Summer! What an incredible season. School is out, people go on vacations, spend days at the beach swimming and tanning, or sit around the campfire during those warm nights. Some choose to stay at home, in the comfort of their air-conditioning to avoid the oppressive heat and humidity. For many, it’s primarily the season for crowd-pleasing entertainment at the theater.
Summer is when blockbuster movies are released and break box-office records. From Jaws to Avengers: Endgame, there’s no end to the fun. Even television has gotten into the action. What used to be a time for re-runs, has now become its own season with plenty of new shows released. Comedy, drama, thriller, action, there’s something for everyone… including horror.
Nothing beats that feeling of dread from watching a good horror movie late at night while sitting on the couch with friends or loved ones. There are horror movies that are serious and terrifying, but I think that summer is the time for the ones that are over-the-top funny. The nuttier they are, the better they seem, and there have been some great ones. Here are eight campy films you should definitely track down (in no particular order).
Friday the 13th (1980), Part 2 (1981) and Part 3 (1982)
The quintessential summer camp terror movies. They had low budgets and simple plots, which practically never changed. A group of young adults go to Camp Crystal Lake and get to know one another during the first third of the film. During the second act, almost everyone gets killed. And in the last act, the final girl standing squares off against the killer. Simple yet effective.
Friday the 13th gave us incredibly crazy kills. There are stabbings with a machete, a couple speared while in bed, and even a good head crushing. The kills became increasingly over-the-top, and the absurdity reached another level in the third installment, shot in gimmicky 3D. Continuity was never a strong suit with the series and clichés were present aplenty. You’ll find people saying “I’ll be right back,” counselors falling while running away from the killer, or finding ridiculously poor places to hide.
The real star of these movies is the killer. Jason’s mom, played by the wonderful Betsy Palmer, in the first film and Jason himself in the sequels. Once he became the killer and established his personality, he was unstoppable. Jason had almost a confidence about him. He walked slowly, nonchalant like he was inevitable. And he was right. He always managed to catch his victims! You may find enjoyment in the subsequent sequels, but the first three work best. They’re campy, fun and they will scare you and make you laugh at the same time.
The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
Most horror movies tend to fall into at least one sub-genre, whether it’s monsters, zombies, psycho-killers, haunted houses, etc. But what if you’re in the mood for multiple genres? Easy, watch The Cabin in the Woods. At its core, it has a typical horror movie plot. A group of friends want to spend some time at a cabin for the weekend. But what should have been a fun party weekend turns into a nightmare. The movie misleads viewers at the beginning by starting off as a standard horror movie. There are The Devil’s Rejects or Wrong Turn vibes and a fairly serious tone. But that changes quickly.
The Cabin in the Woods contains all the typical horror clichés, but they’re subverted with the meta-story about the control center that manages the cabin, its surroundings, and the monsters themselves. That’s where most of the humor comes in. The control center employees act as though they’re managing a casino or hippodrome. The scene where they take bets on which monster the cabin guests will unwittingly summon is brilliant. The Cabin in the Woods has a unique and funny story, which makes it a solid campy film and an absolute must-watch.
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
There was a time when vampires and werewolves were considered dangerous and terrifying, not a bunch of pretty boys to be admired and fawned over. But in An American Werewolf in London, the monster is legitimately scary. It’s a killing machine with an insatiable thirst for blood, and its transformation is incredible. Long before CGI became the norm, Rick Baker was responsible for incredible monster effects in movies like The Howling and Wolf. His work on the transformation scenes of David (David Naughton) turning into a werewolf is absolutely stunning and earned him a well-deserved Academy Award.
The story is great, successfully combining elements of horror and romance. But it’s the dark humor that makes it campy and brilliant! The scene where David, Jack (Griffin Dunne) and those who were recently killed lightly discuss suicide methods for David while a porn movie plays in the background is hilarious. It’s absurdity at its best. The horror, the gore, the comedy, the actors, and the effects — which are still impressive today, 38 years later — make this a must-watch.
Turistas might be the odd man out in this list, but it has its campy merits. The movie stars Josh Duhamel, Melissa George and Olivia Wilde as friends who are vacationing in Brazil. When their bus breaks down, things quickly start to go south. Every subsequent decision, motivation, and scenario that happens is eyebrow-raising. Deciding to stay in the middle of nowhere to party makes little sense. No law enforcement presence whatsoever is a little too convenient. Finding the one house — that turns out to be their personal hell — in the middle of the jungle felt contrived. But that’s nothing compared to the third act.
Zamora’s (Miguel Lunardi) actions are based, to a certain extent, in terrifying reality. When he gets his hands on the stranded tourists, his explanation of his actions quickly devolve into absurdity. Though I’m not a surgeon, I would have expected cleaner facilities and better care of the “product.” Also, the end is a huge head-scratcher. But it works in its own way.
Turistas plays on the fear of being stranded in a foreign country with no help. The characters are expecting a fun vacation, and instead, they end up helpless, isolated, and scared. It’s a solid story for a horror movie. Turistas is slightly more serious than the rest of this list, but it’s campy enough to warrant a watch. There are less chuckles, but plenty of crazy moments.
The Lost Boys (1987)
After needing a fresh start, a single mom and her two sons move to Santa Carla, a remote California town. It’s a beautiful, picturesque seaside town, but it harbors a dark secret. Not only is it the murder capital of the world, but it’s also the home of vampires. They’re cool, they’re bad, ruthless and Kiefer Sutherland’s David leads them. When they decide to make Michael (Jason Patric) one of their own, his brother Sam (Corey Haim) has other plans. Aided by Edgar (Corey Feldman), a self-proclaimed expert on vampires, they take on David. Little do they know that there is an even more powerful vampire who’ll go to great lengths to protect his family.
What’s not to like about this movie? It has Sutherland and Patric, two heartthrobs of the ’90s. It has Haim and Feldman, in probably their best co-starring effort. It has Jami Gertz and her iconic curls as the love interest. It has a beautiful setting and great cinematography. And, last but not least, it has a great soundtrack, featuring INXS and Echo and the Bunnymen.
The Lost Boys has all the elements of classic vampire films while going against the norms of that time and making the vampires hot young adults. Thankfully, the movie steers away from the soap opera plot that too many of the newer vampire movies suffer from. There is horror and romance, but thanks mostly to the Coreys there’s also plenty of comedy.
The Lost Boys is a perfect, easy-going summer movie.
Club Dread (2004)
Broken Lizard is behind some really fun movies, including Beerfest, Super Troopers and The Slammin’ Salmon. In Club Dread, Coconut Pete (Bill Paxton) owns Coconut Pete’s Coconut Beach Resort. A new batch of guests arrive, and a mysterious killer decides to go to work and eliminate the resort staff one-by-one. The only caveat is that the killer orders them not to tell anyone, including the guests.
This is a brilliant entry in the Broken Lizard repertoire. The humor is sharp, and most of the movie is nutty. Juan’s (Steve Lemme) reasons for imprisonment, Lars’s (Kevin Heffernan) magical touch massage, and Puttnam’s (Jay Chandrasekhar) attempt to slow a machete killer with tennis balls are just a few of the scenes that will have you in stitches. The writing is tight, and it’s obvious that they paid attention to the smallest details.
Paxton plays his role as Coconut Pete brilliantly. He’s a quasi-burned out singer living on the laurels of his music career. Not only are his lines perfect, but their delivery is priceless. He’s nonchalant, arrogant and innocent. It’s an odd combination, but it’s hilarious.
With a solid story, good horror elements and a decent amount of cheesy gore, Club Dread excels in its campiness. So make yourself a margarita and sit back and enjoy.
Lake Placid (1999)
What happens when a crocodile finds its way into a remote lake in Maine? No, this isn’t the beginning of some joke, it’s the plot of Lake Placid. It’s quite a simple story. The crocodile feeds and grows, eating humans, bears, and moose along the way. So in comes the local police force, the Department of Fish and Game and a representative of the Museum of Natural History to save the day. The result is one of the best sarcasm-laced movies I’ve seen, and it’s the interactions between the characters that make this a must-watch movie.
Gentlest of them all is Jack (Bill Pullman) from Fish and Game. His kindness provides a necessary balance to the other characters harsher sides. Kelly (Bridget Fonda) is the museum representative from New York whose prissy attitude is fodder for the others. Her seemingly fragile exterior hides a bitter and wittier side. All of her scenes, especially the ones with Sheriff Hank, are gems. Hector (Oliver Platt), the crocodile expert, and sheriff Hank (Brendan Gleeson) engage each other in a battle of wits. They have no patience for one another, and it only fuels the harshness of their interactions. Last but not least is Delores (Betty White) who easily gets the funniest lines in the film. The dialogue is brilliant!
There are so many crazy scenes, from Kelly slapping Hank and threatening to sue Jack for calling her “ma’am,” to Hector accidentally trapping Hank instead of the crocodile. Even though it is a horror film, the movie isn’t terrifying. In fact, the crocodile only serves as a plot device to bring our characters together. That said, the creature effects looks great. Ultimately, the true star of the movie is the dialogue. It’s smart, biting, and delivered perfectly by the actors. If you appreciate sarcasm, then you should definitely check out Lake Placid.
Piranha 3D (2010)
Piranhas. Those pesky little fish that love to eat the flesh off of human bones… preferably while they are alive. It makes a bloody mess, and the screams are music to a horror lover’s ears. Unlike the piranhas from 1978 original, these aren’t genetically modified fish. They’re remnants from prehistoric times. An earthquake allows them to escape from the underground lake they were imprisoned in and wreak havoc. What follows is utter insanity.
To boost the camp factor, Piranha 3D is set during spring break. The vacationers are drinking and exposing every square inch of their bodies. As if a bunch of drunken college students wasn’t enough to meet the debauchery quota, Derrick (Jerry O’Connell) is a director for Wild Wild Girls. The shows in town to film a video with his two new girls. He’s an arrogant, coke-sniffing dick who sees women purely as sex objects and O’Connell plays the role brilliantly. Kudos to the writers for pointing out that karma clearly isn’t without a sense of humor. Not even the piranhas, eaters of any and everybody part without discrimination, will eat Derrick’s manhood.
The rest of the cast performs well. Ving Rhames trying to cut down the piranhas with an outboard engine is pure gold. Eli Roth and Christopher Lloyd were great additions as well. Also, keen observers may recognize Richard Dreyfuss’ direct homage to Jaws. Not only is he named Matt — the same name he had in Jaws — but he’s also dressed the same. It’s a great casting coup!
Piranha 3D is camp at its best. Victims aren’t just chewed a little. They’re stripped of flesh like they were chicken wings. Blood flows abundantly. The water party attack scene is reported to have used close to 80,000 gallons of fake blood! And to top it all off, it’s filmed in 3D. Piranha 3D has horror, comedy, fun performances and is simply a wild ride. A must watch.