Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Off the Shelf: SUMMER OF FEAR (Blu-ray)

by Patrick Bromley
A forgotten Wes Craven film finally comes to Blu-ray.

When we talk about the late, great Wes Craven, who passed away just a little over two years ago, there are really two Wes Cravens we are talking about. There's the thoughtful and profound Wes Craven, who had a lot to say even when he couldn't always find the best way to say it (The People Under the Stairs, The Last House on the Left, New Nightmare), and then there was the Wes Craven who worked as a director for hire, making movies to pay bills or because he loved to tell stories and challenge himself. That's the Wes Craven who made Swamp Thing and Vampire in Brooklyn and Music of the Heart and Summer of Fear (aka Stranger in Our House), the 1979 TV movie previously unseen by me until this new Blu-ray from Doppleganger Releasing, the genre label of Chicago's own Music Box Films. These for-hire films are rarely as interesting or as successful as those in which he had a more personal connection, but any Wes Craven movie is worth watching and discussing just by virtue of the fact that he directed it.
Based on the novel of the same name by YA mainstay Lois Duncan, Summer of Fear stars Linda Blair as Rachel, a teenage girl whose family takes in her cousin Julia (Lee Purcell) after the rest of Julia's family is killed in a car accident. Though at first incredibly shy, Julia quickly grows more confident: she gets a makeover and works her way into Rachel's family and friends -- most notably her boyfriend Mike, whom Julia seduces and steals away. As Rachel's life continues to fall apart (an inexplicable case of hives that leaves her bedridden, her beloved pet horse meeting with an accident), she begins to suspect that maybe Julia isn't exactly who she initially let the family believe.

If not for the participation of horror icons like Craven and Linda Blair, I'm not sure how much any of us would still be talking about Summer of Fear (not that many of us were talking about it anyway; as I said, this movie was almost totally off my radar until the Blu was announced). It's serviceable and charming in the way that some late '70s/early '80s made-for-TV horror is (this period was the Golden Age of made-for-TV horror), but it's hard to get way more excited than that about it. Blair is a welcome presence in anything, but the way her character is written makes it hard to find her super sympathetic. It's almost as though Blair and screenwriters Glenn Benest and Max Keller have written a teenage girl whose too accurate in her self-centered need for drama -- the irony, of course, being that she starts out as being too dramatic about regular teenage stuff but then it turns out to be warranted when it turns out there's some real evil shit in her midst.
But then that's Lois Duncan's special talent, I guess: she takes typical young adult drama and explores it through the lens of a thriller, sometimes of the supernatural variety. Here it's teenage competitiveness and mistrust played out through witchcraft. Craven has made this kind of movie, too, when he directed Deadly Friend in 1986. Deadly Friend is a messier movie than Summer of Fear but a much more interesting one, in part because Craven is more directly connected to the material and in part because the studio forced cuts and reshoots that changed the shape of the movie, resulting in something weirder and more singular than Summer of Fear. A number of Craven's films are concerned with young people, actually, from Last House on the Left to the original Nightmare on Elm Street to the Scream franchise to My Soul to Take, his second to last movie. It's one of the things I love about Wes Craven; he was a scholar and a philosopher who was genuinely interested in the experiences of young people and at least tried to speak to them on their level. It didn't always work (My Soul to Take), but even in something like Summer of Fear it's obvious that Craven possessed a youthfulness that made him special.
Summer of Fear is best appreciated as a curiosity: a lesser known Wes Craven movie, Craven doing YA, Craven working within the constraints of the TV movie format. The film itself is most comparable to something like Deadly Blessing, which shows talent behind the camera but not enough of the voice we've come to expect and to love. Doppleganger's Blu-ray is available at a reasonable price and contains some good bonus features that help put the movie within the larger context of both Craven and Blair's careers, so I'm recommending it less as a totally successful movie in its own right and more as another piece of one of the horror genre's great filmographies. It's not a film for which Wes Craven will be remembered, but it is a film that makes me fondly remember Wes Craven.

Blu-ray release date: October 17, 2017
100 minutes/1978/PG-13
1.33:1 Full Frame (1080p)
DTS HD 2.0 MA (English)

Blu-ray Bonus Features:
Wes Craven Audio Commentary
Interview with Linda Blair
Still Gallery

1 comment:

  1. Its a great step of releasing the Wes Craven film on bly ray.In this way people will get to know about this film more as bluray films are so trendy these days.