As did his peers John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven made a pit stop in telefilms between his early independent efforts and his later success with big-budget movies. Yet while Carpenter made the respectable biopic Elvis (1979) and Hooper directed the passable Stephen King adaptation Salem’s Lot (also 1979), Craven marked time with this silly supernatural thriller starring Linda Blair. Reflecting none of the gonzo excess of his earlier pictures and none of the playful wit that made him famous in the ’80s and beyond, Stranger in Our House—also known as Summer of Fear—is wholly unimpressive from an artistic perspective. Yet because the movie is coherent and technically proficient, it demonstrated Craven’s ability to phone in a hack job as effectively as the next guy. Happily for horror-movie fans, Craven found his voice with 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, blending the polished filmmaking he demonstrates here with the out-there qualities of his earliest endeavors while also introducing the crucial element of humor.
Stranger in Our House revolves around the middle-class Bryant family, parents Carol and Tom plus kids Peter and Rachel (Blair). When Carol’s sister and her husband are killed in a car crash, the Bryants take in their newly orphaned niece, Julia Trent (Lee Purcell). She’s overtly wholesome, with her Ozarks accent and shy politeness, but Rachel spots trouble immediately, because—cliché alert!—an animal, specifically Rachel’s beloved horse, reacts badly to Julia’s presence. (As in all mediocre movies of this sort, nobody finds the animal’s reaction noteworthy except Rachel.) Things proceed very much according to formula. Julia steals Rachel’s boyfriend, Rachel finds weird artifacts among Julia’s belongings, and Rachel consults the neighborhood occult expert. (Wait, your neighborhood doesn’t have an occult expert?) Things move along at a fair clip, though nothing truly frightening or suspenseful happens. As for the acting, Blair is insufferably whiny, and Purcell’s adequate work gets undercut by the goofy final scenes.
Stranger in Our House: FUNKY