Monday, February 17, 2014


Wes Craven, 1978
Starring: Linda Blair, Lee Purcell, Jeremy Slate

A happy-go-lucky teenager, Rachel, has her life turned upside-down when her recently orphaned cousin Julia comes to live with her family in California. Everyone else takes pity on Julia and comes to love her, but Rachel notices a number of strange things. Julia lived in Massachusetts and spends occasional summers in the Ozarks, but has a thick accent. She begins ingratiating herself in Rachel’s life, stealing away the attention of Rachel’s parents and older brother, and soon outright stealing Rachel’s boyfriend and best-friend. One day before a local dance, Rachel wakes up with boils and soon her beloved horse – who Julia hates – has a nasty fall and has to be put down. Rachel finds suspicious things in Julia’s possession, including a tooth, a picture of Rachel, and a creepy doll-like figure made out of her horse’s hair. She is soon convinced Julia is a witch, but who will believe her?

Stranger in Our House – later released as Summer of Fear – is an odd ‘70s horror medley, in the sense that it’s a made-for-TV movie, was directed by then up-and-coming horror maverick Wes Craven, starred The Exorcist’s Linda Blair, and clearly took some inspiration from Roman Polanski.

I feel a little bad that I’ve thus far left Wes Craven out of my ‘70s horror review series. Though his career would really take off in the ‘80s, in the ‘70s he directed two of his most important films, Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977), as well as this made for TV movie. I didn’t include the two former films in my series simply because I don’t like them. Though I’m very fond of Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street series and The Serpent and the Rainbow, I don’t really care for any of his other “classics.” I was pleasantly surprised by Stranger in Our House, partly because it’s so cheesy and ridiculous. It doesn’t try too hard to be shocking or clever, unlike many of Craven’s other films, and is a nice little snapshot of its time.

Based on a young-adult novel from Lois Duncan, The Summer of Fear, Duncan also wrote the source material for I Know What You Did Last Summer. Because this is from a young-adult book and was made for television, there is very little violence outside from horse-related shenanigans, but the ending takes a turn for the wild and crazy, involving a incest, a car chase and explosion, among other things. Despite a number of flaws, it’s an entertaining thriller, worth watching for the verbal catfights between Blair and Purcell and the perms. OH THE PERMS. There are actually battling perms. There are a number of interesting, if increasingly obvious events that clue Rachel in to her cousin’s aims and Linda Blair is thoroughly believable, if a bit annoyingly chipper throughout the film.

Lee Purcell (also a witch in Orson Welles’ Necromancy) is excellent as Julia, though it would be nice to have more scenes of her cat-fighting with Linda Blair – maybe some hair-pulling and clothes-ripping. There’s another amusing performance from a very young Fran Drescher (The Nanny), as well as some B actors like Jeff East (Superman, Wes Craven’s Deadly Blessing), Billy Beck (Invitation to Hell), John Steadman (The Hills Have Eyes), and Beatrice Manley (The Baby).

If you really want to see The Stranger in Our House aka Summer of Fear, it is
available on DVD
after decades of being unavailable. It’s nothing too original or exciting, but it is pretty entertaining. Fans of B-grade ‘70s horror will want to watch it at least once for the incredibly awful perms and hilarious teenager dialogue. 

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