Saturday, May 3, 2014

"Stranger in Our House"(1978) d/ Wes Craven

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On Halloween night back in 1978, a nine year old you-know-who was faced with two seasonal telly options after having exhausted his trick or treat/ neighborhood vandalism options for the evening. CBS offered up Richard Crenna, Yvette Mimieux, and a Satanic puppy in Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell, while over at NBC came the debut of tonight's feature; a made-for-tv adaption of a Lois Duncan novel called Summer of Fear directed by Wes Craven {fresh off the cult classic, The Hills Have Eyes (1977)}, that stars a curvalicious Linda Blair (who looks to have tried to balance out her bountiful bobblers with some seriously Brobdingnagian hair for this one), fresh off of some serious coke charges, and the lovely Lee Purcell, who you might recall from things like Mr. Majestyk (1974) and Valley Girl (1983). In the end, it's Purcell who'll stick with you here...

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"Only Deep Purple understands me!" pouts Rachael (Linda Blair).
Life is awkward-looking horse rides, boyfriends, and clothes shopping for teenage Rachael Bryant (Blair), until her distant cousin, Julia (Purcell) comes to stay with her family, after a mysterious car crash at the outset leaves her sans folks. Soon, Rachael's roses are all showing their thorns, as her father, brother (Jeff East), and even boyfriend all instantly turn pheromone-induced sycophant at the sight of Julia, who's been leaving matches on her cousin's nightstand, spilling red paint on her bikini shots, and keeping graven wax images of her horse, Buttercup, who doesn't happen to like Julia one bit, Wilbur. No siree. After Rach breaks out in hives just before the big dance, she's forced to send Mike (Jeff McCracken) with Julia, decked in the pink number she'd crafted for herself and looking better in it, instead.

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"Whattaya mean, my face is super freakiiiiiing out, Rick?"
By the time Rachael's grill clears up, it's already too late. Mike and Jules are an item, and Pop(Jeremy Slate) is also enchanted by the young woman's ample charms, himself, too much so, in fact, to do much about his daughter's equestrian accident that sees Buttercup prepped for an Alpo can with a bullet. And when resident witchcraft expert, Professor Jarvis (Macdonald Carey) is suddenly struck gravely ill, Rach's suspicions grow into a full-scale Nancy Drew-with-34C's style investigation, after spirited pouty whining for half the film's run time doesn't seem to get her anywhere. It soon becomes apparent that the Ozark Jezebel has set her homicidal sights on Rachael's mom (Carol Lawrence), which leads to the inevitable cat fight we'd all been waiting for, followed by a typical seventies made-for-tv twist ending that you probably could have laid money on, five minutes in.

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"Me? Oh, I was just burning some Exorcist II: The Heretic reviews for you, honey..."
In those dark pre-technological days before video cassette recorders and Tivo, when a guy couldn't have his cake and bite at it, too, I remember choosing Crenna and his Devil Dog over tonight's witchery, as did most others, according to the Nielsen's, though if I could step through some portal into the past and do it all over again, I'd probably go with Stranger, instead. Ms. Blair's always been one of my favorites, and she's appropriately cute-as-a-button, as usual,  but she's so over-the-top whiny about it all here, you'd have to be certifiable to not be plugging for Purcell's comely witch to prevail. On the scale, this Stranger earns a pair of Wops, an average score that director Craven is no stranger to, his fourth thus far here. Obviously, still worth a look or two.

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Have you been spleefing off the Hippie Crippler again, Julia (Lee Purcell)?
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