Summer of Fear (1978) poster

Summer of Fear (1978)


aka Stranger in Our House

USA. 1978.


Director – Wes Craven, Teleplay – Glenn M. Benest & Max A. Keller, Based on the Novel by Lois Duncan, Producers – Bill Finnegan & Pat Finnegan, Photography – William K. Jurgensen, Music – John D’Andrea & Michael Lloyd, Special Effects – John Frazier. Production Company – Finnegan Associates/Inter Planetary Pictures, Inc./Keller Entertainment Group.


Linda Blair (Rachel Bryant), Lee Purcell (Julia Trent), Jeremy Slate (Tom Bryant), Carol Lawrence (Leslie Bryant), Jeff East (Peter Bryant), Jeff McCracken (Mike Gallagher), MacDonald Carey (Professor Jarvis), Fran Drescher (Carolyn Baker), James Jarnagan (Bobby Bryant)


Julia Trent comes to stay with her cousins the Bryant family in California following the death of her parents in a car crash. The teenage Rachel happily makes room so that Julia can share her bedroom. Rachel then comes down with a mystery case of overnight hives that prevent her from attending a dance. She sends Julia to the dance with her boyfriend Mike Gallagher in her place – only for Mike to abandon Rachel and take up with Julia. Everyone around Rachel from her parents, brother and best friend seems enchanted with Julia – all except for Rachel’s horse Sundance who rears when near Julia. Rachel finds a wax figure with Sundance’s hair among Julia’s things and soon after Sundance goes crazy and has to be put down. Rachel then comes to the conclusion that Julia is a witch and is casting spells that are seducing everyone around her.

This was the third film made by Wes Craven. It was originally a tv movie made under the title Stranger in the House but was theatrically released in Europe and some parts of the world as Summer of Fear under which name it appears to be more well known. Why it was deemed interesting enough for a theatrical release is a mystery. It is hardly likely to have been the Wes Craven name as he had only made two previous films at that point with The Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977), which gained him a name on the drive-in/exploitation circuit but hardly the cult figure he became a few years later with A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). (See below for Wes Craven’s other films).

This is not a film with a huge amount of believability. The setting is the same average American nuclear household that we have in A Nightmare on Elm Street, although one where the next-door neighbour conveniently just happens to be an anthropologist specialising in witchcraft. Lee Purcell’s witch immediately starts to seduce Linda Blair’s rather dopey looking father and boyfriend – somehow one would think that witches have better things to do with their time than indulge in such trivial pursuits. There are a surprising number of similarities to the subsequent The Kiss (1988), which had fairly much the same plot about a teenager’s fears of an evil aunt who moves into the house and seduces the affections of her family away from her.

The whole film rather absurdly seems to act as a paranoid fantasy of a teenage girl’s fears of the alienation of the familiar where the ‘stranger in the house’ proceeds to steal the affections of Linda Blair’s father and brother; causes Linda to get an overnight outbreak of hives and stay home from a dance whereupon Lee Purcell steals her boyfriend – Lee Purcell even manages to wear Linda Blair’s homemade dress better than she does; casts a spell the upshot of which is that Linda’s beloved horse has to be put down; seduces Linda’s best friend (a young then unknown Fran Drescher) away from her; and even forces Linda to move out of her own bedroom. Linda Blair came to fame in The Exorcist (1973) and then floated around for a few years in teen roles. She is an underrated actress but here though seems too baby-faced to have much conviction when she gets upset.

Linda Blair in Summer of Fear (1978)
Linda Blair as Rachel Bryant
Lee Purcell in Summer of Fear (1978)
Lee Purcell as Julia Trent, the cousin who turns out to be a witch

As such, Summer of Fear/Stranger in My House adds up to a film that is too slight to take seriously (and probably even less if you were seeing in the theatres). If the middle is tediously familiar then the ending with Lee Purcell in demonic form blasting doors open is just plain silly. These scenes feature the prize absurdity of Lee Purcell wearing demonic contact lenses while cackling maniacally and trying to kill people by ramming them off the road behind the wheel of a car.

Wes Craven’s other genre films are:– the brutality and revenge films The Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977); Deadly Blessing (1981) about murders around a religious cult; the comic-book adaptation Swamp Thing (1982); Invitation to Hell (tv movie, 1984); A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984); Chiller (tv movie, 1985); The Hills Have Eyes Part II (1985); Deadly Friend (1986) about a teen inventor who revives his girlfriend from the dead; The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988), a strikingly beautiful film about Haitian voodoo; Shocker (1989) about a killer returned from the electric chair; Night Visions (tv movie, 1990); The People Under the Stairs (1991); Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994); the Eddie Murphy vampire comedy Vampire in Brooklyn (1995); the slasher deconstruction trilogy of Scream (1996), Scream 2 (1997) and Scream 3 (2000); the werewolf film Cursed (2005); the dispossessed soul slasher film My Soul to Take (2010); and Scre4m/Scream 4 (2011). Wes Craven has also written the scripts for A Nightmare on Elm Street III: The Dream Warriors (1987), Pulse (2006) and The Hills Have Eyes II (2007), and produced Mind Ripper (1995), Wishmaster (1997), Carnival of Souls (1998), Don’t Look Down (1998), Dracula 2000 (2000), Feast (2006), The Breed (2006), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), The Last House on the Left (2009), The Girl in the Photographs (2015) and the tv series Scream: The Series (2015-9). He also created the tv series The People Next Door (1989) and Nightmare Cafe (1992).

The film is based on a 1976 novel by Young Adult horror writer Lois Duncan (1934-2016). Duncan had a number of other works adapted onto film with Killing Mr Griffin (tv movie, 1997), I’ve Been Waiting For You (tv movie, 1998), Stranger With My Face (tv movie, 2009) and most famously the slasher film I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) and the non-genre Hotel for Dogs (2009), as well as the subsequent haunted girl’s college film Down a Dark Hall (2018).

Trailer here

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