Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Doppelganger Releasing!
WES CRAVEN’S SUMMER OF FEAR (1978)
Directed by Wes Craven
Written by Glenn M. Benest & Max A. Keller (teleplay), Lois Duncan (novel)
Starring Linda Blair, Lee Purcell, Jeremy Slate, Jeff McCracken, Jeff East, Carol Lawrence, Macdonald Carey, Fran Drescher, James Jarnigan, Kerry Arquette, Sierra Pecheur, Billy Beck
An early role for Linda Blair and an early film for Wes Craven are the highlights of this pretty lame, but still infectiously watchable TV film from the late seventies.
The world of chirpy teenager Rachel Bryant (Linda Blair) is upended when her long lost cousin is taken in after her aunt and uncle passed away in a car accident. While her father seems infatuated with her, as well as her boyfriend, her little brother, and best bud, Rachel suspects Cousin Julia (Lee Purcell) is not what she seems. Soon, Rachel suffers from a series of accidents that causes her to lose her boyfriend to Julia, lose the horse tournament, and become an outcast in her own home. Only the knowledgeable Professor Jarvis (DAYS OF OUR LIVES’ Macdonald Carey) is with Rachel in believing that Julia might just be a backwoods witch. When Rachel finds remnants of spells in Julia’s room, she decides to take this witch head on, but that could be a big mistake.
Teen angst is on 11 in SUMMER OF FEAR as every little girl’s nightmare of both losing their prize pony and their hunky 6’5” boyfriend becomes a reality for Rachel. Seeing Blair huff anf puff with her parents about her evil cousin is pretty fun to watch. Of course, I’d watch Blair do just about anything as she is absolutely adorable in this film with her gigantic poofy hair, chipmunk cheeks, and dark brown eyes. Even overcome with mopey teen drama, Blair proves to be a true trooper stomping her feet and pouting. The rest of the cast is pretty run of the mill, save for Lee Purcell as the witch, who also does the wide eyed innocent look rather well. Fran Drescher makes an appearance and is only half as shrill as one would expect as one of Rachel’s school buddies.
If you’re looking for Wes Craven’s masterful skill of telling stories laced with psychological twists and turns, then you’ll be disappointed. Apart from a decent fight scene in and out of a dark room where the two combatants (Blair and Purcell) tug on giant bouffant hair and roll around on the floor in vivid red darkroom lighting, the rest of this film is made pretty flatly. Craven had nothing to do with the writing here, so don’t expect the master of horror’s usually intellectual handling of horrific material. Sure the contact-lensed witch is a decent effect, but it’s the only real effect.
While it might mean the world to Rachel and any young teenage girl in the 70’s, this is a pretty low stakes horror film. The threat raises towards the end of the film as Julia sets her sights on the family itself, but for the most part, this film isn’t very effective on scares. Yet it is fun to see Blair as a youngster without having to see her spew pea soup. This is Lifetime movie level horror that won’t tingle the spine but might twang those nostalgia chords a bit.