Summer Horror Movie Memories & Fright Guide to the Last 34 Years


Fright Night 1985 poster

As a horror fan who thrives on the sight of autumn leaves, the intermingling of orange and black and the unmistakable smell of a freshly-gutted pumpkin, of course I relish the idea of a fall season jam-packed with new horror films in the theater.

But my fondest horror movie memories come from those offerings that arrived during the summer.

If you've followed my ramblings over the years, you know my go-to summer horror movie recollection. It involves getting the opportunity to see Fright Night opening night – at nine years old – and being presented, en route to the theater, with an escape plan by my father, in case I was too scared to see the film. That "escape plan" involved me getting out of the car and walking a mile back home, with my tail tucked between my legs, while dear ol' pop proceeded onward to the theater, eager to see Roddy McDowall go head-to-head with a vampire played by Chris Sarandon. I remained steadfast, however, and saw the horror-comedy that night, loving every minute of it.

There are countless other personal memories that involve summer-released horror fare. And there's such an abundance of them because the summer season has always welcomed the genre with its warm embrace.

Regularly, I hear (or read): "They're releasing [insert a horror movie title here] during the summer? That makes no sense!" Yet, it makes perfect sense and falls in line with a practice that has been recognized for decades – as you'll see in the handy guide I've broken down below which chronicles all of the summer horror releases since 1980.

I started there because, honestly, I wanted to maintain some sanity, but it should be noted that before '80 audiences saw Rosemary's Baby open in June of '68, Jaws made its indelible mark during the summer of '75 and The Omen made its debut in June of '76. For studios, the summer season offers a bit of counterprogramming to the blockbusters and family-driven entertainment, it's the time when kids are out of school, furthermore, if a horror film is released during the summer, there's a good chance you'll see it surface on home video…just in time for Halloween (an ideal time for that second promotional push).

Personally, summertime horrors were always a welcome appetizer to the fall season. They were taboo in their own right, defying the warm temperatures and usual Hollywood escapism to give you two hours of the types of thrills you usually turn to when Halloween decorations start to go up. And, hell, if the horror movie you happen to be checking out any time between the beginning of May and the end of August happened to be set at a summer camp I always considered that a bonus. I vividly remember seeing Arachnophobia just before my folks jettisoned me off to a sleepaway camp for two weeks and wondering if I'll encounter a spider in my cabin as large as the critters depicted in the film (in case you're wondering: I DID).

As 2014 veers into the fray of its summer blockbuster season, it's worth noting that the next few months are fairly light on horror. Sure, there's Godzilla, even a new chapter of The Purge on the way. But straight-up horror on the big screen? Only two real big releases: Deliver Us From Evil and Jessabelle. (If you want your fix, turn to VOD.)

Like all things in this genre, horror's growth goes in spurts, as you'll see below. Previous summers – take 1988 or 2005, for instance – gave horror fans a ton of films to choose from. Other summers, though – like '91, '95 or 2000 – would squeeze out perhaps two to three movies. Some of that simply has to do with horror's popularity. Some of it has to do with simple survival instincts (Stay out of the way of those tentpole studio flicks!). This year started heavy with fright fare, for reasons best analyzed in an entirely separate article sometime, so now horror pulls back slightly, letting us reflect on previous summers and maybe give us some time to revisit some of our favorite titles featured below.