It’s August, which means we’re in the home stretch of summer where the sun is truly oppressive and your face could literally melt off at any moment (er…). It also makes the idea of planting your butt down and doing nothing but watching movies in the air-conditioned comfort of your living room sound like perfection. So if you want the experience of a sweltering summer’s day without having to actually endure it, then here are some viewing choices that truly get to the heart of a summer heatwave:
When people think of films by Spike Lee that typify a New York summer they would likely go directly to Do the Right Thing (1989). And while nobody here is denying that Do the Right Thing is a masterpiece of a film overflowing with racial hostility every bit as hot-to-the-touch as Brooklyn pavement under the sun, Lee’s serial killer flick Summer of Sam (1999) is an even better one. Set in 1977 when the pulsating beat of discotheques reigns supreme, punk is building a sub-culture of freaks and weirdos, and a killer known as the “Son of Sam” strikes fear in the heart of an entire city. A film all but dripping in sweat, it’s one of the very best movies you have probably never seen.
Famously filmed during one of the hottest summers in Texas history, this lo-fi parade of horror grotesquery (funded by mobsters!) is one of the greatest films ever made and probably the scariest, too. The influence of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) is undeniable on entire generations of filmmakers, but if you have never seen it for fear of what reaction you might have, now is the time to rectify that. Never has the blistering heat of the sun played such a vital role in the effect of a horror movie. You may just start wishing for nightfall.
The American South and summer go together like peaches and cream for famed author and playwright Tennessee Williams, and the humidity of New Orleans’ French quarter positively oozes out of the screen in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). Marlon Brando is famous for his sweaty strip, back then the very height of eroticism (yes, even straight men can appreciate him!), but it’s Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois who steals the show as an alcoholic Southern belle with delusions of grandeur. Also check out Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), and Taylor and Katharine Hepburn and Montgomery Clift in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) for a super-hot trilogy of Williams’ best play adaptations.
To visit the Australian outback is to travel back in time. At least that’s how filmmakers will have us believe it. Never has the backwards bogan mentality of Australia’s red-hot center been more horrifically realized than in Ted Kotcheff’s Wake in Fright (1971). The plot centers on schoolteacher that finds himself delayed in a small Outback town on his way to the big city for his summer vacation. Having lost all his money, he’s forced to endure the townspeople and their deranged sense of national pride. It’s deeply unsettling and has the fevered atmosphere of a long hot Australian summer.
Oliver Stone’s much-derided U-Turn (1997) is actually a lot of ridiculous fun. It’s a fascinating hodge-podge of style and crassness from Sean Penn’s crazy, less super-serious period and a time when Jennifer Lopez was still an exciting, fresh screen presence. With a bonkers All-Star cast including Joaquin Phoenix, Claire Danes, Billy Bob Thornton, Jon Voight and Nick Nolte, it’s entirely absurd and it knows it. Penn’s character at one point even asks “Is everyone in this town on drugs?” That says it all right there.