Occult / Slasher
Trivia ? Susan Buckner and Douglas Barr were both in the Same T.V. series, "When the Whistle Blows" (1980) before going on to the this film.
? Wes Craven tried to persuade Sharon Stone to film the spider scene by holding the creature himself. Still unconvinced, she requested that its teeth be removed. Despite crew knowledge that this would make it incredibly difficult for the spider to feed, the operation was performed and Stone agreed to continue.
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Deadly Blessing (1981)
9th Nov 04
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, and came along at a turning point in his career. It is possibly 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 and has much more in common with THHE in that it has 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. One can’t help but think that this was a THHE cash-in attempt. The original UK release video cover is just 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. Hmmm…
The plot involves a community of ultra-religious mentalists known as The Hittites who diligently farm the land and have to answer to Isiah, their leader, 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 Isiah (a Shittite?) because he married a non-Hittite girl and he soon meets his end in mysterious circumstances. That’s when Martha’s city girlfriends Lana (a young Sharon Stone) and Vicki (Susan Buckner from Grease) come to stay with her and help everything go wrong. What we’re talking about here folks, is 3 babes living slap-bang beside a bunch of hairy-faced, black-wearing religious freaks who “make the Amish look like swingers” and are led by an insane-looking Earnest Borgnine…you KNOW there’s gonna be trouble.
Once Jim is dead, the Hittites, and possibly someone else, seem hell bent on driving Martha as far away from the community as possible. Isiah offers to buy her out but she flatly refuses, thus making trouble for everyone concerned. Why she doesn’t just move away is anyone’s guess though – it doesn’t take an Einstein to work out that it’d be in everyone’s best interests to hit the road. This is one of those common sense issues that characters in horror movies always seem to have – a bit like when there is an obscene caller but the character keeps answering the phone anyway.
Michael Berryman’s character – William – is a “manchild” who likes to shout “Incubus!” all the time at young Faith, another local girl who lives nearby. William is also killed quite early on in the proceedings whilst snooping like an ugly big perv through Martha’s window. Whoever is committing these dastardly deeds is a mystery, and that, folks, is Deadly Blessing in a nutshell. A mystery. A ‘whodunnit’, though slightly more grisly than your average Agatha Christie story. The Hittites, in all their weirdness, actually look quite capable of committing some heinous nastiness, possibly to keep some kind of ancient secret buried, but sometimes its easy to look for the answer to the mystery in the most obvious places…
Craven doesn’t give us a lot of information about most characters, but Isiah’s son, John, is fairly well developed as a character. Played by Jeff East (who played the ‘young’ Clark Kent in Superman The Movie 1978), John is in his early 20’s and soon to be married to a nice Hittite chick. However once he lays eyes on Martha’s city mate Vicki, it all goes wrong and his manly urges get the better of him. One sight of a sexy chick in hot pants and he’s lost his faith. Isiah banishes him too, accompanied with the usual (unintentionally funny) gibberish: “You are a stench in the nostrils of God!” John then promptly comes to his end while Vicki is helping him with his gear stick in a parked car (these Hittites have no style!), all part of a fairly impressive Craven set piece involving a fornicating couple, a brutal stabbing, a gasoline can, and some matches. Nice.
If anything, Deadly Blessing is more of a woman’s horror film than most. The relationship between the three city girls is in the forefront a lot of the time, and it is mostly they who are in peril. Craven plays out their femininity with a fair degree of maturity and while the acting may not be of Oscar-winning calibre, the fact that he focuses on the women lends some scenes in the picture a somewhat different and sensitive quality. Lana (Sharon Stone) has some very unfortunate luck with big spiders and it’s worth pointing out that this film could almost be placed in a ‘spider’ horror sub genre. Our eight-legged friends feature quite heavily, so any arachnophobic viewers beware! You will find this quite difficult to watch, especially the particularly unpleasant dream sequence involving a huge spider on the ceiling, and Stone, lying on the bed and frozen with fear, being told her open her mouth wide. Eugh!
Overall, the film has an uneasy and very sinister feel about it. Hittites don’t need to do anything to look scary, especially Isiah, which sees Borgnine in a role similar to the Beelzebub-worshipping freak, Jonathan Corbis he played in the diabolical Devils Rain. Borgnine is as magnetic as ever but unfortunately doesn’t get quiet enough screen time for me.
In the end though, Deadly Blessing may leave you feeling a little short-changed as Craven characteristically takes the story to some silly places, in a similar way he did at the end of his Haiti-set voodoo romp, The Serpent and the Rainbow. It’s always difficult to work out whether these over-the-top set pieces make a shambles of the film as a whole or whether we should just overlook this one unfortunate indulgence on his part. At the end of the film a narrator’s voice conveys some kind of closure to the events we’ve just witnessed. Credit where credit is due - he sums everything up quite nicely, stating that the beast / killer is a thing “that was and is not, and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit...and they that dwell on the Earth shall wonder”.
Wonder we will, but any the wiser we’re not, Mr Craven. “Hellfire to the Incubus!”
Versions Strangely, Deadly Blessing is not available on DVD. To find this one you'll probably have to look on eBay for old VHS versions. Anchor Bay or Blue Underground may help out at some point...