Summer is a time for traditions. Hot dogs. Corn on the cob. Trips to the lake. And, of course, machete-wielding psychopaths.
Summer camps, cabins, and broken down cars in remote areas set the scene for slasher movies in the 80s. Unsupervised teens run amok gave ample opportunity for filmmakers to separate the characters into the bad kids and the good kids, the rabble-rousers and the goody two-shoes, the promiscuous and the chaste. Teens running off to get busy in the woods never ended well, creating a strange morality lesson…premarital sex clearly leads to a limb or two being lopped off. Duh. Bizarre gender politics aside, so-called summer camp horror marked a staple of the 80s, bringing a ton of popularity to the slasher flick subgenre.
Love them or hate them, a lot of discussion about gender politics, sexism, and female empowerment in horror movies today stems from a lot of 80s horror, particularly the slasher films. The debate rages on as to whether they are misogynistic, mercilessly slaughtering the “non-pristine” ladies, or if they are feminist, ushering in the advent of the final girl. While not all of the movies on this list are 80s icons, they are clearly all influenced from some of these classic flicks. Please note that I have focused on slasher movies…no zombies (ahem, Dead Snow), viruses (cough cough, Cabin Fever), or demons (EVIL DEAD gesundheit!) have been included.
So, go ahead and grab your s’more ingredients and gather round the camp fire! Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, here are my top 5 summertime horror films:
Friday the 13th: you can’t have a summer slasher movie list without including the one that started it all. Friday the 13th is one of the most well-known slasher franchises, spawning 10 sequels and a remake since its release in 1980. Little Jason Voorhees drowned one summer when an inattentive counsellor had their back turned. The camp has been recently re-opened, and the new counsellors discover that perhaps Jason is still around…and seeking revenge. While this has a lot of 80s cheese, it has several genuinely creepy moments, and the dark woods and storm at the climax provide an eerie backdrop. This one has the added bonus of a very young Kevin Bacon, and an iconic ending that makes no sense unless you squint and look past it. As far as remakes go, the 2009 version with Jared Padalecki and Danielle Panabaker isn’t half bad, although it has a LOT of gratuitous nudity. Like, a lot. Pretty sure you see every girl who gets slaughtered with their top off.
Stage Fright (2014): this one is a must see on this list if only for the fact that it is a slasher movie musical. Starring Meat Loaf. I’m not kidding. It must be seen to be believed. A young woman goes to musical theater camp, which is preparing to perform the same play that her mother starred in years before. Her mother was murdered on opening night, and as the play draws closer, campers are picked off one by one. Points for being a musical horror movie, points for all kinds of music, and points for Meat Loaf.
Sleepaway Camp: oh, boy. The cheese. It’s not even cheese. It’s beyond cheese. I’d call it fromage, actually. But you can’t look away! The acting is atrocious, but the kills are creative, and the dead body effects are actually fairly impressive, including one in which a snake crawls out of a drowned boy’s mouth. For all of its side ponytails, really high shorts, tube socks, and half tops, this one has an ending you have to see to believe. It’s pretty paint by numbers until the end, and then the rug gets ripped right out. Its one of those endings that you think, “Um…what. Was that really necessary? And, I’m sorry, was that a random penis?” And did I mention that the acting is bad? For the love of all that is holy, I really did want to strangle Judy by the end of this movie. I did appreciate the fact that they used actual teenagers and not 20-somethings to play kids at camp, though, which is a rarity these days.
The Final Girls: this one is a love letter to slasher movies, particularly of the summer camp variety. A group of teens trapped in a theater that catches fire travel through the screen into the 80s horror movie they were watching. The film repeats on a loop until they can act it out and complete the movie, or prevent the heroine from being killed. Hilarious and heartwarming, this one lovingly pokes fun at the slasher genre while showing respect and admiration for it. My favourite moment has the modern kids duct taping oven mitts to the promiscuous girl’s hands to stop her from taking her top off whenever she hears music. When they tell her that she can’t strip because it will attract the killer, she confusedly asks, “Why does he hate my boobs?” Good question, Tina. Good question.
Lost After Dark: This lesser known 2015 gem is set in 1984, and centers around a group of teens who steal a school bus following their spring dance with plans to par-TAY! Things go south when the bus breaks down and they seek help at a ramshackle farmhouse. This one is clever, fun, and shot in interesting ways. For instance, it was shot so that the screen displays the crackles you would see on an old VHS tape. It also at one points make use of an alternate “reel” to explain a gap in a story. Bizarrely, Robert Patrick is also in this one as a weirdly determined principal who is ex-military and searches for the kids in his pristine sports car. Yeah, it’s weird, but I loved it.
Tune in next week for another Top 5 Friday list!