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TV Terror Guide: Summer of Fear (aka Stranger in Our House) 1978

Linda Blair and her hair star in Summer of Fear (1978), but, contrary to the appearance of the latter, they’re not the ones possessed. While it’s Blair’s return to horror after playing Regan MacNeil (twice), she made more of an impact in other TV movie fare like Born Innocent (1974) and Sarah T. – Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic (1975.) For genre fans, the selling point of this one is its director, Wes Craven.


When her sister and her husband die in a stock footage, yet spectacular, car crash in the mountains, Leslie Bryant (Carol Lawrence) and her husband bring their daughter, Julia (Lee Purcell), home for the summer before she returns to college. Rachel (Blair) is immediately suspicious when her prize horse takes a disliking to their guest. Meanwhile, her parents and brothers are mesmerized by the stranger in their house.


Craven, who hit the big time with A Nightmare on Elm Street six years later, had nevertheless already made two cult classics: The Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977.) There are a few moments of unique vision or style, but Summer of Fear is largely standard television fare for the time. One scene evokes the future, though, when a basement door bursts open and mist rolls out before the villain slowly emerges. It may as well have been Freddy.


Most other creeps of the film are provided from the teleplay by Glenn M. Benest and Max A. Keller. Some are intentional, such as new witchcraft lore that says a witch doesn’t reflect light, therefore can’t be photographed, and that they’re vulnerable while sleeping. Some are unintentional, such as the unsettling affection Julia shares with the father, Tom (Jeremy Slate.) This pushes boundaries more than anything else.


I enjoyed seeing some familiar faces. Jeff East (Superman, 1978) plays the older Bryant brother who easily falls under Julia’s spell. Fran Drescher (The Nanny, 1993-1999) plays Carolyn Baker, Rachel’s friend who conveniently works at the hospital. Macdonald Carey (“these are the days of our lives”) plays Professor Jarvis, the occult expert… because every neighborhood had one in the 1970s.


I didn’t expect the pre-climax reveal, but it adds a little more substance to a familiar plot. I actually expected a different twist. Because Rachel suspects Julia so quickly and with such little evidence, I thought maybe it was going to be Rachel herself eventually identified as the real witch. In the long run, that wouldn't have made sense, but it would have been a fun way to watch Blair play evil again, this time purposely.

Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch Summer of Fear as well as all the great movies from this series.

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