“You can’t stand it, I know you can’t stand it. You can’t stand the heat” sang Steel Pulse on the soundtrack to Do The Right Thing, a film that excels at making you feel the heat that drips off the screen, even when you’re locked indoors. So who needs the sun when these great films do a similar job of evoking the summer heat and the feeling that comes with it. You’ll certainly save on sun cream. Note: not all of these films may be set during summer, but with weather that appears so – which to us Brits is any weather that doesn’t require a coat outside…
Summer of Sam – Dir. Spike Lee (1999)
“There are 8 million stories in the naked city. This is one of them…”
To tell the truth I could’ve put countless Spike Lee joints on this list, as he remains the best American director working today that understands how to soak up the heat and tension within a community. Perhaps his most stylish film, Summer of Sam details the horror contemplating a Bronx neighbourhood as the ‘Son of Sam’ murderer terrorises them in the summer of 1977. With an iconic soundtrack beginning with Abba’s ‘Fernando’ – needle-dropped over a horrifying ‘Son of Sam’ murder – Lee focuses his lens less on the murderer and more on the fear that is collected once people register that this sweaty night of disco dancing may be their last. Contains possibly my favourite of Spike’s dolly shots too…
Wake in Fright is at times a traumatic and hard to watch film
Wake in Fright – Dir. Ted Kotcheff (1971)
The only film on the list that I’d also put on a best Christmas film list, Ted Kotcheff’s Ozploitation flick is, as Rex Reed said, “the closest a movie can get to a primal scream.” Gary Bond plays a teacher heading to Sydney for the Christmas break, who ends up getting waylaid in the vast Australian outback. “Have a drink, mate. Have a fight, mate. There’s nothing else out here”, is the advice given when all seems lost and hopeless, with nothing but a lukewarm beer to distract from the unforgiving heat and uncomfortable company you find yourself with. Featuring an appalling display of Kangaroo hunting, using actual hunting footage spliced together with the fictional material, Wake in Fright is at times a traumatic and hard to watch film. It’s also a masterpiece, and one that’ll have you wiping the sweat off your brow long after the credits roll.
Black Orpheus – Dir. Marcel Camus (1959)
Taking the Orpheus and Eurydice legend and firmly planting it during Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro (technically spring not summer), Marcel Camus’ film is a beautiful and joyous celebration that could seemingly only occur when the sun is shining. Whereas most films would place the environment as a backdrop to its tale of love and death, here the setting is front and centre, making it impossible to imagine this story taking place anywhere else. The magical elements of the legend may only be embraced by the children in the film, yet the energy and spirit is found in every frame. While Camus’ point of view may be a solely white European one, nevertheless Black Orpheus is filled to the brim with infectious music – thanks to a soundtrack by Antônio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfá – that accompanies the breathtaking photography by Jean Bourgoin.
Tobe Hooper’s iconic and controversial masterwork still terrorises in much the same way it did back in 1974
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Dir. Tobe Hooper (1974)
One of the greatest directed films of all time precisely because it feels like the antagonists have taken control of production and run amok, Tobe Hooper’s iconic and controversial masterwork still terrorises in much the same way it did back in 1974. The classic tropes may all be present (a group of kids, masked maniac), yet few horror films reach the heights found here. Shot on gritty 16mm film, the blistering heat radiating from the sun is felt in a relentless fashion – all before you even hear the first revving of a chainsaw. The distressing nature of it all, felt all the way up until the final frame, works as the film really doesn’t want to let you go, even as the blood covering the characters perfectly mirrors the sweat dripping from us the viewers. I’m in awe they ever let the masses watch this. Hooper’s sequel, released in 1985, is one of the great post-modernist works of its time.
Body Heat – Dir. Lawrence Kasdan (1981)
“My God it’s hot!” are the first words spoken in Body Heat, Lawrence Kasdan’s riff on Billy Wilder’s classic Double Indemnity. A sultry Florida heatwave is the setting for this love affair, with every scene featuring a character heavily sweating or fans blowing in the background – no wonder the clothes start coming off. In this tale of love and betrayal, Kasdan blends classic film noir with the erotic thriller, producing images the Hays Code era could only dream of. Kathleen Turner is the seductive femme fatale, and John Barry’s jazz laden score heightens the sensuality. Subtle? No. Steamy? Very. Body Heat is indebted to the film noirs of the 1940s and 50s, but the sexy sleaze on display is undoubtably through the prism of the 1980s. Perfect viewing for summer nights where its just too hot to sleep.
Nothing else nails the feeling of collecting memories with friends during the long hot summers that were over far too quickly
Honourable mention: Jackass Trilogy – Dir. Jeff Tremaine (2002, 2006, 2010)
This one might be a cheat as it doesn’t necessarily radiate heat, but the Jackass films are a perfect capsule of post-9/11 summertime adolescence. While on the surface it appears like a bunch of guys hurting themselves and each other for our amusement, nothing else nails the feeling of collecting memories with friends during the long hot summers that were over far too quickly like they do. The closing montage over the credits of Jackass 3 always opens up the tear ducts…