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Deadly Blessing (1981)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/22/13
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/19/2012
"Face white/Revenge of the Hittites"
-- "Gramercy Park"
Like so many, I became a fan of Wes Craven in 1984 when I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street. Following this, I wanted to know more above Craven's work and tracked down The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes. And I even saw Swamp Thing, although I don't think I made the Craven connection at the time. And, of course, I've seen all of Craven's subsequent movies, save for Music of the Heart. But, despite this diligence, Craven's 1981 effort Deadly Blessing had escaped me. It must not have played ad nauseam on HBO like so many other movies of the era, and when I was at the video store, other movies caught my eye and Deadly Blessing was forced to sit on the shelf. But now, 30 years later, I'm finally going to see how this stacks up to Craven's other movies.
Deadly Blessing takes place in a very rural area which is overseen by Hittites, a religious sect which is very similar to the Amish, in the sense that they subsist on farming and reject modern technology. Jim Schmidt (Doug Barr) and his wife, Martha (Maren Jensen), live adjacent to a Hittite farm and the locals are fascinated by his tractor. We learn that Jim had been a Hittite, but he was ex-communicated by his father, Isaiah (Ernest Borgnine), who oversees the Hittite community. When Jim is killed in an accident, Martha's friends, Lana (Sharon Stone) and Vicky (Susan Bruckner), come to comfort her. Soon, strange things begin to happen around the farm. Animals attack, Lana gets locked in the barn, and a figure in dark clothing appears. Is someone trying to scare Martha away, or is it the demonic "incubus" which the Hittites speak of? With each occurrence, the grieving Martha is pushed closer to the breaking point.
To say that Deadly Blessing is a wacky little movie would be a grand understatement. The main problem with this film is that there are way too many plots and subplots. Martha must deal with Jim's death and her plans for the farm. She must also deal with Lana and Vicky. Vicky falls for one of the Hittites, John (Jeff East). Isaiah is always walking around scowling about something. Lana wears a lot of lingerie and is harassed by spiders. William runs around yelling "incubus" at everyone. Martha's neighbor, Louisa (Lois Nettleton), has a daughter named Faith (Lisa Hartman) likes to deliver eggs and paint Dali-esque pictures. Did I leave anything out? The screenplay by Glenn M. Benest and Matthew Barr (with a re-writer by Craven) tries to includes everything that it can, but sinks under its own weight.
As one can imagine, this results in a movie which is all over the place. This was marketed as a supernatural horror film (although I didn't seen Deadly Blessing when it was originally released, I very vividly remember the TV ads with the spider dropping into the woman's mouth -- thank you Shout! Factory for including this TV spot on the Blu-ray Disc to confirm my memory), but it often plays more like a drama, with a bit of giallo thrown in. The movie contains mysterious winds (the trademark of a horror movie) and Jim's death certainly has supernatural overtones. But, then we get multiple scenes with a black-gloved killer, as one would in a Dario Argento murder-mystery. However, many of the scenes lean towards drama, as the characters try to figure out what to do next. There's certainly nothing wrong with adding dramatic elements to a horror film -- many could use something like this -- but Deadly Blessing seems to meander as it tries to find one theme and stick to it. This lack of cohesion results in a movie with never gains its footing and thus misses the mark in some of its endeavors. And I didn't need an extra feature on the Disc to tell me that the ending was tacked on after the fact. (Even Wes Craven referred to it as a "flawed film in many ways".)
Still, having said that, Deadly Blessing is worth seeing if you are interested in Wes Craven's career or you want an example of the "no holds barred" approach to filmmaking which used to exist. While Craven clearly didn't have a firm grip on the reins here, you can see him laying the groundwork for his future films and at least two scenes are very reminiscent of A Nightmare on Elm Street. The movie is never scary per se, but it includes some elements which certainly play on our primal fears. Ernest Borgnine chews the scenery and it's interesting to see Sharon Stone in an early role (and to see how truly pretty she was when she was young). The movie pre-dates Witness by four years and having the Amish (I know they're called Hittites, but let's face it, they're Amish) serve as part of the backdrop for a horror movie is interesting. If nothing else, Deadly Blessing is a hoot as we watch the various elements of the movie attempt to remain on the track and avoid being the inevitable train-wreck which the film will become.
Deadly Blessing never told us who was feeding the chickens in the barn on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Shout! Factory. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. Shout! Factory clearly did a good job with this transfer, as some of the daytime shots look crystal clear, belying the film's age and obscurity. The colors in these scenes look very good. However, the transfer is not perfect, as other shots do show notable grain and some mild defects, such as scratches. Again, these are minor and are honestly expected in a movie like this. The level of detail is adequate, but some shots are soft. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.2 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Unfortunately, this track also highlights James Horner's (yes, future Oscar winner James Horner) score, which shows up whether it's needed or not. There is no hissing or popping, which is good. But, the track sounds like stereo at best. I didn't detect any notable surround or subwoofer effects. Purists won't be disappointed, as the track is very appropriate for this movie.
The Deadly Blessing Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMETNARY from Director/Co-Writer Wes Craven and Sean Clark of Horror Hound magazine. "Say Your Prayers!" (14 minutes) is a modern-day interview with actor Michael Berryman who discusses his introduction to Wes Craven on The Hills Have Eyes and his work on Deadly Blessing. He also hints at some issues between the actresses on-set. "Secrets Revealed" (13 minutes) is an interview with Susan Buckner, who actually looks younger today, who briefly describes her experiences on Grease and then talks about what it was like to work with Craven and the other actresses. Creature designer John Naulin talks about how he was part of a team called in to help with a new ending for the film in "Rise of the Incubus" (7 minutes). "So It Was Written" (21 minutes) is an interview with writers Matthew Barr and Glenn M. Benest who talk about how their collaboration began and where the ideas for the movie came from. They talk about working with Wes Craven and what he brought to the project. The Disc includes the THEATRICAL TRAILER, three TV SPOTS, and seven RADIO SPOTS. We also get a PHOTO GALLERY which includes pictures of the monster and many production stills.
Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.