Blu-Ray Review: Deadly Blessing

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MSRP $19.93
STUDIO Shout! Factory
RUNNING TIME 100 Minutes
• “Say Your Prayers” interview with Michael Berryman
• “Secrets Revealed” interview with Susan Buckner
• “Rise of the Incubus” interview with special makeup effects artist John Naulin
• “So It Was Written” interview with writers Glenn Benest and Matthew Barr
• Trailer
• TV Spots
• Radio Spots
• Photo Gallery

The Pitch

A small-town widow and her friends face the most terrifying force known to man… The Amish!

The Humans

Wes Craven (Director), Maren Jensen, Lana Marcus, Susan Buckner, Sharon Stone, Douglas Barr, Lisa Hartman, Lois Nettleton, Ernest Borgnine, Michael Berryman

The Nutshell

“I’m just thinkin’ about how great it would be if The Lottery was real.”

When a former member of a religious cult dies in a mysterious accident, his wife Martha, who now lives alone and close to the cult’s church, begins to fear for her life and the lives of her visiting friends. Strange and deadly events begin to happen… Could she be the target of the evil cult and its fanatical leader Isaiah?

The Lowdown

These days, Wes Craven is mainly known and celebrated for A Nightmare on Elm Street (a strong first movie followed by some mediocre to terrible sequels that mostly aren’t his fault) and Scream (an okay movie that has been praised for how utterly generic it was, followed by some awful sequels that were totally his fault) even though they’re far from his most interesting works.

Craven has never reached the heights of other celebrated horror auteurs like John Carpenter or Peter Jackson, but his most enjoyable efforts have been when he went for something different. The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, The People Under the Stairs, and even the original A Nightmare on Elm Street are all deeply flawed movies for various reasons but it’s Craven’s own inimitable charm that allows viewers to look past their many mistakes and just enjoy the ride.

Unfortunately, Craven’s shortcomings as a director often resulted in movies that were outright awful (Deadly Friend) or, worse, boring (My Soul to Take.) This has soured a lot of fans on his entire oeuvre (present company included) and left a few gems largely forgotten. One such gem is Deadly Blessing.

Martha (Maren Jensen) has recently lost her husband John (Jeff East) to a tragic accident; this is bad enough without the looming threat of her Father-in-Law Isaiah (Ernest Borgnine), the leader of a repressive Amish-like cult known as The Hittites. John was excommunicated due to his marriage of Martha, an outsider, and for forsaking Hittite traditions. Since his farmland was gifted to him by his father, Isaiah wants Martha to give it back, referring to her as “The Incubus.” Soon Martha’s friends Lana (Sharon Stone) and Vicky (Susan Buckner) arrive to support her in her time of grief. Unfortunately, a mysterious stranger is attempting to kill them all off one by one.

The Hills Have Adorable Pouty Sneers

Deadly Blessing has a pretty average slasher setup, its uniqueness is largely due to its setting in America’s heartland and the background ominous threat of The Hittites. At several points in the movie the audience is shown how harsh and strict the cult can be; particularly Isaiah. This leaves the viewer on uneven ground for most of the movie. Obviously the Hittites are responsible for the murders, but what if that’s just a red herring? But maybe that’s just meant to throw you off; there’s a long list of likely candidates and it’s not easy to pick out who it might be; though a quick dictionary browse of the word “Incubus” will give you a small hint.

Of our three leads, Susan Buckner is the clear champion. Vicky is sprightly and extroverted in a way that never crosses the line into annoying. She’s a rarity, particularly in a movie of this genre and era, in that she’s rather free-spirited sexually but never portrayed as slutty or deserving of punishment because this. Arguably if everyone had been more like Vicky then the whole movie never would have happened. Maren Jensen fares a little worse, but that’s largely due to her character. For most of the movie she’s in mourning over her husband and for the rest she’s scared out of her mind. Make no mistake, though, because Martha is a very competent heroine and not just a pretty face who screams a lot, that is Sharon Stone’s job.

Sharon Stone is arguably the most famous person in this movie and even though this was early in her career one would assume she’d give a great performance, that is not the case. Lana is all melodrama and quivering monotone; this isn’t entirely Stone’s fault since Lana is more of a harbinger of doom than a proper protagonist but a good actor or actress can elevate just about any role and lets just say I don’t see any footage from Deadly Blessing turning up on Sharon Stone’s Oscar reel when she dies.

Michael Berryman plays William Gluntz, a man-child that torments Martha and her neighbors. Gluntz is a big red herring and it’s interesting to go back and watch the movie a second time, knowing all the twists, and seeing his chacter from an entirely different perspective.

The real scene stealer is Ernest Borgnine. People of my generation mostly know Borgnine as eccentrics and grandfatherly characters so it’s easy to forget that he was known as a brilliant character actor once upon a time. He delivers all of Isaiah’s hellfire and brimstone with so much sincerity and menace that every scene he’s in is laced with an unspoken threat. More impressive is the fact that there’s no scenery chewing with Isaiah, he’s a zealot and a madman but he’s never over-the-top.

A sure sign of an infestation of teenagers.

The cinematography by Robert C. Jessup is beautiful and very deserving of the Blu-Ray treatment. Deadly Blessing was shot in Texas but it looks just like Iowa, Nebraska, or Kansas. Even the interior shots are rich and colorful and filled with life. The scary moments of Deadly Blessing work incredibly well; a scene where Lana is locked in a barn by the killer uses cliches like spider webs and deep shadows to great effect and another involving a venomous snake is one of the most tense moments I have ever sat through and the way these scenes are shot and staged is part of why they work so well.

While Wes Craven did tinker with the script a bit it was written mainly by Matthew Barr and Glenn M. Benest. Benest had read an atricle about the Amish and decided that they would be an interesting topic for a a horror movie. The two writers put together a screenplay and held onto it for the years until they met Wes Craven on the set of a TV-movie he was working on, deciding he would be perfect.

The story works quite well and even the side-plots and red herrings never feel like filler. Deadly Blessing is actually a fairly clever parable on the dangers of repression and how it can only lead to violence and suffering. My only big issue is with the ending: it’s a big, scary, and awesome final note for the film but it undermines the entire message. Benest and Barr hate the ending and Craven admits he largely did it because the studio wanted him to put in a jump scare ending like the one from Carrie due to how successful that movie had been. The ending isn’t bad per se, it’s a lot like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining: muddled, confusing, kinda dumb, and entirely missing the point of the story but it’s scary as Hell and it sure is pretty.

Deadly Blessing is probably one of Craven’s most competent films. The acting mostly works, the story is appealing and in no way rote or predictable. There are several great moments of tension and it has something to say without being preachy. It’s a shame that this movie has been mostly forgotten, but fortunately Scream! Factory has brought it back in a release fitting of its quality.

The Package

There’s an audio commentary with Wes Craven, who doesn’t remember a lot of fine details about the movie. There’s a few short interviews that give a bit of interesting information and a bunch of radio and TV spots, as well as a trailer and a photo gallery. This disc is worth the price due to the transfer and the movie, not the special features.

Picture is 1080p High-Def widescreen (1.78:1) and the audio is DTS-HD Master Audio in Mono.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars

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