Julia Trent is left orphaned after the fatal accident of her parents that involved them falling to their fiery deaths when their car careens off a cliff attempting to drive their housekeeper home. The only family Julia has left is the Bryant family whom she hasn’t seen in over 15 years. The Bryants welcome their niece with consolation and open arms, inviting her to room with her cousin, Rachel. Rachel has the perfect life: a loving mother and father, a cute boyfriend, and the ability to ride and compete in horse competitions. However, Rachel’s world is upended when Julia enters her life and something just doesn’t seem right when Julia slowly begins to push Rachel out of her comfy position, bewitching the men in her life to turn against her and being the center of a number of considerable accidents. As Rachel suspicions grow and she becomes further attached from all those that surround her, an investigation ensues with Rachel at helm to retrieve what’s rightfully her’s from an underlying evil.
The late Wes Craven made for television movie “Summer of Fear,” also known as “Stranger in the House,” is a living relic; a time capsule type horror this generation will find difficult to grasp, like Nintendo’s Gameboy or music tape cassettes, with thrilling suspense unlike today’s cookie cutter product. After he shocked audiences with the controversial “The Last House on the Left” and crafted a shifty dream killer in “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” director Wes Craven embarked on a venture into the television movie scene that didn’t spur graphic content, but focused putting the supernatural in the forefront of reality with a similarity to that of “Tales of the Darkside” or “The Twilight Zone,” captivating audiences sitting in front of the boobtube with twists and thrills in a Halloween premiered NBC movie. Based on Lois Duncan’s novel of the same title and written for television by Glenn Benest (who also wrote another Craven directed picture “Deadly Blessings”) and Max Keller, Wes Craven greatly accepted the challenge of reaching a broad audience without being subversive and explicit, sharing his vision with another living horror icon in the starring role.
“The Exorcist’s” Linda Blair has a role that’s certainly a far cry from the possessed Reagan, but the 1978 “Summer of Fear” had opened up a sleuth-type role for Blair that made her more of the hunter than the victim. Blair’s raspy voice and spoiled girl attitude completes the privileged daughter of the household compared to her tall and charming rival, Julia Trent, in “Necromancy’s” Lee Purcell. Purcell compliments Blair all too well and, together, the on screen tension is ever present, even if slightly over exaggerated. From that point on, “Summer of Fear” was filled in by other great talent such as Jeremy Slate (“True Grit” ’69), Carol Lawrence, a very young Fran Drescher in the beginning of her career, Jeff McCracken, and Jeff East (“Pumpkinhead”), but the more fascinating role, that was hardly explored, is awarded to MacDonald Carey, the resident occult professor of the neighborhood. Carey’s has a very old school actor with a performance very familiar to Robert Mitchum and the veteran actor’s vast career felt very small here in the catalytic role as the confirming source for Rachel in her suspicions.
In addition to the withdrawal of the contentious content, “Summer of Fear” entertains on a minimalistic special effects stage that still pops with jaw-dropping suspense and still caters to an, even if slightly dated, story altering moment that rockets toward a maelstrom finish. All the while, Lee Purcell’s character has such glam and beauty that the bewitching sticks overpoweringly raw as a telling moment that beauty isn’t all that’s wrapped up to be and people can be ugly on the inside. Through brief glimpses into Julia Trent’s authentic past, including the mountainous Ozark retreats, one could conclude the story’s ultimate ending, but the fact that the actors embrace their rolls and Wes Craven connects himself enthusiastically to the project makes “Summer of Fear” a solid small box show of terror.
Doppelgänger Releasing releases the Wes Craven classic “Summer of Fear” for the first time onto Blu-ray home video. Transferred to a 1080p resolution, the presentation is certainly made from TV in the Academy, 4:3 or 1.33:1, aspect ratio. Image quality sporadically has moments of definition instability where the image goes fluffy or soft and amongst the duration’s entirety are a slew of white specks and noticeable grain, but the transfer remains solid over the decades that display a grandeur of vivid coloring despite some scenes of with an overburdening washed yellow tint. The English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio cleanly presents the feature with not a lot of flashy audio moments and the dialogue is clean and clear suggesting that the audio track aged very well. Bonus material includes an audio commentary track by director Wes Craven, an exclusive interview with Linda Blair, photo and poster gallery, and concluding with the original 1978 trailer. “Summer of Fear” might be obsolete in modern ways of terror filmmaking, but Wes Craven imprints a searing cult classic that brandishes more than just guts and gore. Instead, the father of “Scream” continues to impress beyond the grave, thanks to distributors like Doppelgänger Releasing, with the filmmaker’s expansive range that debunks many popcorn horror goers’ assumptions about the director and his films. “Summer of Fear” simply showcases that Craven was a jack of all trades when coming down to brass tax in creating a terrifying story.