Essays · Movies

How to Have a Great Summer (According to Horror Movies)

We know what you did last summer… want to make this one even better?
Loved Ones
By  · Published on June 27th, 2019

Look, let’s cut to the chase scene through the abandoned coal mine: summer rules. That’s a fact. The days are longer, the beach beckons, and good time vibes abound. But, if you’re a fragile, overthinking chihuahua like me, the pressure to have a good time can be a little debilitating. People relax and cut loose during the summer. That is the purpose of the season (in this hemisphere anyway). But much like trying to fall asleep after a cup of coffee (an unrelatable scenario that I would know nothing about), trying to have an aspirationally chill summer is easier dreamt of while scrolling #summerfeels on Instagram than done.

Horror to the rescue.

There’s a heck of a lot of summer-set horror films, bountiful with ideas to help you slow your mental gears down and enjoy the season. Now sure, much of the genre contains, and is indeed predicated on, some very poor decision-making. Horror protagonists are not exactly renowned for pulling off calm, relaxing vacation vibes. Why should you look to these cheeseballs for advice?

Well, let’s not throw the “wait that actually sounds nice” out with the bathwater. After all, a good deal of what makes horror horrifying in the first place is that it taps into the primal fear of “that could be me.” Well, what if that could be you? In the lakeside cabin? Sipping a mojito? Reading the latest edition of Fangoria? Just skip the part where you accidentally read the passage from an accursed ancient tome and you’ll be fine! Probably. 

The following horror-inspired summer to-do list was compiled by Anna Swanson, Brad Gullickson, Kieran FisherJacob Trussell, Valerie Ettenhofer and myself. May it bring you to a chiller place (with some chills along the way).

Go on a cross-country vacation (as seen in The Hills Have Eyes)

The Hills Have Eyes

Summer is a time for vacation, and, much like the families in Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and Alexandre Aja‘s 2006 remake, mine always insisted on driving. Luckily for my brother and myself though, our parents never strayed far from the highway, let alone make a beeline straight into a nuclear testing ground populated by inbred, radiation exposed, hill people hellbent on eating our bodies. I suppose we should consider The Hills Have Eyes as a cautionary tale, not only of what happens when you don’t fly to your vacation destination but also of the horrors of how every person is just a tipping point away from succumbing to their own animalistic instincts. Both the original and remake are exceptionally strong and almost shot-for-shot identical, with my preference falling just marginally for Aja’s remake and its reconceptualized blood-soaked finale. While the former does have one of the best canine characters in film history, the latter really leans into its atomic-age horror with sweltering cinematography and an ensemble of actors that rises to meet the intensity of the material – Jacob Trussell.

Throw a party on your porch (as seen in The ’Burbs)

The Burbs Party

No one has had a better summer attitude than Ricky Butler did in The ’Burbs (1989). He’s beer’d up. He facilitates secret cigar smoking sessions. He loves The Sentinel. He’s on his superpowered sound system bullshit. He LOVES HIS STREET. And what better way to kick back and enjoy the suburban show than to order ‘za right to your porch party and watch the magic (read: self-sabotaging satanic shenanigans) unfold. There’s no better place to live for demonic drama than the comfort of your preferred folding lawn chair, surrounded by pals and up to your eyelids in cold brewskis. It’s a fact: there’s no better party prospectus than front row seats to a gas-line explosion. And a quintessential Tom Hanks freak out to boot? Far out Meg Shields.

Go on a staff retreat (as seen in Severance)


While I firmly believe that the entirety of summer should be vacation time for everyone who isn’t a gobshite, the reality is that most of us have to spend countless sunny hours indoors in order to make a living. That’s just life, folks. Of course, some companies are generous enough to take their employees abroad for team-building exercises and some tasty finger pies. We should all be so lucky. Granted, if your trip is anything like the one in Severance (2006), you might find yourself stuck in the woods and being hunted by degenerate soldiers. If your idea of a good time is staying active instead of laying by the pool, then you can do a lot worse than this — Kieran Fisher.

Finish the school year with a bang (as seen in The Loved Ones)

The Loved Ones

Summer is great for a lot of reasons, but for the students among us, it’s especially nice to get a well-deserved break from the tedium of classes. The beginning of summer, marked by events such as prom and graduation, is an opportunity to set the tone for how the next several months can go. Maybe this means spending graduation reminiscing with your friends and speculating on where life will lead you next— an indication that your summer will be one of contemplation and setting goals. Or, if you’re teenager Brent (Xavier Samuel), maybe this means your prom will be one of fighting for your life while being held captive by the world’s worst prom queen and her father before finally overcoming your limitations and walking away victorious— scarred and brutalized, but victorious. This is a trial that only a madman like Sean Byrne could have conceived, but it sure will give you prom memories to last a lifetime — Anna Swanson.

Blaze it (as seen in The Cabin in the Woods)

Cabin In The Woods Bong

Some days you just need to get high, and if you’re lucky, you’ve got someone like Marty (Fran Kranz) by your side to offer you a joint when the going gets tough. In Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods (2011), the witty-yet-mistrustful Marty is a genial stoner who loves his herb so much that his road trip packing list is basically just a giant bong disguised as a collapsible thermos. Marty and his archetypal college friends Jules (Anna Hutchison), Dana (Kristen Connolly), Curt (Chris Hemsworth), and Holden (Jesse Williams) take a summer trip that’s a scenic getaway until it suddenly isn’t. But this isn’t your typical teen slasher. To give more details would spoil the numerous delights of one of the most clever meta-horror films in genre history, but suffice it to say that in the rare case that there really is a worldwide conspiracy, stoner paranoia could come in handy — Valerie Ettenhofer.

Try new foods (as seen in Hannibal)


I’m tired of the same old foods. My cold pizza lifestyle has to change. I’m not getting any younger. The heart can’t take it. I need to inject some new flavors into my life and quit being ruled by routine. I need to find a friend like Hannibal Lecter; someone who has made a life out of dining deliciously and understanding humanity through their taste. While I simply don’t have the skill or the grit to be like Hannibal, I do have enough courage to unquestionably try new foods like Ray Liotta’s Paul Krendler during his climactic dinner. What’s that at the end of the fork? Don’t worry about it. The food smells good, give it a nibble. Oh, it’s brain? Well, lots of countries have made a meal out the ol’ noodle. Don’t let your scaredy-cat culture dictate your menu. Embrace adventure! Oh, it’s my brain? Huh. Well, I’m not using all of it, so, why not? — Brad Gullickson.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).