Labor Day is traditionally the “end of summer” but as the fall approaches and many of you are dreaming in pumpkin spice, we here at Grumpire HQ aren’t ready to let go of the endless possibilities of summer. Blame it on the Head Grumps’ location down in the South Texas tropics, but we’re in beach mode ten months out of the year. So to prolong the carefree, sunny vibe, we asked our contributors to come up with a list of their best (or maybe just most interesting) “summer movie” recommendations:
FROM TYLER PETERSON:
EIGHT DAYS A WEEK (1997)
When you get a certain number of calendar pages behind you, it’s easy to forget just how summer vacation used to feel way back when. The carefree months stretching out like taffy before your eyes. The million fatuous activities you invented to fill the time. Silly conversations with your friends that ran in circles for entire afternoons. Sitting on your lawn and people-watching, your sun-baked brain inventing crazy theories about the secret lives of your neighbors. 1997’s Eight Days A Week is one of the runts of the litter far as the late ’90s teen sex comedy boom goes – many of the gags fall flat, and the tone oscillates wildly up and down the Raunchy-Sweet scale – but I’ve yet to come across a movie that better portrays the experience of summer vacation. Keri Russell and her protuberant nipples in a series of wet, thin, or otherwise inadequate tops take the lead in vibes if not in actual characterization. Joshua Schafer plays the too-horny-to-exist young dork who decides to win Keri’s love by spending his last summer before adulthood camped out on her lawn. The premise, however, is just a thin lattice on which a series of gags, goofs, subplots, eccentric characters, fantasy sequences, and believably teenaged idle chitchats unfurl lackadaisically like a summer day when you ain’t got F.A. to do. It’s an immersive sensual experience. Whenever I watch it I feel transported back to adolescence. I can just imagine myself sitting on that suburban lawn. I feel my sprinkler-wet shorts slowly drying in the sun, I feel the itch blades of mown grass sticking to my skin, I feel my feckless friend’s Dorito breath on the side of my face as he expounds idly but forcefully on sex or bands or how society is like, it’s just a busy box for stupid little rats to run around in, you know? It wasn’t much, but all of it felt so meaningful. It all felt like it could go on forever. Even the title Eight Days A Week evokes a surplus of time, a supersaturation of possibility. In this case, it practically did go on forever. During my own teenage years, Eight Days A Week was a Comedy Central mainstay, and in the lazy summer months I could easily catch it three times a day while channel-surfing. For better or for worse, this forgotten movie will always feel like summer to me.
HARDBODIES 2 (1986)
If you’ve ever spent a summer abroad, you know the feeling of falling in love with a beautiful foreigner and asking her to star in the movie you’re there filming so you can ease your way into a romantic relationship with her. Or, at least that’s what Hardbodies 2 tells us. Barely tied to the first film, this sequel sees our heroes as actors hopping a jet to a movie set in Greece, where, naturally, the Mediterranean beach babes are remarkably less modest than their American counterparts (read: there are a lot of naked boobs just hanging out onscreen). One reason to watch Hardbodies 2 is B-movie legend James Karen, who’s just as gruff as ever. Two more reasons are beauties Fabiana Udenio (Summer School) and Brenda Bakke (Death Spa), each lending their own kind of charms to the screen as rivaled love interests. The thought-provoking part, however, is this movie is almost experimental in that it’s hard to tell what is the movie itself and what is the movie they’re filming inside it. That’s probably not on purpose, though.
BIKINI SUMMER II (1992)
Los Angeles may hate the homeless, but bikini girls sure don’t! This throwaway PM Entertainment sleaze has surprisingly a lot to offer thematically if you can stand the groaner set-up and terrible music. After being kicked out of their mansion for partying too hard, two beach babe sisters teach their slimeball, bootlicking father a lesson on the frivolity of wealth by opening a nightclub where they give the seediest of L.A.’s homeless jobs and housing. Let’s not give too much of the plot away, though; sleaze lovers don’t care about that stuff, anyway. This movie was written and directed by former addict and generally tragic soul Jeff Conaway, who also plays a feature role as a home shopping network host; also, there’s Jessica Hahn, on the heels of her tell-all televangelist sex scandal, playing a good 95% of her part rolling around in bed in lingerie. Who knows what kind of substances went into the conception of all this, but we can really applaud the attempt at getting something remotely meaningful through in what amounts to be nothing but home video trash.
FROM BRIAN MILLER:
Surf Nazis Must Die (1987)
Summer film viewing of course must include beaches and surfing, and there are plenty of choices to satisfy this seasonal necessity. But why not throw in a heavy dose of ’80s punk along with it? If the beach punks of Back to the Beach are one of your favorite parts of that film, Surf Nazis Must Die is a fantastic pairing. In a rare film in which the villains are the protagonists, these knucklehead literal nazis are not the only punks on the sand. Other gangs inhabit the Los Angeles post-earthquake apocalypse shoreline. This is some satisfying sleaze and in the end, is a nazi-punching film so everyone wins.
The Unseen (1980)
Traditions of what to do in the hottest months of the year don’t all include the beach. In the city of Solvang, CA, the summer ends with a Danish celebration that most familiar with the state’s central coast all know about. The Unseen uses this real-life event as the entry point for a Cali inbred redneck horror. It is a far cry from the intensity of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), but this entry into the summer slice of B-horror is particularly fun if you like provincial films.
The Meg (2018)
While The Rock corners the market on most action films about solving larger-than-life problems with an uppercut, Jason Statham is perfectly up for the job of killing a dinosaur shark bare-fisted. The Meg is to Jaws (1975) what psycho-billy is to Elvis, so we are well into the bimbofication of the summer blockbuster with this movie, but if that level of clownishness sounds good to you, you won’t be let down.
I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer (2006)
Enjoyment warning: You have to be intoxicated with a group of friends for this film to access the entertainment factor of this not-at-all-a-conclusion to the Last Summer trilogy. What one will remember most from this film is that it looks like it was captured on a mid-price digital camera purchased at Best Buy. Gone is the post-Dawson’s Creek style of teens, who speak with the surprising eloquence of adults. Instead, everything is muted. All hands are overplayed and the emotional pitch is all syrup, no desert. If this were the launch of a Lifetime network run of films on the series, everyone would be praising them as beautiful trash. One can only dream. And hey, at least there is an actual slasher killer in this movie, unlike the dismal recent streaming series.
Traveling carnivals are one of America’s great summer traditions. This made-for-tv movie is no “running away with the carnies” fantasy though. It is an autobiographical piece by a teen girl who actually did it ~ and filmed with the real-life carnival that she escaped with! This is a perfect summer film for those wanting drama over genre, with some deftly executed examinations of romance, sex, and attachment in a world of people living as nomads on the fringes of domestic society. Don’t be dissuaded by the fact that this is from Joseph Sargent, the director of Jaws: The Revenge (1987); it feels like an arthouse film. Although, a double feature of the two movies as Sargent’s summer offerings could be very strange fun to have.
SUMMER SCHOOL (1987)
The ensemble cast of Summer School are so incredibly charming, one might not even notice they are doing some of the most inappropriate things to each other. A teacher whose attempt at bribing his students turns into all sorts of abuse, climaxing in one girl attempting to force him to commit statutory rape. Not that the teacher is above reproach, given his endorsement of underage drinking among other authoritative no-no’s. But of course, this is an ’80s feel good comedy and everything is lite and fun; ending with a sweet moral that everyone can succeed when we work together. None of this really matters though, because what sets Summer School apart is its perfect introduction to horror via two The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) loving teens who teach everyone the most important lesson: gore is fun! Don’t let this cheeky blurb give you the wrong idea though. Summer School is a family film and perfect for an Xtreme Cinema night all ages can enjoy!
FROM JAY ALARY:
Summer is for sharksploitation flicks! Experiencing a hotter-than-usual summer in landlocked Cowtown, I like to pretend I’m going to the beach. (Thanks to Jaws, I’ve never gone in the ocean, other than dipping my toes in English Bay in Vancouver—the price I pay for my childhood kinder trauma.) I skipped out on Spielberg’s classic shark picture this year, so I watched many sharksploitation flicks on Tubi or on Blu-ray (yes, I do own Cruel Jaws—what of it?). A school of bloodthirsty piranha does not constitute as sharksploitation technically, but they’re part of the “Nature Attacks!” horror subgenre I love so much, so I feel no guilt. Joe Dante made a big splash (sorry) with Piranha in 1978, a low-budget Roger Corman Jaws cash-in that is full of charm, humor, and the requisite gore exploitation fans have come to expect from a Corman production. Bradford Dillman ditches his usual villainous role to play a rare hero, an alcoholic fisherman who teams up with an ambitious private investigator (Heather Menzies) to stop a deadly school of piranha from terrorizing the Lost River Lake locals. Piranha features Dante’s future repertory cast of Kevin McCarthy, Belinda Balaski, and of course, Dick Miller as the Mayor Vaughn analog. The sharp wit and playful dialogue are courtesy of indie filmmaker John Sayles, who would collaborate with Dante again on the greatest werewolf film ever made to date, The Howling (yes, I’ve thrown the gauntlet down—fight me!) and wrote the excellent sharksploitation-adjacent Alligator. I doubt that contemporary filmmakers would be comfortable depicting gruesome child deaths today, but we latchkey kids of a certain age will appreciate Mr. Dante’s efforts.
Piranha 3D (2010)
I am not opposed to remakes: For every A Nightmare on Elm Street or The Fog travesty, there are clever re-dos like Fright Night, Child’s Play, and Piranha 3D. Alexander Aja takes Joe Dante’s beloved original and honors it with subtle homages, dark humor, and even a more brazen Jaws callback that would make Roger Corman blush (and worry about how much money it cost). Aja’s remake is an example of how quickly mainstream culture shifts in attitudes: Parodying the Girls Gone Wild series of ‘films’ from 1997-2011 as part of its central plot ages it a way he couldn’t conceive, but it’s still a fascinating bit of cultural anthropology examined in the #MeToo era. Gen X heartthrob and forever-babysitter Elisabeth Shue is the heroic Brody character as the local sheriff contending with prehistoric piranha let loose on the citizenry she protects. Jerry O’Connell is suitably sleazy as the Joe Francis parody and one can guess what fate awaits him by the end of the film. I’m not a 3D enthusiast, so I can’t tell you if the 3D effects work well, but they didn’t bother me; the CGI blood is a bit dated, but plenty of actual fake blood is used in the film as Aja one-ups Dante in the piranha feeding orgy department.
Le monde du silence (aka The Silent World) (1956)
My childhood was influenced by both Jaws and Jacques Cousteau, so trying to figure out which one influenced the other is like the chicken or the egg question. My family would go over to my maternal grandma’s house every weekend for dinner, so I would pull out her small collection of Cousteau books and gaze at the marine life photos for hours. I’d have become a marine biologist if I weren’t so inept at math, but this prairie boy dreamed big. Cousteau had made several short films prior to Le monde du silence, but his feature film debut, collaborating with director Louis Malle, shows a startling undersea world—in color!—teeming with exotic life forms humanity had seldom seen before. The film chronicles Cousteau and the intrepid crew of the RV Calypso, the French ship that once served as a minesweeper in WWII and would amass more oceanic data than any other vessel in its nearly-50 years of exploration. Scuba technology has advanced since 1956, but there is delight in seeing the Calypso crew use the then-state-of-the-art scientific gear (Cousteau was also one of the co-inventers of the first scuba mechanism, the Aqua-Lung) during marine exploration’s infancy. Chief Diver Falco and the rest of the Calypso crew encounter breathtaking coral reefs and sea life that had never been filmed before that is enhanced by Cousteau’s soothing, avuncular narration. As with all pioneers, the Calypso crew make highly questionable choices, like dynamiting parts of a coral reef to ascertain the types of sea life below, or accidentally killing a whale calf, but fear not: Cousteau would learn from these experiences and become a major proponent of oceanic conservation. Le monde du silence is a snapshot of an exciting moment in time when the oceans’ secrets were about to be revealed.