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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Summer of Fear (1978)

Rachel: She had this little box, and there was a tooth in it.
Mike: Well, maybe it's a good luck charm.

- Linda Blair, Jeff McCracken

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: February 23, 2003

Stars: Linda Blair, Lee Purcell
Other Stars: Jeremy Slate, Jeff McCracken, Jeff East, Carol Lawrence, Macdonald Carey, Fran Drescher
Director: Wes Craven

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence
Run Time: 01h:38m:27s
Release Date: February 18, 2003
UPC: 012236137894
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- C-BB B

DVD Review

This Wes Craven-directed supernatural thriller originally began as a 1978 NBC movie-of-the-week entitled Stranger in Our House (it was released in Europe under the Summer of Fear banner), and it represented a chance for the upcoming director to become a bit more mainstream. As a career stepping stone, it was understandable, but it is sadly ironic that over time his two previous films (The Hills Have Eyes from 1977 and The Last House on the Left from 1972), which are deemed "classics" by many, have probably more rabid fan-based adoration than does this tame outing.

Based on an enjoyably creepy novel by Lois Duncan, Summer of Fear tells the genre-familiar story of what kind of nasty, bad things will happen if you invite relatives you have never met to stay with you. The well-to-do west coast Bryant family do just that, after Mrs. Bryant (Carol Lawrence) learns that her sister and brother-in-law have perished in a tragic car accident, leaving an orphaned teenaged daughter. Deciding that the newly orphaned Julia (Lee Purcell) should come live with them, the family sends for her, which we as horror viewers know is big mistake number one.

A pre-Roller Boogie Linda Blair (picture lotsa hair) is full-figured Rachel Bryant, the horse-riding teenaged daughter who suddenly has to share her room with a cousin she never knew. Sure, it seems weird that for a family with a stable of horses and a large home on a giant chunk of land that they wouldn't have more than just three bedrooms, but I guess that's besides the point. It is up to Rachel to bring meek country girl Julia out of her shell, but when mysterious things start happening, it seems that maybe supernatural forces are at work; the fact that horses whinny uncontrollably around Julia should have been another big clue. The problem is that the only one who believes it is Rachel, who starts putting clues together thanks to kindly old neighborhood occult expert Professor Jarvis (soap vet Macdonald Carey).

There's no knocking Craven's directorial style on this one, and it shouldn't take me to tell you that he is pretty adept at what he does. The biggest stumbling block for me here is that it looks too much like the 1970s televison movie that it is. Craven builds the suspense as well as he is able, well inside the strict limitations of what could and couldn't be shown on television at the time (something he addresses on the included commentary track). Under those restrictions, it should be clear that this wouldn't be a particularly grim Craven adventure, even when Blair is covered in itchy red hives.

A film like Summer of Fear really holds up better as a nostalgic memory than as brand-new entertainment, even with the curiosity factor of two horror icons like Wes Craven and Linda Blair working together. If you have seen this one before, and have appropriately fond memories of it, you might get a charge out of seeing it again. Some of those bygone made-for-television flicks are like late-night comfort food, and half of the enjoyment comes from simply reliving the experience of seeing something you saw when you were younger. However, if you're a young whipper-snapper who grew up strictly on the gorier Nightmare on Elm Street/Scream-era Craven, it is unlikely you will get much out of this comparitively staid film.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Artisan has done a rather solid job on the 1.33:1 full-frame transfer for this one, and there were more than a few moments when I had to remind myself this was nothing more than a 25-year-old made-for-television film. Colors are far brighter and well-balanced than most low-budget films of the late 1970s, though the palette still has an abundance of dominant earthtones. A few unavoidable age blemishes and specks appear occasionally, but overall this is a fairly strong transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: I have to admit that I was kind of startled to find a new Dolby Digital 5.1 track on this release, and while I certainly applaud the effort by Artisan the final product is hardly worth the fuss. While it is marginally fuller than the included 2.0 stereo track, it's superiority is negligible. As I watched the film, I bounced back and forth between the 5.1 and 2.0 stereo tracks, and the differences, for example, in the harshness of some of the louder dialogue passages was practically nonexistent. Rear channels get infrequent use on the new mix, so we're left with a slightly fuller soundstage upfront, though at low volumes is barely perceptible.

No matter what flavor you choose, both audio tracks have clearly mixed, easy to understand dialogue.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Wendigo, Hell's Gate, Sleepless, Legion of the Dead
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Wes Craven, Max Keller
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: You will never hear me complain whatsoever about a full-length, scene-specific commentary from Wes Craven, even if it's for a somewhat forgettable film like Summer of Fear. Craven, here teams up with producer Max Keller, spends a quick 99 minutes breezing through a range of reminiscences regarding the film's production, and the pair never really seem to be at a loss for material. The only problem for me was that I didn't care that much for the film, so their production tales, however easy to listen to, were only of marginal interest. Still, it was interesting to hear Craven address some of the made-for-television challenges he faced, including the pressure to tone down a laughably tame young woman/older man relationship in the film. Bottom line is that Craven gives good commentary, even if the film itself is weak.

There are four horror-themed trailers (Wendigo, Hell's Gate, Sleepless, Legion of the Dead), 20 chapter stops, and English subtitles.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

The best part of this new Artisan release is Wes Craven's insightful commentary track. I always enjoy hearing a director I think highly of discuss a project, even if it is a dated supernatural thriller like Summer of Fear. It's a shame that the film itself has not aged very well.

Recommended for die-hard Craven completists only.

 


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