Combustible Celluloid
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With: Linda Blair, Lee Purcell, Jeremy Slate, Jeff McCracken, Jeff East, Carol Lawrence, Macdonald Carey, James Jarnigan, Fran Drescher, Kerry Arquette, Sierra Pecheur, Billy Beck, Patricia Wilson, Frederick Rule, Helena Mäkelä
Written by: Glenn M. Benest, Max A. Keller, based on a novel by Lois Duncan
Directed by: Wes Craven
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence
Running Time: 93
Date: 10/31/1978

Summer of Fear (1978)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Breaker's Cousin

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After shocking audiences with The Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977), director Wes Craven was somehow allowed to make this TV movie with Exorcist star Linda Blair and based on a novel by Lois Duncan (I Know What You Did Last Summer). It's pretty low-key and old-fashioned, but it's enjoyable thanks to Blair's earnest performance.

Blair, with lots of frizzy hair, plays Rachel, a happy-go-lucky teen who rides a horse called Sundance. When her cousin's parents die in a car accident, the cousin, Julia (Lee Purcell), is sent to live with Rachel, her parents, and her brother. Rachel is initially thrilled to have Julia there, but strange things begin to happen. On the day of a big dance, Rachel's face breaks out in, and Julia goes instead, wearing the dress that Rachel made for herself. Then Julia usurps Rachel's boyfriend and her best friend, and even her dad (Jeremy Slate) creepily seems smitten. Not even Sundance is safe from the strangeness. But Rachel starts to find weird things in her room, a tooth, some hair, that makes her think: what if Julia's a witch?

As with The Hills Have Eyes, but to a lesser extent, Craven manages to find darkness in bright sunlight, although his usual masterful use of space doesn't really apply here, given the many locations and exterior scenes, and a flat, "TV" look. But the simple story still provides some simple chills, and it's good clean fun. A young, cute Fran Drescher also appears. The movie was shown on NBC on Halloween night as Stranger in Our House, then released in European cinemas and on video as Summer of Fear. (The streaming version I saw ran 93 minutes, but some versions apparently run 99 minutes.)

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