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.
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.
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.
Blu-ray release date: October 17, 2017
1.33:1 Full Frame (1080p)
DTS HD 2.0 MA (English)
Blu-ray Bonus Features:
Wes Craven Audio Commentary
Interview with Linda Blair