Most movies that come out in the summer are shit. We know they’re shit. The studios know they’re shit. We still see the shit. I, for one, am tired of this recently released shit (except for Edge of Tomorrow). So sit back and watch some summer movies from bygone days—the kinds of movies that make you feel the humidity, air conditioning and that bead of condensation running down the side of your highball glass. It doesn’t matter when they were released—though most below hit between May and August—if they feel sweaty enough.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’ 1981 homage to B-level action serials from their childhoods still holds up. It has a perfect hero in Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), one of the best heroines in screen history (Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood) and horrendous, horrendous villains: Nazis. Say what you will about the appropriateness of cartooning the Third Reich, it’s still a thrill when Col. Dietrich’s face melts off. And why did it have to be snakes?
"The shark may look fake, but he’ll still bite your ass off."
“The Raft” from Creepshow 2
About 100 words ago, I railed against summer movies these days being shit. Unfortunately, Creepshow 2 is in fact largely shit, but that doesn’t stop “The Raft”—about four college kids who get swallowed alive by a moving oil slick at a swimming hole—from being super fucking creepy. And just like Raiders, this one has melting faces, too. It’s really never safe to go in the water, kids.
The Way, Way Back
This movie quietly made some money when it was released last year, and it’s worth another look. Fourteen-year-old Duncan (Liam James) goes with his mother (Toni Collette) and her boyfriend (Steve Carell) to a summer vacation home in Massachusetts (REPRESENT) and Duncan is miserable. His misery is assuaged when he makes friends with a wacky crew (Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, et al.) at a water park. Rockwell is great and Carell excels at playing a real asshole (not a fake one like in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone).
This one is better than you remember. Plus, it feels like summer (and bonus: the ’80s), and has solid laughs. Mark Harmon is a high school gym teacher who’s roped into teaching remedial English, and Kirstie Alley is the teacher who thinks he’s a doofus (she’s correct). The kids, including Shawnee Smith, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Dean Cameron and Kelly Jo Minter, are a riot. Plus, they watch the next entry in this list in class.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
This horror masterpiece has been souped-up for its 40th anniversary, but you should see it the way it was made to be seen: in a theater with faltering AC and a scratchy, pink-tinted 35 mm print (extra points for a drive-in). Director Tobe Hooper does a lot with very little, and yes, it’s scary as fuck—and not all that bloody, all things considered. (Anybody else think William Vail, who plays Kirk, looks like David Gates from Bread?)
The first five Friday the 13th films
Wet Hot American Summer
Duh. Many members of The State (plus Janeane Garofalo and David Hyde Pierce) play teenage counselors at a summer camp. Christopher Meloni is the screw-loose cook. Bradley Cooper has an early role, and Amy Poehler plays a jerk. Those viewers suffering from camp PTSD may want to skip this one because it feels so real.
They all suck (Part 2 is particularly awful), but no one remembers that Jason didn’t start out as a unkillable super monster; that didn’t happen until Part VI: Jason Lives. Mrs. Voorhees is the killer in the first film, and the camp setting is just gross. Plus, young Kevin Bacon gets an arrowhead through the throat, and the misnamed The Final Chapter features other young famous people. Spotting future stars is more fun that the movies. See them with friends.
Dazed and Confused
Kicking freshman ass, keg stands at the Moon Tower and weed. What a great movie! As many people older than I have said, “Man, this really feels like the ’70s.” Fall in love with Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey) and Pink (Jason London) and hate-love with O’Bannion (Ben Affleck). Parker Posey has one of the best movie lines ever as she tortures incoming frosh: “Wipe that face off your head, bitch.” Can you spot Renée Zellweger (twice) as an extra?
Go old-school to a time when beautiful women like Lisa (Grace Kelly) were apparently so plentiful that dickheads like Jeff (James Stewart) could ignore them as he spies on his neighbor (Raymond Burr), whom he suspects of murder. Joking aside, Alfred Hitchcock’s slow burn of tension and suspense reaches a scorcher as the killer attacks an injured Jeff in the dead of a summer night. The multilevel set is perfect, the mystery compelling, the performances grand. They quite literally don’t make them like this any more.
No summer film list would be complete without it. Steven Spielberg’s schlock masterpiece kicked off the idea of a summer movie season, and with good reason: The shark may look fake, but he’ll still bite your ass off. Good thing Brody (the first-rate Roy Scheider), Quint (grizzled Robert Shaw) and Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss—whatever) have that tiny boat. Why don’t you come on down here and chum some of this shit?
Bonus: Top Gun
Normally I wouldn’t include such an irresponsible, jingoistic, war-mongering, sexist P.O.S., but I caught it last week unedited. Despite its disregard for character, story or pacing, its cast makes the most of it, and so do the guys who actually flew those F-14s. It’s fun as hell, and sometimes we all feel the need for speed.