Deadly Blessing (1981)
Synopsis - Strange things are afoot in a Hittite community, but that doesn't mean the ladies can't be stylish.
In the excellent director's commentary track to Deadly Blessing, Wes Craven says he doesn't get asked about this particular film. I find that odd since it is a film whose plot alone raises a lot of questions. And as Craven's first big budget crack at horror, it would seem there would be more historical interest in it. There are definitely unintentional call-backs to The Hills Have Eyes and The Last House on the Left, and one scene in particular that would later be echoed in A Nightmare on Elm Street:
Deadly Blessing is at its core, however, a slasher/mystery set in a fictional, uber conservative religious community which beat both Stephen King's Children of the Corn and X-Files' Kindred characters to the ulra-zealot horror punch. While the film is much milder horror than its predecessors from Craven, it does have some interesting, campy and downright loopy things going for it such as:
- The Hittites themselves, who make Southern Baptists look like Delta House frat boys.
- The Lisa Hartman teen-aged character's warped perspective paintings which are a cry for mental health help.
- Michael Berryman in full pseudo-Amish garb chasing Lisa Hartman and peeping Maren Jensen.
- Sharon Stone's designer nightgowns which are apparently worn when a friend is in mourning.
- A Lawrence Montaigne sighting. (His character of Stonn cuckolded Spock with T'Pring in the Amok Time episode of Star Trek TOS. Montaigne was a ubiquitous background player in 60's TV and movies and for some strange reason, me and my family have a weird tradition wherein we are compelled to yell out "Montaigne!" upon seeing him in anything).
- Ernest Borgnine's glowering, cockblocking, Quaker Oats beard wearing, paternal head of the Hittites character is wonderfully over the top.
- Jeff East's blond haired, blue-balled, boy-next-door Hittite, who not only has the misfortune of having Borgnine's buzzkill character as a father, but the four hottest babes on the planet in Maren Jensen, Susan Buckner, Sharon Stone and Lisa Hartman living in the neighborhood and sporting Victoria's Secret apparel half the time. I can only imagine the frequency and intensity of the East character's late night whack sessions, especially since his fiancee looks like a prudish cross between Anita Bryant and a young Betty Crocker.
- Maren Jensen's strong, pimp-like, swing-from-the heels, backhanded bitch-slap of Sharon Stone to snap her out of her hysteria was worthy of Maurizio Merli, and solidified my life-long adoration for Jensen.
- The last act, non-sequitur reveal of the killer puts most crazy giallo endings to shame (but actually mirrors one!).
- The crazy and confusing final 15 minutes of the film pays off like a broken one-armed bandit. I think I said "Wait…What?" No less than three times on my initial viewing. The final act is a rollicking barrel of WTF-ness.
Despite the nuttiness of the movie, and a final ending that Craven himself confirmed was tacked on, I still really enjoyed the film. It does have a genuinely solid music soundtrack complete with spooky religious chanting by legendary composer James Horner. The Texas location made a nice stand-in for Pennsylvania with its wide open vistas and flatlands. And lastly, Craven was able to put a little more production value into this film for a change, and he took advantage to get something classier looking.
Overall, Deadly Blessing has just enough of an atmosphere to be an effective horror film, and just enough camp to keep it fun. I can't quite give it a "good" rating due to it's flaws, but it is an above average, entertaining popcorn movie that anyone interested in Craven's work should see.