for this write-up was to write about patriotic horror movies for the fourth of July. All I could think of was this little ditty from William Lustig (Maniac, Maniac Cop), and a couple episodes of Master’s of Horror. So I hit up Google, and turns out that’s about all there is. Sure, some movies take place on or around July 4th (Cape Fear, Jaws, I Know What You Did Last Summer) but that didn’t sound like fun. So I switched it up and went with a summer theme. I decided that even though it no longer deserved to be on the list, I’d still list Uncle Sam because it’s as summer as horror has ever been. Uncle Sam is a returning dead soldier who has it in for everyone who isn’t supportive of his country. So he kills them in the most Independence Day ways possible (flag pole, fireworks, etc.). I like William Lustig, and he runs an amazing company in Blue Underground, but this was not his finest moment. Regardless, for a good laugh post bbq, beer, and fireworks Uncle Sam is a hoot.