Fun In the Summertime (Summer School, 1987)

Summer_School_PosterRob Reiner was a prolific funny man.  He gave us decades of laughter and joy before his passing this week.  In his memory, I am taking a look at an under-rated… well not classic…but one of those films of his I don’t hear much about.

Mark Harmon is slacker gym teacher Freddy Shoop is ready to run off to Hawaii for the summer with his girlfriend when he is forced to be the english teacher for the summer for kids who failed their remedial english test. His girlfriend runs off without him, leaving him with a class of goof offs and generally distracted students.

The Vice Principal hates Shoop and holds his tenure and job over his head if the entire class does not pass. This results in Shoop and the class making a bargain.  He helps each of them with one thing they need. And at first this seems to be working, until the kids start getting greedy when Shoop suggests they all put in some more time.

Summer School has a flimsy plot, but Reiner is really trying to entertain more than anything here, and it he uses his skill with comedy tropes to make even the thinnest of ideas work.

This film has an incredibly 80’s cast (certainly, most of them are still active, but this was their hey day).  Probably the most memorable characters are Chainsaw and Dave.  While falling into that stock dumb buddies, they feel very different from characters like Bill and Ted or the later Wayne and Garth.  Horror movie lovers and burgeoning make-up artists there are a couple funny set piece scenes that put their wild imaginations at the center. They also share an infatuation for exchange student Anna-Maria that somehow Reiner manages to keep fairly safe.  They are never in competition over her, they just both have an almost puppy dog devotion to both each other and her.  Yeah, her character is the very stock “Barely Speaks English Hottie”, but the film keeps everything so light that it works pretty well.

This is not a classic like the Jerk, but it is a really fun film and a good diversion on a Sunday afternoon.


Urban Legends (The People Under the Stairs, 1991)

People_Under_the_Stairs_PosterIn 1988 Wes Craven explored Voodoo, but it was through the eyes of a white man in Haiti.  With the People Under the Stairs,  Craven looks at the plight of under privileged communities and the underlying causes of crime (poverty).

There are rumors of a creepy house that hides a fortune. Leroy wants to get into the house in the hopes it is true and recruit’s his girlfriend’s younger brother Fool. But when they break into the house, they discover that it is booby trapped. Once trapped inside, Fool has to dodge the disturbed couple who live in the house.

Fool discovers a teen girl locked in the house, a victim of abuse…he also discovers there is something in the walls…something dangerous.

I feel like this is an under-rated film from the Wes Craven catalog.  It is creepy to the point of uncomfortable.  The couple, simply named Man and Woman appear to be bondage loving racists (saying more is revealing too much). Fool is a fun character, he begins as a pawn for a crime and becomes a hero.  Craven’s choice to focus on a young black boy is pretty bold.

I really like the film, Fool is a character that is pretty easy to root for and when he teams with Alice (the teen girl) it makes for some good old fashioned comeuppance for the bad guys.  I do wish this one got more respect, and think it is one of Craven’s more interesting films.

Black Fears (Horror Noire, 2019)

Horror_Noir_PosterWhen you think of horror, it can often seem like people of color don’t exist. The Universal classics were devoid of black people. And even when they were present, they were violent savages (1933’s King Kong).

But Horror Noire looks deeper into the presence of the black community in horror films.  It is not really hard to find black horror fans today. And really, horror has a long history of popularity in the black community…but often with very different lessons.

The film opens by noting the most famous horror film of them all is a film a lot of white people do not often cite as a horror film.  But you can see why Birth of a Nation is truly horrific in its story and racist portrayals of black men.

Through interviews with writers, directors and many actors the decades of horror are explored.  Early on the documentary explores forgotten films from the 40’s such as Son of Ingagi by Spencer Williams (most remembered as Andy from Amos & Andy).

There is a heavy look at the 70’s with regard to films that came out during the height of blaxploitation films. While films like Blackenstein do not fare well, Blacula and Ganja and Hess transcend the genre.

There is a terrific statement in the film:

“We’ve always loved horror. It’s just that horror, unfortunately, hasn’t always loved us.”

The insights from actors in regards to their roles is key. Kelly Jo Minter, Ken Sagoes and Miguel A. Nùñez Jr all bristle at the notion that their roles were incidental. Of course, they were aware that in many cases they were the only people on the set of color…but as Sagoes notes, he was happy to have a check.

Horror Noire is a worthwhile documentary that I found fascinating and educational. I highly recommend sitting down for it.

As an aside…Jordan Peele…while you are changing the face of horror…please do not forget about Keith David, Ken Foree and Tony Todd.

B-Movie Madness (Popcorn, 1991)

popcorn_posterPopcorn is one of those horror films that fell into obscurity.  Starring a cast of genre vets, it features a fun premise and inventive sequences.

Maggie (Jill Schoelen, the Stepfather) lives with her aunt Suzanne (Dee Wallace Stone, the Howling).  Maggie is an aspiring filmmaker haunted by strange dreams of a young girl being chased by a maniacal man with a blade.

She and her film club plan to do a fundraiser by showing old B-Movies in the vein of William Castle.  They include gimmicks like props and shocking the audience.

But once the movies start, people begin to die.  We discover there is someone running around the theater wearing masks of his victims.  Not like Leatherface, but latex.

This is all tied to a film they had opted to not show…it was made by a man who killed his family on stage at the end of the movie.  There was a fire and all but one person and a child survived…well, and possibly the filmmaker.  The film has a good twist and avoid totally telegraphing it.

The cast is terrific, and the scenarios they find themselves in are entertaining.  The late Tom Villard (Who kind of looks like a slightly goofier Tom Hanks) is especially likeable. The film appears to have been made on a budget, but the practical effects are pretty good.  The villain’s makeup looks great most of the time, until a bit towards the end when it seems like the prosthetics were coming undone as the actor is speaking. Sadly, the film is hard to find.  There has yet to be a Blu-Ray release, and the DVD release years ago was sub-par.  Apparently Synapse had plans to release a Blu-Ray, but I cannot locate a story confirming it was ever released, and all the stories announcing it are from 2014.  If you can track it down, Popcorn is one of the more enjoyable slasher films from the early 90’s.

Blog at

Up ↑