Mosquitoes, sunburns, sweat — summer can be a bit of a nightmare. Don’t get us wrong, we know how magical the sun-soaked days from June to August can be; the beach, beer gardens, fireflies, ice cream cones, rooftop parties — as the Fresh Prince says, in the summertime there’s an air of love and of happiness. Yet, when we are sitting in our sweltering, unair-conditioned apartments, the love and happiness quickly fade. In these moments, perspective is important. In order to remind ourselves that there are worse things that humidity (like, you know, death), we’ve compiled a list of our ten favorite summertime horror movies, from bloodbaths at camp to road trips from hell.
Friday the 13th (1980)
Summer camp — a place of arts and crafts, swim tests, and sexual experimentation. Crystal Lake was a camp like any other until two frisky counselors sneaked off into a cabin, leaving an unattended Jason Voorhees to drown. After years of murders and other assorted bad luck, it reopens only to be preyed upon by a mysterious killer. Friday the 13th is a gory shocker that brought the slasher genre into the mainstream. The film may have turned into a bona fide franchise, spawning 12 sequels of varying quality, but the original is tense, suspenseful, and remains the gold standard for slasher flicks.
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Following its release, Friday the 13th had its fair share of imitators. While few of these mimics could compare to the slasher classic, 1983’s Sleepaway Camp has garnered a cult following in its own right. The film takes place at Camp Arawak and follows the trials and tribulations of Angela Baker, a child who suffered a tragic loss early in life and is relentlessly tormented by her fellow campers. Soon, those who hurt Angela start dying rather brutally. Sleepaway Camp is known for having one of the most shocking endings in horror history, and it does not disappoint.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
The time-honored tradition of the summer road trip was never the same after The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which follows a group of friends who are visiting an old farmhouse. Unfortunately for the gang, a family of homicidal, cannibalistic slaughterhouse workers have moved in next door. The is known for giving cinema one of its most recognizable villans: Leatherface, a chainsaw-wielding behemoth wearing a mask of human skin. With its documentary-style portrayals of the characters’ fear and trauma, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a bleak and all too effective horror film, managing to give us the chills despite the seasonal heat.
I Know What You Did Last Summer wins a place on this list for reasons its title makes obvious. Featuring an impressive array of ’90’s teen stars (Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze Jr.), the film focuses on four friends who accidentally hit a fisherman on an isolated road. After dropping the body in nearby water and vowing to keep the incident a secret, the characters go their separate ways. Then, a year later, they receive anonymous letters bearing the warning, “I know what you did last summer.” After the secret is unearthed, the killings begin. While a shadowy figure in a fisherman slicker may not be the most terrifying antagonist, the film is taut and energetic, making for a satisfyingly fun slasher.
Not much can be said about Jaws that hasn’t already been mentioned — Steven Spielberg’s shark saga set the standard for summer blockbusters and effectively scared audiences out of their next beach visit . With elegantly constructed scenes, meticulous timing, and terrific characters, Jaws redefines horror. After watching the film, you’ll be sure to appreciate the safety of your local beach, occasional jellyfish and all.
Like Friday the 13th, Jaws spawned many quickly made and poorly conceived rip-offs. Grizzly may be one of these shallow imitations, but it’s worth seeing purely because it is so over-the-top. Taking the man-versus-nature conflict from the beach to the forest, Grizzly‘s monster is a vicious, 18-foot grizzly bear. Relying on painfully cliched dialog and cheap gore, the movie’s scenes of man-eating are more hilarious than terrifying — which is what makes Grizzly so entertaining.
While Grizzly won over audiences with its accidental hilarity, Piranha, another Jaws-inspired production, chose to play up its low production values. In the film, two locals discover a top-secret army laboratory that is re-purposing piranhas for biological warfare. Of course, the deadly, mutated creatures are inadvertently released and begin to head downstream, chomping on anything that crosses their path. It should come as no surprise that B-movie master Roger Corman produced this cult classic; filled with sharp satire, high camp, and black humor, Piranha spoofs the entire horror genre in a manner that is silly, bloody, and utterly delightful.
Tourist Trap (1979)
1979’s Tourist Trap teaches us that even if you manage to elude a demented cannibalistic family during your summertime road trip, you are still not out of the proverbial hot water. One must also stay weary of gas stations — and avoid a flat tire. Tourist Trap’s desert-traveling youth fail to heed these guidelines and end up being tormented by murderous mannequins. This obscure and potent horror film is filled with some of the creepiest and most eerily beautiful segments that we have ever seen.
Just Before Dawn (1982)
Just Before Dawn is different from other ’80s-era slasher horrors for many reasons — its cinematography, provided by brothers Dean and Joel King, is verdant and rich; the cast is far more talented than expected for a low-budget film; and the direction is confident and intelligent. Yet what most distinguishes it from the pack is its tasteful and discriminating use of violence. Director Jeff Lieberman set out to create an intellectual slasher movie, and we think he succeeded. While the plot may be lacking — picture Deliverance crossed with The Hills Have Eyes — it is the suspense and atmosphere of Just Before Dawn that has garnered it a devoted pack of fans.
Blood Hook (1986)
Who knew that fishermen could be so dangerous? It’s Wisconsin’s annual fishing festival, and the muskies are at their peak, but something has gone terribly awry — an unknown killer is committing heinous crimes with an oversize fishhook. Blood Hook comes from one of the masterminds behind Mystery Science Theater 3000, which explains why it’s ripe with tongue-in-cheek quips, off-color humor, and memorable characters.