Welcome back to another Friday Nightmare Reviews, wherein I tell you what you could be watching instead of looking out the window and wondering if you are actually allowed to go outside yet. So summer is upon us here in North America! I know that the solstice isn’t here yet but whatever, the orb is out, it’s hot and sunny and I am hissing with disdain for all of it. In a normal year, this would mean that most people would be hitting the beaches, hanging out on patios, going for hikes or walks along the trails, enjoying camping trips, going to festivals and all manner of things that take them outside in the sun. However, in this, our year of plague 2020, while some parts of the world are slowly letting us out to play nice, many people are still stuck inside like restless kids looking out the window and waiting for the last bell of the school year to ring. As an added bonus, we even have some people who, out of necessity, have been watching the seasonal change from inside for the last three months and are terrified of looking out that window because they are at a higher risk of getting seriously ill if there are too many people around them who aren’t taking precautions to protect them.
Admittedly, this is an awkward time and for many, it can be a frustrating and sad time. A lot of people are scared of things moving too fast and putting them in danger, which is a legit and understandable concern. Still, a lot of people also are mourning the many things that have been cancelled or postponed this year, from little things like coffee dates and birthday parties to big ticket festivals, graduations, weddings and even funerals. Basically, there’s a lot of people who are feeling particularly ripped off and some of them are in both the terrified and the mourning categories listed above. Some of them can’t go outside yet and even if they can, there’s still the looming concern that they could become ill and that is a pretty downer note to start this season off, even if it’s not your favorite.
Now I have been nothing if not upfront about my hatred of summer but since there’s already a lot of uncertainty and even a lot of disappointment floating around, I figured that for this season, I will put aside my distaste for this time of year and try to help those who want to celebrate it, even if they can’t go out. To help those who are missing out on their favorite fun in the sun activities and such, I am going to feature some of my favorite summer horror movies for the rest of the season and, as an added bonus, I’ll include a little fun pairing idea along with it so that you can make the best of your viewing, even if you can’t go out. So grab your backpacks and let’s head off to the first of our Summer Nightmares: You Might be the Killer!
This 2018 film really seemed to fly under people’s radars and as far as I can see, I think it had more to do with timing of its release than quality because this film is not only funny as hell but also quite clever. It also doesn’t bother with any set up because you begin your journey with Sam, newly traumatized and covered in blood, trying to escape a killer at a camp ground that is set to open. The screen pauses and helpfully lets the audience know that the tally of dead camp councillors is currently sitting at “a lot”. You might be thinking that this scenario seems mighty familiar at this point and you wouldn’t be wrong except that instead of coming into this film at the beginning, we’re coming in close to where they typically end. This movie actually tells itself mostly backwards and it does so via phone conversation with someone who isn’t even there. If you’re confused, let me help clear a few things up for you.
As mentioned, we get our opening in the woods at night, following the blood soaked Sam, played by Fran Kranz, as he tries to escape the fate of his fellow camp councillors, which is apparently death, if the opening screen is to be believed. Taking shelter in a dark, empty cabin, he barricades the door and hides before he does something that most people in horror movies almost never think to do: he whips out his cellphone and calls his friend who works at a comic book store. His friend Chuck, played by Alyson Hannigan, is an expert when it comes to all things horror and he figured that she would know what to do. Now before anyone gets too excited, Chuck does play the kind of straight man to Kranz’s frantic (and kinda dumb at times) Sam, and the first thing she asks of him is why he’s calling her instead of the police. She also asks all the important questions that you’ve no doubt asked while watching the movies this film was inspired by. As to what the answers are, I’m not telling because the charm in this film lies in the dialogue and I won’t spoil any of it for you. There is a great dynamic between Sam, an awkward but likeable dork of a camp councillor who is in charge of Camp Crystal Vista, and Chuck, a horror nerd working at a local comic book store who is enthusiastic about the stuff around her but rather lax at her job.
There are other people in this film and I’ll get to those in a second or two but to be honest, characters is a bit of a strong word to use for them. In fact, you already know that they’re all corpses in waiting because when you’re introduced to Sam, most of them are already dead. There are little Easter Eggs associated with these side characters and to see that, all you have to do is look at their names. That said, they don’t really matter enough for the film to develop because it’s not as important as getting to the biggest thing you need to know about this film, which is that there’s a pretty big tell in the title. The film attempts to keep the suspense alive for a few minutes by suggesting otherwise but it’s also called You Might be the Killer, so you’re kind of already prepped for the big reveal about fifteen to twenty minutes in when you find out who the killer actually was. This might seem a bit odd and for some, it was off putting to find this out so early, but we’ve got to remember that this film starts essentially at the end. From here, we work our way backwards and find out exactly how our killer dork became a killer in the first place as he slowly regains his memory while talking to Chuck and trying to avoid the surviving members of his crew who are now out to kill him.
This is actually one of the more unique elements of this film. While it’s true that it’s drawing from the 80s slashers, right down to nailing some of the shots that a lot of us have grown up watching, I think this might be the first film that I’ve seen where you see the cannon fodder as being kind of the enemy. It’s not like you don’t see where they are coming from either. Once it’s established who the killer is, they already know that it’s a get him before he gets us kind of situation and at least one of the survivors is really pushing to be the last man standing. What I think is most clever about this is that they’ve essentially turned the survivors into the almost nameless killers as they relentlessly stalk Sam. Granted, they’re doing it for their own survival but it was kind of funny to see them in this role and I give the film absolute points for creativity for this.
This review might be all over the place but a part of that is because there’s so much that’s revealed out of order that I can’t give a decent plot synopsis without giving away major details and this is definitely one of those films that it’s better not to know ahead of time, if only because it ruins certain jokes and it’s more fun this way. What you do need to know about this is that both Hannigan and Kranz are great and their conversation is both hilarious and a huge love letter to the genre. The reactions are great from Chuck as Sam slowly remembers what’s become of his fallen councillors and even though you might think you see the big end coming, there’s still enough there to make it fun and a bit of a surprise. The people behind this film know their stuff and they play with our expectations but they also know what we want. I know some reviews out there that I’ve seen were comparing this to Cabin in the Woods, which isn’t entirely fair, even though both are meta slashers. The thing is that the former took its premise fairly seriously, for the most part, and the stakes at the end were epic and huge. That movie took the premise of movies we’ve all seen and turned it on its ear to make those expectations part of the plot. This film, on the other hand, sort of treats it like you’ve accidentally found yourself in the middle of a horror movie and the tone is less on the level of “fate of the world” and more “I see you’re trying to outrun a masked killer in the woods” like Clippy from MS Word.
Honestly, I highly recommend this one to anyone who enjoys all those summer slashers from the 80s and wants to have a good laugh about them while also appreciating the gore. This does have some pretty good kills, it has some great jokes and the clever elements of that make it look like an older movie than it is are just the right touches to really make it fun. The dialogue is fantastic, especially between Sam and Chuck, and the setting is just charming.
And as promised: PAIRING SUGGESTIONS!
One of the things I liked about this film was that it really does have a decent feel of being off camping in the woods and I liked how they dealt with things like why no one has a cell on them and why no one in law enforcement was there. So if you are wanting to get into the spirit and really have fun with this viewing, I suggest the following:
Lawn chairs – You could just sit and watch the movie on a couch but if you really want that camp experience, get out a lawn chair and set it up near where you’re going to watch the film. If you happen to have a projector, even better!
Beverages – If you are of age, this is definitely a beer or cider kind of film. If you aren’t of age, mind, that doesn’t mean you should go thirsty. I would suggest something like ginger beer to relax with. If spice isn’t your thing, pick something that you would typically bring with you camping.
S’mores – There is a scene that comes up to do with this food in the movie and in honor of that guy, let’s put down the popcorn for this film and grab the graham crackers instead. If you’re in the city, these are easier than you think. You can do them in the oven under the broiler, but if you’re wanting to go the super lazy route, pile some chocolate and marshmallow on a graham cracker and stick it in the microwave for about 30 seconds. Keep an eye on your creation because that marshmallow is going to puff out like a motherfucker and at that point, she’s ready to be crushed back down to size with another graham cracker.
Feel free to add more to these pairings and see how you can set the stage for yourself to watch this incredibly fun, meta slasher throwback and remember to have fun, even if you’re stuck inside. If you’re so inclined, you can check out my Patreon to get early access to the summer story that I have running as well as early access to all the content coming up. And until next time, may your flashlight always work, may your cabin be bug and killer free and I’ll catch up to you for the next Summer Nightmare.