After directing gritty indie-horrors The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, Wes Craven landed a job directing a TV movie called Summer of Fear. The result proved popular enough to secure a theatrical run in Europe and lead to this entry, his first studio theatrical production. A rural giallo starring Ernest Borgnine and featuring an early performance from Sharon Stone. Fair warning, spoilers follow.
The story concerns a young newlywed couple in rural California. They live adjacent to a Hittite clan, an Amish-like group led by Ernest Borgnine. Their other neighbors are a single mother and her daughter. The Hittites harass said daughter accusing her of being an Incubus demon. Astute viewers will have spotted the film’s twist.
But back to the newlyweds. The man is Borgnine’s son, a now ostracized former Hittite. In the film’s opening scenes, an unseen killer stages a tractor accident, killing him. The fresh widow invites her college friends to stay. Sharon Stone, in her first major role, plays one of said friends.
Her later work in films like Basic Instinct and Casino demonstrates presence and range. Here she looks lost, unsure of her motivation or purpose. Craven’s inability to coax a better performance or cut around her failings cripples the film.
As the story unfolds, a black-gloved killer offs more victims. The film plays these scenes for suspense instead of gore to mixed results. An extended sequence in a barn with Stone struggles to maintain tension. A scene involving an exhumed corpse and chickens conveys a wry sense of humor. The best—a sequence involving a bathtub and a snake—Craven would recycle in Nightmare on Elm Street.
Throughout, the film struggles with tone. The rural setting and mysterious Hittites scream folk horror, while Jerry Goldsmith’s choral score evokes satanic scares like The Omen. There’s also a spider motif that goes nowhere. All these elements prove red herrings when the film reveals itself as a Dressed to Kill imitator. I may have groaned aloud.
And if that weren’t bad enough, there’s a bonkers coda ending that proves laugh-out-loud inane. A veteran like Borgnine had to know a turkey when he was making one. His performance comprises little more than scowling. Perhaps he used Craven and the producers for motivation.