Saturday, June 11, 2011

Summer of Fear (1978)

... aka: Night Kill
... aka: Stranger in Our House

Directed by:
Wes Craven

At the time, director Wes Craven was best known for the gritty, violent shockers THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) and THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977), so this milder made-for-TV effort marked both a change of pace for him as well as a (more-or-less) successful step toward mainstream acceptance. On the other hand, actress Linda Blair (who'd just done the horribly-received EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC) was just ending her reign as teen queen of the controversial tele-movie. Prior to this, she'd played a teenage alcoholic, a kidnapped illiterate teen, a sickly teen awaiting a kidney transplant aboard a doomed aircraft, a institutionalized juvenile delinquent who gets pinned down and raped with a broom handle and other roles that make what goes down in this horror flick look a little tame by comparison. So I'd say this one probably helped Craven's career but really didn't do a whole lot for Blair's. Either way, within the limitations of the TV movie, it's really not a bad little effort.

Horse-loving teen Rachel Bryant (La Blair) lives happily on her ranch home with her well-to-do stock broker father Tom (Jeremy Slate), photographer mother Leslie (Carol Lawrence) and two brothers, eldest Peter (Jeff East, who also appeared in Craven's follow-up DEADLY BLESSING) and youngest Bobby (James Jarnigan). Things seem to be going well for the teen and her family until her Ozark-bred-and-accented cousin Julie (Lee Bryant) - whose parents died in a mysterious car crash - comes to stay with them. Starting out mannered, shy, genteel and demure, Julie soon reveals herself to be an evil, black magic-practicing witch. She uses her powers to kill off Rachel's beloved horse Sundance, steal away her boyfriend (Jeff McCracken) and puts all the men under her seductive spell, which is basically written off as petty jealousy by most of the people involved. Upon finding signs of witchcraft (a wax horse with her horse's hair, a photo with red dots which she thinks gave her hives, etc.) hidden in their shared room, Rachel begins studying up on witchcraft and seeks help from their neighbor; occult expert Professor Jarvis (Macdonald Carey). Can she win her family - and her life - back before it's too late?

Though it offers up nothing really new and has a fairly low horror quotient (most of which is saved for the finale), the film itself is still pretty entertaining. The performances here are mostly solid. Though Blair has a few irritatingly whiny emotional moments, you still can't help but find yourself cheering her character - who has to find the strength and resiliency to take on a powerful corruptive force who has turned nearly everyone she knows against her - on. Purcell is excellent as the evil cousin, and her catty exchanges with the star are definite highlights. Hell, they're better than the actual horror scenes! There's even some icky sort-of incestuous theming thrown in for good measure. The Nanny fans (who I doubt spend much time perusing the index of The Bloody Pit of Horror) will enjoy seeing Fran Drescher - complete with annoying accent - in an early role as Blair's best friend (who also turns her back on her). Gwil Richards, Patricia Wilson, Billy Beck (who also had a small role in Craven's INVITATION TO HELL), Hills star John Steadman (playing a veterinarian) and Beatrice Manley (from THE BABY) round out the cast.

Originally released to the small screen as STRANGER IN OUR HOUSE, Summer is the extended theatrical cut which was used when the film played theatrically in Europe (the same cut used for the U.S. DVD release).



CavedogRob said...

I don't remember this movie at all! I must have been out shooting pool when it originally aired!

Jared Roberts said...

Ah ah ah, Cap, The Nanny fans look normal, but could be any one of us--even me. I'm more of a The Beautician and the Beast guy, myself. Nice to see you putting up reviews again, by the way.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

I'd have never pegged you as a Nanny fan, but I guess you never know! haha. And I'm very glad to be back and doing reviews more frequently. :)

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