Summer of Witches!
Rachel (Linda Blair) lives an almost storybook life as a teenager. Her family runs a small farm, she has a horse that she rides in competitions, she has an all-american boyfriend, a cool little brother, and good, close friends. This all changes when her cousin Julia (Lee Purcell) moves in after the tragic death of Julia’s parents. They get along, initially, but soon a rivalry develops, as pretty Julia begins to woo the boys closest to Rachel, including her boyfriend. Then things get dicey, as Rachel’s horse suddenly goes wild and acts dangerously, and bizarre little incidents begin to happen, like Rachel breaking out in hives for no apparent reason. Soon, Rachel suspects that cousin Julia is a witch, and she’s placing spells on those around her. She can’t convince her family, however, and they start to turn against her. Can Rachel stop Julia’s insidious plans before it’s too late?
If this sounds like a YA novel come to life you’d be correct. Based on a book by Lois Duncan (author of I Know What You Did Last Summer and myriad other teen horror thrillers), this made-for-TV movie has all the hallmarks of the genre, right down to the twist, sort-of happy ending. What drew me to this was that Wes Craven directed it, Linda Blair was in it, and I had never seen it before. Mostly it plays like a more mature after-school special episode, but it definitely has plenty of weird, risqué adult themes to it. The flirting between cousin Julia and Rachel’s father is gross but honest. There is no blood in this, just a lot of panicked innuendo that eventually turns into glowing red eyes and a car chase to the death. Linda Blair is great in this and she rocks the poofiest head of hair I’ve maybe ever seen. Looks good, though, and she’s totally believable as the strained and tormented teen. Lee Purcell is terrific as the bad guy, sweet and innocent one moment, tart and deadly the next. She struts and purrs in equal measure. Be on the lookout for a super-young Fran Drescher, who plays Rachel’s best friend. She’s good, too.
There’s nothing super-special about this movie, and you really have no need to seek it out unless you’re a completist like me, or if you’re into TV horror films. In either case, you’ll be pleasantly pleased. Craven made a tight little thriller that managed to be scary but not go over the line. That’s a hard road to straddle, but he did it well. You can see his trademarked concern for “family” in this one, a theme that runs through all of his work, and it debuted on Halloween night, 1978, which is kind of cool.