‘Summer of 84’: The gnarly horror of the 80s is here to stay
Summer of 84 is a little known thriller that delivers a bone-chilling tale of the terror that goes on behind the closed doors of Suburbia. Our leading man, teenage conspiracy theorist Davey Armstrong (Graham Verchere), will do anything to prove that his longtime neighbor – the utterly charming police officer Wayne Mackey (Rich Sommer) – is a serial killer, better known as the dreaded “Cape May Slayer”.
Although traditional 80s horror trends find their way into Summer of 84, directing collective RKSS (François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell) give the overall atmosphere of the film a modern taste that can appeal to a new generation of horror nerds.
In an exclusive interview with RKSS, Film Daily learned about the collective’s inspirations and motives behind the nostalgic world of Summer of 84, which can be caught in selected theaters on August 10.
Film Daily: 80s-style horror is obviously having a moment, with works like Stranger Things, It, and Super Dark Times finding success in the industry. Did you draw inspiration from any recent 80s-set films and shows, or from any actual 80s content? If so, how?
Anouk: We really get inspired by 80s movies and shows that we grew up with. We know there are recent ones, but we started working on Summer of 84 in 2015, which is interesting. I think we all kind of drew our inspiration from the same place: the 80s.
François: We worked for one year on Summer of 84 and then in 2016 we saw the first poster for Stranger Things, and we were very bummed. It took us a while, but then we finally watched the first season (of Stranger Things) and it was very different, which we weren’t expecting.
Our movie is much darker and it’s more so set in reality; the tone is totally different. But still, we were scared that because of it (Stranger Things) our movie wouldn’t be made, but it wound up being the exact opposite. It showed everybody that there’s a huge public for that, and we got the green light right after. By the end, we were very grateful.
Watching your 2015 film Turbo Kid, while although it’s different, it too contains an unlikely hero who also happens to be a kid. How do you think child protagonists influence the horror genre, and why are you all drawn to this type of character?
Yoann: I think we are children at heart. We didn’t grow up; we’ll be forever teenagers. I think there is something about having a kid face a huge amount of problems – it’s very interesting. Perhaps it’s a fear of growing up; we’re projecting our fear of growing up in our films and we want to stay children for the rest of our lives.
François: It’s funny that in our two films so far, we have kids who have no choice but to become adults, and have a loss of innocence and all of that. We are three adults who want to stay kids forever.
Yoann: Agreed, I really think that it all comes back to our fear of growing up. I’m one hundred percent sure that somewhere in our subconscious, that is our biggest fear.
The adult characters in Summer of 84 seem to be pretty aloof and distrusting of the children protagonists to say the least – what was your reasoning behind this plot device?
Yoann: Maybe it’s our hatred of adults [laughs]! A lot of adults don’t listen to kids, and they don’t take the time to listen to kids because they believe they already know everything about the world just because they’re older. And that’s not true in and of itself – we can learn something from anybody, whatever the age, or where they’re from, or what their life has been like. So maybe that has something to do with this.
We see some familiar faces in Summer of 84, such as Mad Men’s Rich Sommer and The Babysitter’s Judah Lewis. Assuming it must not be easy to settle on the right actors to play the lead characters, how did your creative vision influence your approval of the perfect cast?
Anouk: Oh, well I think it was easy for us because we kind of got lucky. It was a long process of casting for the kids: almost two months. First up, we were really trying to find Davey (lead protagonist) because he would be in the center and would have the story on his shoulders. We wanted to have a kid with sensibility, but also a great deal of professionalism and talent, because we knew we didn’t have a lot of shooting time. We wanted the kids to really shine and be able to shoot under that pressure.
Eventually we found our Davey – we had already seen Judah Lewis in Demolition from Jean-Marc Vallée, so we already knew he was awesome. For Rich Sommer, we were already sold, so we got him on board as well. With Sommer, we wanted an actor who would have a great sense of likeability to him – when you would look at him you would see that he’s a nice man, he’s a nice guy – but who would also be able to ride the thin line between creepiness and likability, and be able to play that character with believability.
I think we were very lucky that Sommer just agreed to jump in. It really was the perfect casting.
Yoann: And we’re huge Mad Men fans.
François: He’s such an awesome guy.
Sommer’s character really gave us the creeps, but we wanted to trust him so badly – he played the role so well.
Yoann: Real-life serial killers are like that. Real-life serial killers are neighbors. They hide in plain sight. People are friends with them, and they entertain; they’re at children’s parties, mothers love them – it’s messed up!
Was your antagonist inspired by fictional villains of the 80s, or even by real-life killers of that time period?
Yoann: He is inspired by real-life serial killers, like a mixture of a lot of them. Just the fact that they hide in plain sight and how they seem normal until they’re not.
Anouk: They get involved in the community, they get loved by everyone.
Yoann: We have all seen, at one point in our lives, that news program with a neighbor going, “Well he seemed like a perfectly normal guy.” Meanwhile, his crawlspace was full of bodies. Real life is a lot scarier than any horror film ever invented.
Many contemporary films within the horror genre have started to feel a tad redundant. How do you feel your film differs from other horror / thriller films that have been released in recent years?
Yoann: We don’t have the same way of telling a story, and we bring that story to places they’ve never been before.
Anouk: Yeah, I think we’ve tricked the audience into believing they know what kind of movie it is, but they don’t [laughs].
If you were to tell audiences to be on the lookout for one thing when watching Summer of 84, what would it be?
Anouk: Go in blind, with an open mind.
Yoann: The third time you watch it, look out for all the really obscure Easter eggs we’ve put everywhere. But wait until the third time.
François: We wanted to be careful; we didn’t want to feature references to the 80s and have them be at the front of the story. It’s much subtler than just flashing references to the 80s, but if you pay attention, you might get some Easter eggs from movies we all love from our childhood.
Yoann: And I’ll say that I will be thinking about this question all night [laughs]!
Remember kids, lock your doors! Because in the words of Davey Armstrong, “Even serial killers live next door to somebody.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Summer of 84 is in theaters August 10th and available on VOD and digital HD August 24th.