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Summer of Fear (1978)

 Rating: *** out of 4

Cast: Linda Blair, Lee Purcell, Jeremy Slate, Jeff McCracken, and Jeff East

Writers: Glen M. Benest & Max A. Keller based on a novel by Lois Duncan

Director: Wes Craven

The Hills Have Eyes opened many doors for Wes Craven after its successful run leading Craven to his first studio feature; a made for TV movie that would air on NBC called Stranger in Our House. So well was it received that the film eventually was given a theatrical run overseas (similar to Spielberg’s Duel) and was retitled Summer of Fear which was the title of the bestselling teen book that it was adapted from.

The film stars Linda Blair as Rachel, a teenager who has it all. She’s got a lovely relationship with her family, a gorgeous and loving boyfriend, and is a champion rider with her horse Sundance. Rachel’s perfect life is shaken to its core when her cousin Julia endures a family tragedy and is forced to live with her. Suddenly Rachel has a contentious relationship with her father, who seems to fawn over Julia. Rachel also loses her boyfriend to Julia, and her horse is taken from her after trying to attack her cousin. After some investigation into the strange and unsettling things in her life, she suspects that Julia may be a witch.

You can really see Craven honing his craft here. His first couple of films were largely experimental in many ways, but here he really focuses his energies on how to make a tight feature with smooth pacing and solid camera work. The film has a nice flow to it, and the relatively innocent nature of it comes as a bit of a relief after Last House and Hills. Yet, it is still an effective thriller, proving that he can make a provocative feature without reliance on violence to score scares. He also upped his directorial work with extracting strong performances from his actors. Craven’s films often have strong performances, but this was absent in his early pictures. Here he pulls great performances across the board, especially from Blair and Lee Purcell. The film also introduces a 19 year old Fran Drescher as Rachel’s friend in a nice, albeit small role.

With Craven not providing the screenplay this time around, I was curious to see what thematic Cravenisms would weave their way into this feature. The film showcases several empowered young women, offers the trademark dark father, and has the world-wise teen combating adults who just refuse to understand or believe her, all of which are prevalent in many of Craven’s works. And, even though the villain is a witch, Craven manages to humanize the supernatural elements and is able to make commentary on the nature of the outsider and the overlooked youth.

While the film is not perfect and suffers from both age, and the telemovie framework it is quite enjoyable and relatable to youth culture. There is even a really effective jump scare in the climax of the picture. If you are in the mood for a light suspense romp or sighting some spectacularly bad hair from Linda Blair, this is a good film to catch. Seriously, though. That hair!

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                                                                                   - November, 2015

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