Wes Craven, a master of horror cinema, left an indelible mark on the genre with his unique storytelling and chilling visuals. One of his lesser-known works, Summer of Fear aka Stranger in Our House, showcases Craven’s mastery of suspense and psychological terror. It was based on the novel Summer of Fear by Lois Duncan. Released in 1978, the film delivers a thrilling plot filled with supernatural elements and explores the darker aspects of human nature.
Summer of Fear revolves around the life of Rachel Bryant, a seemingly ordinary horse loving (played by Linda Blair – originally in the novel she loved a dog but Blair suggested to Craven that it be changed to a horse, as Blair, an equestrian at the time, had a close bond to the horse) teenager whose world is turned upside down when her orphaned cousin, Julia, comes to live with her family. Blair was renowned for her iconic role in The Exorcist at the time and here she delivers a nuanced performance as a young girl caught in a web of supernatural intrigue. Rachel’s life is simple, until her cousin Julia (Lee Purcell) comes to stay. Julia oozes charm and menace and soon Rachel is unsure what to think, especially after her horse Sundance freaks out and attacks her!
As Julia integrates herself into their lives of Rachel and her family, Rachel’s idyllic existence in a small California town starts to unravel. Further strange occurrences and unexplained events begin to plague the family, raising suspicions about Julia’s true nature.
Rachel, guided by her intuition and the eerie coincidences surrounding her cousin’s arrival, becomes convinced that Julia possesses supernatural powers. With the help of her boyfriend, Mike (Jeff McCracken), Rachel embarks on a perilous journey to uncover Julia’s dark secrets and protect her loved ones from the impending malevolence.
As Rachel digs deeper, she discovers that Julia is a practicing witch who uses her powers to manipulate and control those around her. The once-close bond between Rachel and Julia becomes a battleground, leading to a suspenseful and chilling climax as Rachel must confront her cousin’s wickedness head-on.
While Summer of Fear may not be as widely recognised as some of Wes Craven’s other films, it showcases several elements that resonate with his later works and contributes to Craven’s legacy as a filmmaker who pushed boundaries and explored the darker aspects of humanity. Its intriguing plot and atmospheric storytelling showcase the early seeds of Craven’s talent that would later blossom into horror classics.
One can draw connections between Summer of Fear and Craven’s most iconic creation, A Nightmare on Elm Street. Both films delve into the realms of dreams, nightmares, and the blurred boundaries between reality and the subconscious. Craven’s exploration of the sinister power wielded by supernatural beings and the human psyche is evident in both movies, showcasing his penchant for psychological horror.
Summer of Fear received mixed reviews upon its release. While some critics appreciated Craven’s deft handling of suspense and the performances of the cast, others felt the film lacked the intensity and groundbreaking nature of his later works. Nevertheless, it remains a noteworthy addition to Craven’s filmography, offering glimpses of the director’s mastery of tension and psychological depth.