Color, 1978, 92 mins. 37 secs.
Directed by Wes Craven
Starring Linda Blair, Lee Purcell, Jeremy Slate, Jeff McCracken, Jeff East, Carol Lawrence, Macdonald Carey, Fran Drescher
Doppelgänger Releasing (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Artisan (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Xcess (Blu-ray) (Germany RB HD), Filmedia (Blu-ray) (France RB HD)

The golden age of Summer of Fearmade-for-TV horror movies still hasn't quite gotten its due for the Summer of Fearimportance it had on the genre, and that includes its use as a showcase for some of the biggest names to cut their teeth prior to or in between theatrical features. Tobe Hooper (Salem's Lot), John Carpenter (Someone's Watching Me!), and Steven Spielberg (Duel) are among the more obvious examples, and of course we also have Wes Craven. Following his one-two punch of Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, he wasn't exactly a hot in-demand name in Hollywood by the time the '70s were starting to wind down; however, he did find one more project that decade on the small screen with Stranger in Our House, now better known under its European theatrical title, Summer of Fear. Based on a novel by Lois Duncan (I Know What You Did Last Summer), this would be his first but hardly last foray into TV, with later projects including Invitation to Hell, the '80s redo of The Twilight Zone, and Chiller. The film also capped off a decade of made-forTV work for Linda Blair, who had just appeared in the, uh, distinctive Exorcist II: The Heretic but had made her mark on the tube with Sarah T. - Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic and the notorious Born Innocent.

Teenager Rachel (Blair, sporting one of the wildest perms of her career) is troubled by a supernatural-tinged nightmare involving a burning car. Upon awakening she's informed that aunt and uncle have been killed in a car that's orphaned their daughter, Rachel's cousin Julia (Purcell), who comes to live on a ranch with Rachel, her parents (Slate and Lawrence), and her younger brother. Julia turns out to be extremely shy but starts to come out of her shell when Summer of FearRachel gives her a makeover, but increasingly Summer of Fearominous things keep happening like horses freaking out and odd talismans like a human tooth turning up. Soon Julia's muscling in on Rachel's friends and even trying to swipe her boyfriend, Mike (McCracken), and after doing some research, Rachel starts to think there might be witchcraft afoot...

Though obviously much, much tamer than Craven's previous two films, Summer of Fear finds him slipping into the more mainstream side of horror with ease, as well as delivering a reasonably potent and suspenseful story centered on a battle of wits between two women. The story follows the original novel fairly closely, though interestingly it decides to hold its big plot twist until the very end of the film instead of a much earlier point that might have ratcheted up the tension a bit more. Both Blair and Purcell are effective in their roles, the former even getting to strut around in western gear through several scenes.

After its initial airing on NBC, Summer of Fear has been very easy to find thanks to reruns and a number of different video editions over the years including a U.S. DVD from Artisan and multiple European Blu-rays. An American Blu-ray popped up in 2017 from Doppelgänger Releasing, with a slipcover edition issued in 2021, that ports over the solid Craven commentary from the prior American DVD release in which he talks about working in Southern California for the first time on this film, enjoying a more recognizable cast than before including Blair (who had just gotten into some well-reported "trouble"), and adapting his style to fit a more network-friendly template. Blair also turns up for a lively new interview in which she fondly looks back at working with Summer of FearCraven (she later appeared in a great split-second cameo in the first Scream, of course) Summer of Fearand how the film fits in with her overall genre career. The presentation looks nice for the most part aside from a few brief instances that appear to be pulled from dupier material; it's presented full frame as shot versus the matted framing seen on some European releases. However, it's worth noting that this is the shorter theatrical edition of the film, running quite a bit shorter than the network TV running time (99 mins.) seen on the Artistan DVD. The extra time consists of three scenes including a brief dream sequence, an argument between Blair and her boyfriend, and a bit more witchcraft research and parental discussion. None of the losses impact the plot, but it's too bad they couldn't have been included as an extra at least (and obviously the commentary has been adjusted to compensate). The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track is in decent condition but probably never sounded all that spectacular, and optional English SDH subtitles are available. A 1978 promo trailer and a poster and still gallery are also included.

Reviewed on November 25, 2021