I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream….
What do you think of when someone mentions the summer? Maybe your mind turns to sunshine, ice creams and lazy holidays abroad. Personally, the horror writer in me isn’t really content with these fluffy ideals. Not when there are far more sinister ideas to turn to.
How can summer be sinister, I hear you ask? Let me explain.
Our traditional view of horror usually revolves around the long, dark nights, but in the summer we don’t worry about such things as ghosts and ghouls. The sunlight banishes the monsters from our minds back to the ungodly netherworlds in which they reside. And so we begin to relax, content in the knowledge that the light of the long summer evenings will protect us from the bogeyman. But that’s the magic of summer horror… With our defences down, we become prey for a very different kind of beast.
The maniac killer, the monster who hunts simply for the sake of hunting.
Think about it. How many North American horror movies are set in the summer? And what do they all have in common? Many typical teen slashers are set in idillic surrounds, with camp fires and log cabins, or long days at the beach. Not to mention the bikini clad girls and tanned, muscle-bound guys. Combined with lowered inhibitions, exposed skin, illicitly obtained alcohol and the inevitable storm clouds of pheromones, we know that sex is in the air and, in teen slashers, sex almost equals death. So what better place for our antagonist to go on the hunt to satisfy his blood lust than a remote location, with endless hiding places and a plethora of victims preoccupied with satisfying their own urges? Classic horror flick Friday the 13th is a great example of how the teen summer dream can very quickly be turned on its head with the introduction of a homicidal maniac. In an American summer camp, there is little adult supervision and with the long, light evenings, it’s all too easy to let one’s guard down.
In Stephen King’s novel IT, we see a group of kids, ‘The Losers’, whose summer stretches out endlessly before them. They spend their time in The Barrens, a small tract of land heavily covered in trees and plant life, and even build an underground clubhouse there. But are they safe? Well, given that this is a King novel, the answer is a resounding ‘no’. Like the teens in Friday the 13th, our protagonists are being stalked by a terrifying hunter - Pennywise the Clown, a monster that feeds on fear. Like the victims in Friday the 13th, our protagonists in ‘IT’ are vulnerable, spending their time away from parental supervision. Again, it’s the vulnerability that makes the summer a perfect setting for this horror story.
Finally let us head to the beach, simply because I can’t end this piece on summer horror without mentioning Jaws. While our summer camp teens in Friday the 13th may have been a little less wary than they could have been, there’s very little to be said against the innocents whose plans for a quiet day at the beach ended with them ripped to pieces, inside the belly of a monster Great White. A hunter that has no typical victim. You could be blonde, brunette, male, female, black or white… To this monster, we all taste the same.
In the autumn and winter, when the nights are long and dark, we are on our guard. We can avoid the graveyards and the shadows where the vampires and werewolves may be hiding and we might think to check under the bed before turning out the light.
But in the summer? We don’t think about such things.
And that is what makes us such easy targets…
Credit to Seamus Allen (@shamjaz) for ideas and movie references.
Carla is the author of The 100 Society, which was a great read, and The Memory Hit, which is high on my TBR pile and I'm really looking forward to reading - I've heard many wonderful things about it! Both are published by Hodder Children's Books.