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Film / Summer of Sam

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Summer of Sam is a 1999 film directed by Spike Lee, starring John Leguizamo, Adrien Brody, Mira Sorvino, and Jennifer Esposito.

The year is 1977, and New York City is experiencing a tremendous heatwave, a major power outage, and of course a serial killer keeping the whole city on edge. A group of friends in The Bronx get swept up in fear and paranoia as the police continue to hunt for Son of Sam aka The .44 Caliber Killer, a psycho who shoots young couples as they sit parked in their cars. Their paranoia is heavily fueled by drugs, constant news coverage of the killer, and the arrival of their old friend Richie (Brody), who is now involved in the emerging punk rock scene which they are completely unfamiliar and uncomfortable with.


  • Actor Allusion: John Leguizamo played an Italian-American New Yorker at least once before.
  • All Gays Are Pedophiles: When Vinnie's "friends" are trying to convince him that Richie is the Son of Sam killer, they bring up the fact that he's at a minimum gay for pay, which they take to mean gay anyway, and treat being 'gay" as synonymous with being a pervert and serial killer.
  • Ambiguously Gay: The guys are convinced Richie is gay due to his punk rocker image. Richie is shown to have sexual encounters with men for money, so he's at least gay-for-pay or bisexual.
  • Anti-Hero: Vinny is a serial womanizer but has his good points, such as standing up for Richie.
  • Anyone Can Die: Subverted, None of the main characters even come into contact with the killer.
  • Bait-and-Switch: In one scene where a man approaches a couple in a car and knocks on their window, it turns out to be a cop warning them to get off the street until the killer is caught. Other couples are less lucky.
  • Based on a True Story: Son of Sam.
  • Big Blackout: In reality, NYC was caught in an electrical blackout from July 13-14, 1977. As such, the film depicts this.
  • The Big Rotten Apple: In the opening scene, Jimmy Breslin says it's the city he loves and hates at the same time.
  • Black Comedy: Some intense scenes are actually hilarious. Brian's reaction to his pants being ruined after he beat up the punk rocker. Brian whining about Joey strangling him. Bobby being extremely wussy. The elderly black woman on the news saying she is glad the killer is a white man. The Son of Sam receiving orders to kill from a talking dog.
  • Bookends: The movie begins and ends with a report from Jimmy Breslin.
  • Brooklyn Rage: Although set in The Bronx, all the characters can go from 0 to 100 within a split second.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Brian chases away his half sister Ruby's boyfriend for insulting her, seconds later he tells her he is horny and needs a 'hug' off her.
  • The Bully: So many of them.
  • Bury Your Gays: While Richie's sexuality is never confirmed, it's assumed that he either doesn't label himself or is gay-for-pay as he enjoys a heterosexual relationship with Ruby and only has sex with men for money. However, the male characters, except for Vinny, view Richie as the scum of the earth and are determined to make his life a misery at every opportunity. Lampshaded with Bobby, who is openly gay. They make the odd homophobic remark at him, but other than that have no issue with him hanging around, although he gets his hand cruelly burned by a cigarette when he gets too close to Brian.
  • Camp Gay: Bobby, helpfully nicknamed "the fairy."
  • Cluster F-Bomb: The film has over 435 uses of the word "fuck", previously becoming the movie with the most uses of the word in a mainstream film, until The Wolf of Wall Street dethroned it.
  • Country Matters:
    Brian: "Twat you say? I cunt hear."
    Anthony: "I have an in-fuck-ion in my ear."
  • Crapsack World: Almost every scene in the movie is negative.
  • Creator Cameo: Spike Lee appears as the news reporter John Jeffries.
  • The Don: Luigi, the local "plumber."
  • Downer Ending: Although the real Son Of Sam is arrested, Vinny loses his wife Dionna for his infidelities and Richie's friendship because he brought his friends to kill him believing that he's the killer. Vinny tries unsuccessfully to apologize for the mistake.
  • Double Standard: Vinnie is a walking double standard when it comes to women.
  • Dramatic Irony: Even if the audience isn't aware that David Berkowitz is the Son of Sam, the movie reveals early that he is and it's not Richie.
  • Empathic Environment: During the Son of Sam killings, tempers flare and spiral out into violence during an intense Heat Wave.
  • End of an Era: The popularity of disco is fading fast, giving way to punk and other forms of music.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: While not necessarily evil, Brian and Joey are exceptionally mean to a lot of people, yet Joey loves his daughter and Brian speaks fondly of his mother.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Again, they are not completely evil, but Vinny's friends have only one redeemable quality, in that they are determined to find the killer and don't condone the killings.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: The main characters sketch out a list of suspects including priests, Vietnam veterans, and their own friends.
  • Fan Disservice: The upside of the orgy scene is that there is several sexy women. The downside is that it is VERY grotesque. Vinnie keeps pulling horrible faces while he’s having sex, Dionna is clearly uncomfortable with the whole thing, everyone is smashed on cocaine, it's filmed in ludicrously high contrast and the Chic's relentlessly cheerful Everybody Dance plays over the top.
  • Flipping the Bird: Happens often.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The movie early on identifies David Berkowitz as the killer, and draws tension from the characters reaching erroneous conclusions while lacking that information.
  • Gay Best Friend: Bobby the Fairy is rather popular with the overtly macho males. Although they do make a few homophobic jibes at him, they are much more comfortable with him hanging around than Richie.
    Anthony: They say this killer is a woman hater, that's you Bobby!
    Joey: Yeah, .44 caliber queer!
    Brian: He's guilty, put him through the PENILE system.
  • Heat Wave: Everyone is dressed for summer, as it's set during the 1970s heatwave.
  • Hell Hound: A non-supernatural version. Son of Sam sees a big black dog telling him to kill.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Ruby, she is referred to by the guys as 'Ruby The Skank,' her boyfriend calls her a 'Dago Wop Skank' and graffiti over the neighborhood informs people about her promiscuity. Yet she is not afraid to stand up for herself and is also a good friend to Richie.
  • Hypocrite: Vinnie is furious with Dionna after she has sex with someone else at an orgy they both attend — at which he is also having sex with other women.
  • I'm a Man; I Can't Help It: Vinny uses this excuse when confessing to Richie about his many infidelities. Richie isn't convinced.
  • Insane Equals Violent: Serial Killer Son of Sam is shown Hearing Voices that tell him to kill, especially, in one case, from a dog.
  • Insane Troll Logic : Woodstock's rationale for Reggie Jackson being the Son of Sam — "What kind of guns does the killer use? 44 caliber, right? What's Reggie's number? 44." The others are dismissive of this.
  • Jerkass: Joey, and at times, Anthony and Brian, for the way they treat Richie and Ruby.
  • Just One Little Mistake: When the Son of Sam commits another of his murders, he comes back to his car to see it has a parking ticket. As a typical viewer of police procedural shows might guess, that proves a vital clue for the police to finally arrest him.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Machine's There But for the Grace of God Go I is a chirpy number about a family moving away from the Bronx to somewhere with no blacks, Jews or gays.
  • Men Are Tough: Anthony, Brian and Joey are all overtly macho.
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome: A variant is Discussed when Lou and Curt go and ask mafioso Luigi for help in catching the serial killer who, so far, has only killed white women. As well as incredulous as to why the police are asking a criminal for help, Luigi wonders aloud why the police are expending so much effort on someone who's "only" killed four or five people, when in one night in predominantly-black Harlem you could expect seven or eight murders. Curt, a black police lieutenant, takes understandable offence.
  • N-Word Privileges: While nobody actually says the N-word, the guys are free to call Ruby a 'skank' whenever they like, but go crazy when an outsider calls her one, although it could be the fact he called her a 'Dago Wop Skank' which is offensive to Italian-Americans. They also take offense to being called 'Guido,' another derogatory word for Italian-Americans.
    Ruby's Boyfriend: "Fuck you, ya Dago Wop Skank!"
    Brian: "What did you just say? Dago Wop Skank? What are you fucking nuts?... Shut your fucking mouth, that's my fucking sister!"
  • A Party, Also Known as an Orgy: Vinny and Dionna are out for disco dancing and end up being dragged to a party by a photographer who stumbles out of Studio 54. It quickly turns into a drink-and-drug-fueled orgy.
  • Pet the Dog: After Joey and the others find out Richie is innocent, Woodstock gets a shirt for Ritchie to rest his head on and Bobby goes to phone an ambulance for Richie at his stepfather's prompting.
  • Predatory Prostitute: Discussed. One of the ways Vinnie changes his mind about Richie's innocence is upon finding out that Richie is a stripper (especially for men). But Richie is, in fact, not the killer.
  • Punk Rock: Richie and eventually Ruby too.
  • Really Gets Around: Vinny just cannot keep his trousers on. Unlike most male examples, it's not shown in a remotely good light and even Vinny himself doesn't seem to enjoy it.
  • Romance and Sexuality Separation: Vinny is too locked into his Madonna-Whore Complex to have good sex with his wife, and cheats on her frequently.
  • Sassy Black Woman: During Spike Lee's cameo as a news reporter, he interviews four black people in the predominantly black neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, the first black woman he interviews is young, sassy and sexy, but the second woman is older and thanks God that the killer and victims are both white as to avoid a race riot, she then scolds the reported for not liking black people, despite him being black himself.
  • Satanic Panic: Everyone is convinced that the Son of Sam is a Satan worshipper, and so they go to increasingly desperate lengths to figure out who would be a Satanist, utilizing stereotypes from the then-ongoing panic. For this reason, they settle on punk rocker Richie.
  • Self-Deprecation: By way of a Casting Gag. In his Creator Cameo, Spike Lee plays a journalist from a news station who goes to the predominantly black neighborhood of Bed-Stuy. He's accosted by a woman who accuses him of hating other black people and not having any interest in them to suit white audiences.
  • Serial Killer: The infamous "Son of Sam."
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: There's a great many perky disco numbers playing over brutal scenes.
  • Spinning Paper: Used for the first part of the closing credits - the major cast and crew are named as part of newspaper headlines.
  • Take a Third Option: When Vinny and Richie are confronted in a restaurant because of Richie's punk rock attire, they are given the options of either leaving peacefully (which is unlikely) or getting in a fistfight with the other patrons. Instead, Richie breaks a bottle over his own head, which confuses and scares everyone enough to defuse the situation.
    Richie (tasting his own blood): Tastes better than Heinz ketchup, you fuck!
  • Testosterone Poisoning: Vinny's friends are wall-to-wall testosterone.
  • The Unfought: True to real life, Son of Sam is eventually found and caught by the police. The characters who've been been trying to catch him throughout the movie never even encounter the man, instead wasting their time accusing, and nearly killing a former friend of theirs whose new punk attire freaks them out.
  • Vigilante Execution: Richie narrowly avoids one when his Luger-toting stepfather informs the mob that the killer has already been caught.
  • Vigilante Militia: Joey and his buddies incompetently try to deduce who the Son of Sam killer might be and spend a lot of time threatening and searching innocent people who they suspect for petty reasons. They nearly kill one of them before hearing the real killer has been caught.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Everyone is constantly arguing with everyone else but are extremely protective of one another, even to a misguided degree.
  • The Voice: John Turturro provides the voice of the dog the Son of Sam thinks is ordering him to kill.
  • You Could Have Used Your Powers for Good!: Inverted. The local mob boss (who unconvincingly claims to be a mere plumber) contemptuously tells the Italian cop Lou that he could have been a good "plumber" and expresses anger that he became a cop instead.
  • Your Mom: After Anthony and Brian throw a number of vulgar comments to Ruby, she hits them with a couple of "Your Mother" burns.
    Ritchie: "(to Ruby) You should come see my band play sometime."
    Brian: "Yeah, they really suck!"
    Anthony: "(to Ruby) Yeah, suck real good, like you!"
    Ruby: "Yeah, I learned from your mother, dick!"