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Summer Of Fear
cast: Linda Blair, Lee Purcell, Jeff East, Carol Lawrence, and Fran Drescher

director: Wes Craven

98 minutes (18) 1978
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Anchor Bay UK DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Donald Morefield
Based on a novel by Lois Duncan (who later wrote the source novel for successful thriller I Know What You Did Last Summer, 1997), this modest fantasy suspense flick stars Linda Blair with big hair, and the lovely Lee Purcell as a witch with pale glowing eyes...
   Californian farm girl Rachel (Blair) is so keen on horses that she rides in local competitive events, but her middle-class family life with dad Tom (Jeremy Slate) and mum Leslie (Carol Lawrence) is disrupted by the arrival of orphaned cousin Julia (Purcell) from the Ozarks. Julia delights everyone with her quirky ways and even makes off with Rachel's boyfriend Mike (Jeff McCracken), after our heroine is prevented from attending the local dance by a mysterious case the hives. Soon enough, Rachel's horse Sundance is put down after a riding accident, while Julia enchants Rachel's brother Peter (Jeff East, who went on to play young Clark Kent in Superman The Movie, and appeared in Deadly Blessing, 1981), steals Rachel's best friend Carolyn (Fran Drescher), and even seduces Uncle Tom!
   Only kindly neighbour Professor Jarvis (distinguished US daytime soap opera star Macdonald Carey) has a sympathetic ear for Rachel's suspicions about Julia's witchcraft, but time is running out for Rachel as she eventually becomes isolated from her once-caring parents, while Julia is ready to take her place as the family's 'darling' daughter...
   Made for the NBC network, Summer Of Fear (aka: Stranger In Our House) was a controversial TV movie with a mild PG-13 rating in the US (where censors preferred a tamer version), and an adult certificate for its theatrical run overseas. In the wake of his cheapo exploitation films The Last House On the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, this opportunity to work with a union crew and shoot on 35mm was a definite step up for director Wes Craven. Its technical merits aside, and in spite of Craven's attempts to emulate Polanski within the restrictions of 1970s' TV movies, this is unremarkable genre fare. It has several moments of atmospheric tension for young heroine Rachel in the family home, when she finds it's difficult to prove that Julia is a witch in a world where nobody believes in magic, but there are no genuine scares or effective shocks, and no blood or gore whatsoever.
   Worrying doubts, sinister discoveries and predictable plot twists are no longer enough for a supernatural chiller. Today's genre audiences are more demanding and knowledgeable, and mostly intolerant of any blandness in approach, content and style. Thankfully, Craven has done superior TV work since with science fictional Faust variant Invitation To Hell (1984), and psycho-thriller Night Visions (the pilot movie for a failed series, 1990), not to mention some very fine 1980s episodes of The Twilight Zone, but this 25-year-old spooky drama is probably only of interest to collectors of so-called 'classic' TV movies, and it's not required viewing unless you're a Blair or Craven completist.
   DVD extras include a choice of Dolby stereo 2.0, digital 5.1 or DTS soundtracks with subtitles for hard-of-hearing in English, plus text biographies of Craven and Blair, and a director's commentary - in which a self-deprecating Craven, and Max A. Keller (co-screenwriter and co-executive producer), reflect on the many varied changes in TV and genre standards, and audience expectations of the same, since they made this film.

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