Like most people, I most often associate summer with fun — and spending an evening with friends over a movie enhancing it is among the season’s easiest pleasures.
Blockbusters like Ghostbusters (1984) and Jurassic Park (1993) have stuck around in the cultural memory as all-time-great summer movies, both by popular and financial standards. But there are plenty of lesser-known movies running the gamut from horror to comedy to action that deliver the good times expected of a so-called summer film worthy of attention. Here are some of my favorites.
Danger: Diabolik (1968), dir. Mario Bava
Bava’s goofy but deliriously stylish movie about a couple of improbably cool and sexy thieves (John Phillip Law and Marisa Mell) pulling off remarkably complex jobs while outrunning the police is one of the breeziest thrillers of its decade. (Pluto)
The Long Goodbye (1973), dir. Robert Altman
Marking the second film adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s 1953 novel, this shaggy detective movie is the film equivalent of a long and languid summer evening where you can’t be too sure where the night will take you. Elliott Gould’s performance as the title character might be his best. (Tubi)
The Human Tornado (1976), dir. Cliff Roquemore
This bawdy sequel to 1975’s smash-hit Dolemite, starring comic Rudy Ray Moore as the title character, is a sometimes intentionally, sometimes not laugh-a-minute comedy with a charmingly chaotic “let’s make a picture!” vibe. (Tubi)
Piranha (1978), dir. Joe Dante
Neo-creature feature Jaws (1975) is responsible for inventing the modern blockbuster and spawning scores of rip-off monster movies. Most of said rip-offs don’t come close to being as good — though it’s easy to have a soft spot for most of them anyway — but Piranha comes closest. (Tubi)
The Slumber Party Massacre (1982), dir. Amy Holden Jones
It’s nice, sometimes, to cap off a nice summer night with a quick and dirty thrill — some adrenaline to offset the previous few hours’ relaxation, if you will. The Slumber Party Massacre, a 76-minute slasher movie so proficient at what it does it’s like a blueprint, gets the job done. (Tubi)
The Quick and the Dead (1995), dir. Sam Raimi
Raimi’s gorgeously shot revisionist Western delightfully throws it back to the B-Westerns of yore with assistance from a great, game cast including Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, and a very-young Leonardo DiCaprio. (Netflix)
Drive (1997), dir. Steve Wang
This little-known chase thriller unceremoniously given a direct-to-video release has terrific fight choreography from Koichi Sakamoto and lots of welcome comedy, courtesy of its odd-couple main characters (Mark Dacascos and Kadeem Hardison) and an animated supporting performance from Brittany Murphy. (YouTube, Tubi)