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Deadly Blessing (1981)
24th Nov 11
Brutal murders, snakes, spiders and general unpleasantness befall three gorgeous women who have unwisely situated themselves next door to an Amish-like religious cult.
This is an interesting offering from Craven - It could be the last of his films that retain a flavour of a certain period, while much of what followed had a somewhat different tone. Not counting his television movies, Deadly Blessing came after The Hills Have Eyes but before Swamp Thing but has much more in common with Hills in that it retains a similar theme and look, i.e. danger in the rural / remote setting and a community who haven’t adapted to the 20th century. And Michael Berryman of course, in an attempt to capitalize on his Hills fame. The original UK release video cover was simply a huge red picture of Berryman’s handsome face with the ‘From the director of The Hills Have Eyes’ spiel at the top. That said, it has to be worth a look doesn’t it? It’s vintage Craven after all, and we know he can deliver the goods with style, especially if we’re talking pre-1983.
The plot involves a community of ultra-religious mentalists known as The Hittites who diligently farm the land and answer to their leader Isiah, played by a very intimidating Earnest Borgnine. Nearby the Hittite community live a young couple, Jim and Martha. Jim is an ex-Hittite who was banished from the flock by his father, Isiah (a Shittite?) for going to university and marrying a non-Hittite girl. When Jim is mysteriously crushed by his own tractor, Martha’s city girlfriends Lana (a young Sharon Stone) and Vicki (Susan Buckner from Grease) come to stay with her and help everything go horribly wrong.
What we’re talking about here kids, is three urban babes living slap-bang beside a bunch of hairy-faced, black clad religious freaks who “make the Amish look like swingers” and led by an insane looking Earnest Borgnine…you just know there’s gonna be trouble. And plenty of it there surely is, as some unidentified person (or thing) kills various members of the God fearing throwbacks in a series of well-crafted set pieces from a young Wes Craven.
An therin lyeth the strengths of Deadly Blessing – good in parts, but I couldn’t eat a whole one. Craven is very successful in creating a solid atmosphere, and this first-time-ever DVD presentation confirms his vision with luscious, rural cinematography which lovingly details the customs, language and wardrobe of a people who time forgot. It is a convincingly portrayed human landscape, where, encouraged by the elders, young men tow the land the hard way, showing their weaknesses by coveting modern farm machinery and lusting over them long-legged city girls living close by. A bit like in Kingpin, but without the rubber hand. Or Bill Murray. It really isn't very much like Kingpin at all.
If Craven has constructed a believable isolated community with some degree of maturity, the same can also be said of his refreshingly sensitive approach to the relationships and personalities of his three main female protagonists, and if anything, Deadly Blessing is more of a woman’s horror film than most. Craven fleshes out their roles with a fair degree of delicacy and while the acting may not be of Oscar-winning caliber (Sharon Stone in particular), he is at least doing something less predictable than having girls undress, run away and fall over a lot. Instead, he preys on some of the older fears and phobias that generally work on horror audiences, e.g. spiders, a creature which he employs quite heavily here, and to great effect – Sharon Stone’s dream sequence is particularly memorable, and showcases Craven’s continued deftness for the genre. Also worthy of mention is the snake in the bath scene, which does exactly as it says on the tin – of course, we’ve seen similar before with Cronenberg’s bath time unpleasantness with Barbara Steele in Shivers. This scene is also pretty infamous because apparently Martha is clearly wearing underwear in the bath but yours truly failed to notice.
Despite the many great aspects of Deadly Blessing, the film does manage to irritate. Why doesn’t Martha appear to be grieving for her dead husband? They seemed so happy until he gets rammed with his tractor, then her friends come to stay and she seems to cope extremely well. And of course she should just fucking leave the place – Isiah wants her gone; he is willing to give her a good price for the land, but she instead opts to stay amongst the weird cult next door, not to mention the corpses, snakes and spiders – Craven fails to give any kind of reason for her stubbornness and hence the credibility of the narrative fails to hold any holy water.
Perhaps the most irritating aspect is the fact that it doesn’t make sense - this can be a problem if you intend to show your movie to an audience. Just as Craven establishes some kind of resolution in the final reel, i.e. we find out who the killer is, he decides to hit us with some stupid, fucked-up craziness involving the ‘incubus’ - the creature the Hittites love talking about so much. It really is one of the most ridiculous endings you are ever likely to see and, perversely, probably makes this even more essential viewing. I even received a text from eatmybrains' Jim a couple of nights before he gave me this one to review which simply said, "Deadly Blessing. What kind of fucking ending is that?!" Couldn't have put it better mysef.
Versions The brand spanking new arrow release has the following special features:
- Introduction by star Michael Berryman
- “Craven Images: The Horror Hits of Michael Berryman” – an interview with Deadly Blessing’s iconic star
- “Deadly Desires” – an interview with screenwriter Glenn M. Benest
- Original trailer
- Easter eggs
- Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Rue Morgue art director Gary Pullin
- Double-sided fold-out artwork poster
- Collectors’ booklet featuring brand new writing on the film by author and critic Kim Newman
- Original 1.78:1 anamorphic aspect ratio presentation
- Original mono 1.0 audio.