“Summer of Fear”
Rachel Bryant (Linda Blair) is a typical, everyday upper-class teenager. She rides horses; she has a crush on a boy and has an annoying younger brother. And then, predictably, everything changed. Her aunt and uncle, along with their housekeeper, die in a car crash near their home in the Ozarks. Rachel’s parents fly out for the funeral, and bring back Julia (Lee Purcell), Rachel’s newly orphaned cousin. As could be predicted, Julia is not what she seems; yet the household appears to be happy with the new addition. Julia slowly and methodically starts to replace Rachel, stealing one part of her life at a time.
“Summer of Fear” is actually a fairly faithful adaptation of Lois Duncan’s novel of the same name. While, in most cases, this faithfulness would be considered a positive attribute, Duncan’s novel was written for young adults. With the addition of sexuality, the intended audience of the film is a bit older than teenage girls reading Duncan’s novel. Much of the “intrigue” is familiar and cliché to an older audience, unfortunately. Also, most of the dialogue in the film is pulled verbatim from the book and the drama of pre-adolescent girls is not always interesting and/or clever. Words and dialogue in a book often read better in text than spoken out loud. The supernatural is front and center so rather than being suspenseful and terrifying, the supernatural comes across as silly.
Blair’s single-minded portrayal of Rachel is heroine that we don’t really care about because, every time she appears on film, she is annoying. Every word she utters is grating. Since we cannot root for the protagonist, we would hope that perhaps we could root for the villain but that does not happen.
Lee Purcell seems to be taking her cues from Blair and rather than acting with subtlety and trying to bring an air of mystique and intrigue to the character of Julia, Purcell is simply a stereotype. Everything Julia does is evil.
We have come to expect a lot from Wes Craven. He has a name as a master of thrills and suspense and is regarded as an ingenious director that can take a somewhat dubious film and, at the very least, leave you feeling like perhaps you saw a really good movie. Here, however, Craven’s direction is unoriginal and uninspired.
Basically, this is a film about an evil witch who brings on destruction for some inadequately explored reason. Only Rachel sees that Julia is less than nice, everyone else is completely on Julia’s side. It seems that Julia exists purely to cause as much harm as possible and she uses old-school ritual sympathetic magic for her purposes. Rachel is not affected by Julia’s spell of innocence and/or seduction. We never understand why Julie who was capable of surviving a fiery car crash, acts as she does. The real horror of this film is the idea of two different girls getting along.
The horror events are mostly flashbacks to car accidents and the euthanasia of a horse. Julia’s her motivation or ultimate goal is never shared and she is no more than a cardboard villain.