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Summer of Fear

Artisan // Unrated // February 18, 2003
List Price: $14.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted February 27, 2003 | E-mail the Author
Rachel (Linda Blair) finds an unwelcome presence in her house when her cousin, Julia (Lee Purcell), moves in after her parents are killed in a car accident. At first it is an acceptable inconvenience considering the poor, shy country cousins tragedy but then odd things begin to happen. It seems everyone, except for Rachel and her horse, is under Julia's spell and soon misfortunes begin to fall on Rachel while Julia gains ground stealing Rachel's boyfriend and her parents favor. Evidence leads Rachel to believe that this cousin may be a witch.

This tv movie originally aired on NBC Halloween night in 1978 and was a great success. Two versions were made, the tv aired version titled Stranger in Our House and a longer cut for international release titled Summer of Fear, which is also the title of the book the film was based on.

Aside from that, Summer of Fear hasn't vanished like so many tv movies because of two things, Linda Blair starred in it and a young post Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes Wes Craven directed. Blair was still pretty hot from the Exorcist five years prior, though her popularity was cooling and her personal life troubles were beginning to rule her. Craven was already a underground horror fave and Summer would be his first time proving he could reign in his more twisted side and deliver a mass acceptable work for a conservative major studio.

Although it was an early star on their resumes and has become another sought after work for thier cult of fans, Summer of fear doesn't really hold up well and is a decidedly simple tv horror film trying to cash in on some teen angst and the 70's witchcraft/Satanic paranoia that had everyone looking for a cult in their local neighborhood. The only unpredictable thing is how Julia is portrayed for the first half of the film. In the beginning she is complete innocuous and there isn't even the slightest arched eyebrow or sly sneer, no hint that she may be evil. So it Rachel that comes off like a bitch when things go wrong and she first begins to resent her cousins presence.

Then, it all falls apart into cliche, and is overwhelmed by its wooden dialouge, bland acting, and hokey execution. The plot itself is a standard premise, the stranger who moves in, this time invading precious teen turf, winning the favor of parents, best friends, and boyfriends. And, of course, no one believes the poor protagonist except for the stock character of the wise old man, a professor, who is taken care of by the evil menace before he help out. While Craven throws in a few touches reminiscent of his work (a scene of black humor and some odd familial behavior), mainly it is all too warm pastel, low budgeted, and dumbed-down tv friendly. As soon as we know there is really something wrong with Julia, she turns on a dime from a mouse to cocky eeeevvvviiiiillll gloater. Rachel comes off as pretty stupid, trying to hide crucial evidence of Julia's actions underneath her pillow, twice, despite the fact that Julia steals the evidence the first time. It completely falls apart at the end with little rhyme or reason, and out of nowhere climaxes with a lame car chase, which seemed to be required of all 70's television.

The DVD: Artisan

Picture: Full-screen, Standard. For a made for tv movie it has held up rather well. As I said, this is the longer version with additional scenes that was released internationally. For its era, it looks pretty good, has the usual bright 70's photography and fondness for soft filters. The transfer on this DVD certainly looks better, sharper and cleaner, than any 70's tv I've seen rerun, so they did a good job with the elements.

Sound:Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 Stereo tracks with optional English subtitles. Once again, considering it is 70's television, the audio is great. Dialogue and music and clear, and you get two audio options to boot.

Extras: Chapter Selections--- Director and Cast Filmographies--- Trailers for Wendigo, Legion of the Dead, Sleepless and Hell's Gate--- Commentary by director Wes Craven and producer Max A. "Acapulco H.E.A.T." Keller. Pretty standard commentary. Not really too lively and no doubt would have benefited from Blair being involved. Comments are pretty general and by the end they begin to become sporadic and repetitive (Craven stating fundamental directing stuff and Keller praising the soundtrack). There are a few okay behind the scenes anecdotes, but mostly it seems as reigned in as the movie itself, something I chalk up to the over-proud producer Keller being unwilling to have fun at the expense of the film.

Conclusion: If you are a Craven or Blair fan or have a soft nostalgic spot in your heart for the film, the transfer really delivers. It looks and sounds good and has decent commentary (though its not one you'll be likely to listed to more than once). So, if you are in either one of those catagories it will be nice to have this edition of the film. But, if you've never seen it, the chessiness and lack of Cravens more extreme touches will be sadly missed and Summer of Fear will probably be nothing more than a badly aged and watered down teen horror film best reserved as a rental.

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