The 13th Floor

School’s Out! Five Fantastic Summer Horror Movies!

You did it! You made it through another year of grade school or high school or college! Now you get to snag sweet gig working for minimum wage at a Target or McDonalds for the summer while you wait for school to start up again next Fall. Well, not you grade school kids – you get to hang out all day and play video games and watch TV and play in the sun! Oh the folly of youth! Wear SPF15 at a minimum guys and gals!

Also, you grade schoolers shouldn’t be reading this! You’re too young for these movies! Shoo!

Now that we’re legally cleared of blame if any eleven year old checks out one of these flicks based on my recommendation, how about we take a gander at some great horror movies that just happen to be based in the dog days of Summer?

SLEEPAWAY CAMP

2 Schools Out
SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983) Scream Factory cover art

Eight years after seeing her father and sibling killed in a freak boating accident, Angela heads off to Camp Arawak with her cousin Ricky. A summer of swimming, archery, and awkward teen make-out sessions is interrupted by MURDER! Someone is going around Camp Arawak and murdering cooks, counselors, and campers like there’s no tomorrow. SLEEPAWAY CAMP is a classic slasher filled with some of the most disgusting characters of all time.

The cook is a straight up child rapist who tries to molest Angela within minutes of meeting her. Counselor Meg is a full on bitch who seems to hate kids. Another counselor, Mel, beats a kid unconscious. It seems that Camp Arawak is staffed by teens from juvenile hall and cooks who were just released from prison.

Oh, and the ending is maybe the greatest ending to a slasher film that could ever exist. If you have somehow spent your life not seeing SLEEPAWAY CAMP, I won’t spoil it here, but you need to get on that right away.

JAWS

3 Schools Out
JAWS (1975) Universal Pictures

The economy of Amity Island relies on strong summer business. The people of the surrounding area rush to Amity for it’s gorgeous beach, amazing Fourth of July party, and friendly residents. One thing the summer vacationers would like to not have to deal with is a man eating shark. So, I think you can guess what happens.

If you can’t, what I’m getting at is that a man eating shark shows up on the shores of Amity Island. To stop the shark, Mayor Vaughn, king of the anchor suit jacket, sends the chief of police, Brody, out to sea with professional shark hunter Quint and marine biologist Hooper to find the great white asshole of the Atlantic.

JAWS is a classic for countless reasons. Roy Scheider, who plays the ocean fearing Brody, is perfect in the role, not to say anything of Richard Dreyfuss as Hooper and Robert Shaw as the coolest man to ever live, Quint. The movie, Steven Spielberg’s first blockbuster, is exciting, funny, touching, and most of all scary as hell.

THE BURNING

4 Schools Out
THE BURNING (1981) Miramax

When a bunch of asshole campers at Camp Blackfoot decide to play a prank on the camp caretaker Cropsy, they end up setting him on fire and sending him to the hospital. Cropsy is so badly burned, he spends five years in recovery. Once he gets out, Cropsy murders a prostitute, then heads to Camp Stonewater to kill some kids.

Why Camp Stonewater instead of Camp Blackfoot? You’ll need to watch the movie to find out!

Overall, THE BURNING is OK. Not a great entry into the slasher genre, but certainly not terrible. What makes the movie stand out is the producer, the cast, and the connection to a very odd moment of East Coast history.

The idea for the movie came from a young Harvey Weinstein, who was looking for a way to break into the film industry while living in Buffalo, New York. Harvey looked at the massive success of HALLOWEEN and THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE and figured that the slasher genre was the way to make a low budget flick that could bring in some big money at the box office. He took an old camp story from his youth, the madman called Cropsy, and wrote up a treatment. Weinstein registered the treatment with the WGA a month before the release of FRIDAY THE 13TH. Filming started in the summer of 1980.

The cast is filled with some very recognizable faces that, at the time, were young struggling actors. Fisher Stevens, Jason Alexander, and Holly Hunter all made their big screen debuts in THE BURNING.

The name Cropsy may seem familiar to you, but chances are it is because of the fantastic documentary CROPSEY, which is about the East Coast myth of a boogieman who hunts children and the terrible crime that is now forever connected to it.

HOSTEL

HOSTEL (2005) Lionsgate

A lot of people have issues with Eli Roth, and a lot of people really don’t like HOSTEL. Personally, I think HOSTEL is just shy of being brilliant. The movie, about two American college bros and their buddy from Iceland who are convinced to go to leave Amsterdam and head to a hostel in Slovakia for the prostitution. Soon enough, their misogynistic summer vacation turns into a nightmare of torture, murder, and gross eye stuff. All with a special appearance by Japan’s own master of horror, Takashi Miike!

What I love about HOSTEL is how the two halves of the movie reflect each other. Roth spends plenty of time letting the audience get to know and full on hate the “heroes” of the movie. They are asshole guys who are spending their summer in Europe to do nothing more than get high and have sex with prostitutes in the Red Light District. There is no redeeming value to these idiots, and Roth isn’t trying to make you like them. He wants you to actively hate these three morons so that, when the second half starts and the guys find themselves in the midst of a brothel of torture, you don’t know what to feel.

Roth films the sex scenes and the torture scenes in the same way – with a fair amount of disgusting love. When HOSTEL was released, some critics complained that Roth was using violence in the same way some movies use sex to excite an audience. The whole idea of the torture porn genre came out of HOSTEL (although I would argue that movies like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT had already paved the way) and so many seemed, to me, to miss what Roth was saying – the titillation of the first half, filled with naked European women and their treatment as nothing more than pleasure devices for men is then shown in the opposite – these men used as pleasure devices for those who look to show their power through hurting others. The appearance of Takashi Miike is no accident – Roth is playing with the same themes Miike has played with in the past.

THE ‘BURBS

6 Schools Out
THE ‘BURBS (1989) Universal Pictures

Ray Peterson lives on the cul-de-sac of Mayfield Place, a quiet little street where nothing really changes. He likes living there with his wife, Carol and their son Dave. Ray’s neighbors are all a little different; Art tends to be a bit of a gossiper, spreading stories of the other neighbors around the area, former Marine Rumsfield is maybe a little too tightly wound, and his wife Bonnie dresses a little racier than the parents in the neighborhood would like her to, neighbor kid Ricky is a meatball, and old man Walter is a bit of a loner who trained his dog to shit on other people’s lawns so he doesn’t have to deal with it.

Still, things are pretty normal, and Ray is more than happy with that. Things at work have been stressful, and Ray is starting a bit of a vacation. A week off during which he intends to lounge around the house in his robe, drinking too many beers and listening to a few ballgames. Then… the Klopeks move in.

The Klopeks are weird. Too weird to ignore. They don’t take care of their lawn, which is super dead. They only come out at night. They beat their garbage. Art is obsessed with them, and his obsession spreads to the other neighbors. When Walter goes missing, Ray, Art, and Rumsfeild are convinced that the Klopeks have something to do with it.

THE ‘BURBS is, in my opinion, Joe Dante’s masterpiece. It is hilarious, exciting and, at times, honestly creepy. The casting is perfect, with the late Rick Ducommun stealing the show as Art, which is no small task when every scene he’s in has him going toe to toe with Tom Hanks and Bruce Dern.

There you go! Get to the video store! Check for these on Netflix and Amazon and whatever else you use to stream movies! Stay indoors, away from the evil sun that gives you vitamin D, which doctors say we need to live, but we all know stands for vitamin DEATH! Close those curtains, crank up the AC and waste your vacation hours away with me!

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