Saturday, October 14, 2017

Review: 'Summer of Fear' Blu-ray


Following The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes —two super low-budget horror flicks that are now regarded as genre classics— Wes Craven brought his schlock-shock vision to the small screen with a movie based on Lois Duncan’s 1976 novel Summer of Fear. The film stars Linda Blair as Rachel, a teenage girl skeptical of her cousin Julia (Lee Purcell), who has come to stay with Rachel’s family after Julia’s parents croak in a mysterious car accident. As it turns out, Julia’s got some evil juju running through her, and she makes it her mission to cause trouble for Rachel and her kin.

When I first saw Summer of Fear (which I knew as Stranger in Our House, the title by which it originally aired) at the age of five or six, it terrified me. Terr-i-fied me.  Its insidious “I’m the only one who realizes the monster is a monster” premise, hellish climax, and queasy slow-mo closing credits gave me years of nightmares. No exaggeration. Rewatching Summer of Fear nearly forty years later, I no longer find it particularly scary, but it is great fun as a time capsule of super-seventies fright wigs (perms for everyone!) and polyester wardrobe and quite effective as simple horror premise. Blair is very good as the initially petulant, increasingly harried, ultimately heroic teen, and she and Lee Purcell have terrific antagonistic chemistry. It’s also interesting to see Wes Craven tone down his trademark nastiness for a subtler approach to horror. 

On the cusp of its fortieth anniversary, Summer of Fear comes to Blu-ray via Dopplegänger Releasing. The film looks its age with a fair share of scratches, specs, and blotches. The picture is generally soft and grainy, but it is still very watchable. Interior scenes tend to be  dark and low on detail, but exterior daytime scenes look good and the overall clarity seems to improve about halfway through the movie. Extras include a commentary by Wes Craven’s, which has been ported over from Artisan’s 2003 DVD, a short image gallery, and a neat new 13-minute on screen interview with Linda Blair, who discusses the film’s casting, her rapport with that cast, Wes Craven’s directing style, a disturbing stunt involving a horse that clearly made an impression on animal rights activist Blair.
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