Summer of 84: 80s horror at its best with punk rock references
1984 was a great year for horror flicks. Not only did it mark the birth of the A Nightmare on Elm Street saga, but it also received a new chapter of Friday the 13th or the very first Gremlins.
And if the 80s have already made their comeback to music, they would eventually step into the cinema realm as well. But, unlike music, which simply regurgitated everything that was lame in the schizoid universe of the 80s, where spandex mingled with synthesizers, cinema was knowledgeable enough to retrieve the best references and enjoy the style of the defeated instead of going full Hit Parade.
As in Stranger Things or It, denim makes things quite obvious: it’s not in that whitish scratched blue, but almost pitch-black dark. Music references are not the new romantics or the new wave, but the D.O.A, the fanzine-turned-label Touch’n’Go and the presence of punk hardcore icons like Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins. Joining Bad Religion and The Ramones, bands that take the place of the usual references of the films back then, such as Duran Duran or Cindy Lauper. On top of all this, Summer of 84 finds its inspiration in the proper cinema sources, from kid movies like StandBy Me by Stephen King, the Goonies by Steven Spielberg to Fright Night, with clear-cut devotion for the ambience and soundtrack of John Carpenter’s cosmos.
Even though this side of Scream registered some erratic incursions into the 80s retromania in recent years – particularly in the realm of slasher films –, this trend was actually and successfully launched with the aforementioned series Stranger Things, dictating the rules right off the bath with wheelies bikes, denim or all the illustrative poster aesthetics, which Summer of 84 fortunately redoes. Between Scream and Summer of 84, we still had some successful 80s-inspired efforts, such as The Babysitter, Better Watch Out and Turbo Kid, the latter of the same directors. In contrast with Turbo Kid, Summer of 84 was heavily criticized for the script’s lack of creativity and the inability of the characters to create empathy, but the truth is that much of this criticism stems from the politically correct mentality of the critics. After all, in the present-day environment, watching teenagers take advantage of any context to make some mom jokes is not particularly appreciated, but the fact is that this is how things were and probably still are.
This bunch of kids is fun and captivating and their friendship is just as touching as the memories of our own childhood friendships. Even if the story is not the most original stuff ever, positioning itself as the spiritual heir to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”, it manages to dodge all the associated clichés and narrative automation, given how influential the aesthetic influence of Summer Of 84 is on the scrip itself. The question of whether the neighbour is guilty or not, despite being the main leitmotif, is second to everything else the film offers, from the references to the soundtrack, to the environment and the nostalgic journey through the era. Of course, we could accuse Summer of 84 of preying on our youth memories, taking advantage of them to lure us. But, in all honesty, is there anything wrong with that?