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Grimmfest 2018 Review: Summer of 84 – “A fun throwback horror-thriller”

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Summer of 84 is more or less a riff on a lot of Joe Dante projects, especially The ‘Burbs, but done very well. As the title suggests, it’s set in 1984, and it’s a kind of retro teen horror film. A Goonies/Stranger Things/It-style group of teenage boys led by Davy Armstrong (Graham Verchere) in a fictional Oregon town called Cape May find out that there’s a serial killer on the loose. Davy’s dad, a local journalist, is the one breaks the story. Boys have been disappearing, and Davy starts to suspect one of his neighbours, Wayne Mackie (Rich Sommer, who viewers will recognise from Mad Men). Davy is obsessed with conspiracy theories and urban legends, as so many teenage boys are, and he and his friends decide to spy on Mackie and dig up his backyard in search of graves. You can imagine where the story goes from there.

It puts its own spin on the “scary neighbour” genre that started with Rear Window, and gives it plenty of twists and turns. It also has the synthy score that you would expect for a film set in the ‘80s, and wears its influences on its sleeve, with loads of references to movies like The Thing, Gremlins and Star Wars. The opening scene is almost a shot-by-shot rip-off of the Eerie, Indiana intro, a show for which Dante was creative consultant for the first season of the original series and directed many episodes. By all accounts the script was written before Stranger Things, but it’s still getting plenty of comparisons. It’s likely more a case of both projects drawing from the same sources.

The kids have great chemistry, which is necessary for a film like this to work. It’s a fun throwback horror-thriller — and I hope Dante got a royalty check from three filmmakers involved, François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissel.

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