Summer of Sam (1999)
By: Julian on March 7, 2011  | 
Disney | Region 4, PAL | 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 5.1 | 138 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Spike Lee
Starring: John Leguizamo, Mira Sorvino, Adrien Brody, Jennifer Esposito, Anthony LaPaglia
Screenplay: Victor Colicchio, Michael Imperioli, Spike Lee
Country: USA
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There are eight million stories in the Naked City, Jimmy Breslin reports in Summer of Sam's opening frames. This was one of them.

John Leguizamo and Mira Sorvino play newlyweds Vincent and Dionna, who are unfortunate enough to be living in New York during the summer of 1977. The insufferable heat and a deranged killer who stalks young lovers, the Son of Sam, is holding New York hostage. As the death toll mounts and public paranoia and media coverage increases with it, the investigating detective (Anthony LaPaglia) must acknowledge that his case has stalled. He enlists some unlikely help in the form of a local Mob boss, for whom Vincent (a hairdresser by trade) does some small drug deals.

Conspiracy theories swell into vigilantism as the Mob crew see 'murderer' written in neon on the foreheads of everyone that they meet. Tempers are fraying in New York, not least the temper of Sam himself, haunted by a barking dog outside his window and the voice of the Devil. That, coupled with the unbearable heat, increases Sam's compulsion to kill.

What's most striking about Summer of Sam is how trashy it is, oftentimes straddling the line between thriller and exploitationer. The murder sequences are handled with a lurid, leering voyeurism as director Spike Lee bathes a graphic shooting in white light, or shows a woman desperately scrambling for the brain matter of one of Sam's victims as it is strewn over a footpath on Lovers' Lane.

The film is also very sexually explicit – Vincent is a serial adulterer with a penchant for all of the things that he feels a husband should not do to his wife. Vincent and Dionna's relationship between the sheets is treated with the subtlety of a sledgehammer – we see Vincent frenziedly cheating on his wife with numerous other women, including Dionna's cousin, followed by a sequence where the married couple make love with cringe-worthy awkwardness; then the whole thing culminates in the two participating in an orgy, Dionna to make Vincent happy, Vincent to get his rocks off with someone other than his wife.

Perhaps, though, it's this exploitative quality that makes Summer of Sam such great fun, a movie that doesn't outstay its welcome even after almost 140 minutes. A motley crew of rather well-written characters adds some dimension to what would have otherwise been a skin-deep flick – from the sleazy Vincent to the angelic Dionna, Adrien Brody's punk rocker who moonlights in a gay strip club turning tricks to provide for his girlfriend, an ex-Mob moll with all the purity and good graces of Jenna Jameson; and the beleaguered detective LaPaglia who enlists the help of the lesser of the two evils that he has been arduously investigating.

In this respect, Summer of Sam's screenwriters – Lee, Victor Colicchio and Michael Imperioli (the latter cameos here, and he is best known for his role as Christopher Moltisanti in The Sopranos) – do a great job with the characters. At its heart, though, and in spite of self-aggrandising Lee's intentions, Summer of Sam is not a serious drama, it's an exploitation movie – and an exceptionally well-crafted exploitation movie at that. It is an immensely grimy movie packed with bloody violence and gratuitous sex, and peopled by a sublime mix of oddballs. Lee, to his credit, does a decent job as director, though I suspect if he took a more tactful angle, his movie would have run out of puff quick.

Some resemblances can probably be identified between Summer of Sam and Zodiac – two based-on-true-story serial killer movies that are set on either side of the States. Zodiac is the more mature, educated, refined (awards-worthy) child of its beer-swilling, sex-maniacal (exploitationer) father, but both movies possess an eerie quality about them – a blackly comic vein, and an intense feeling of dread throughout; Anyone is a potential victim in Summer of Sam, particularly as the merciless .44 Calibre Killer becomes less discriminate about the demographic of his victims, graduating from young lovers to just about anyone who gets in his way. To quote Breslin, "this film is about a different time, a different place... the good old days". Perhaps it's the fact that this indulgent, trashy film so closely resembles an exploitation movie that I like it so much; in any case, it comes highly recommended.
The picture is presented in 1.85:1, with 16:9 enhancement. It's crisp with no noticeable artefacts.
English and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1. The English is fine. The music is fitting seventies disco fare – the first double-murder is scored to ABBA's Fernando ("there was something in the air that night...").
Extra Features
The Verdict
I love this movie. The pastiche of weirdo characters, the seedy New York surrounds (Lee's New York is in many ways reminiscent of Lustig's New York in Maniac) and the vibe that Lee elicits smacks of the best seventies Americana exploitation films.
Movie Score
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