“Wes Craven’s Summer of Fear”

In the Family

Amos Lassen

When Julia Trent’s (Lee Purcell) parents are killed in an accident, she comes to live with her aunt Leslie Bryant (Carol Lawrence) and Uncle Tom (Jeremy Slate). At first, their daughter Rachel (Linda Blair) accepts Julia as a new friend while her older brother Peter (Jeff East) lusts after Julia and her younger brother Bobby (James Jarnigan) doesn’t seem to notice. Basically, this is a film about an evil witch who brings about destruction for some inadequately explored reason. Julia realizes that there is something strange about Rachel while everyone is on Julia’s side.

The name Wes Craven is synonymous with horror, and in 1978 when this film was made it was then known as “Stranger in our House” and was a ‘movie-of-the-week’ for television and even tough it has two big names going for it— Blair and Craven, there are not many good things to say about it. . Rachel is welcomed into the family home, until strange events turn her against her. Strange things begin to happen; Rachel’s horse gets spooked, her skin breaks out in hideous pustules, her boyfriend Mike (Jeff McCracken) dumps her for Julia, there are burnt matches everywhere in Julia’s room and a strange object is hidden in her drawer. The old professor from across the street (Macdonald Carey) who specializes in the occult falls mysteriously ill, and everyone seems to prefer Julia to Rachel. What is really going on here? Is Rachel just going through all the petty jealousies and anxieties of an average teenager who feels displaced in her own family, or is her cousin in fact a powerful sorceress hell-bent on bewitching the family? The film’s opening shots of a car ‘accident’ with a superimposed image of Julia laughing maniacally are something of a giveaway and a spoiler at the same time.

It is possible that the whole film is an allegory of adolescent angst until the end.