Thursday, May 8, 2014

Deadly Blessing (1981)

Wes Craven is one of those directors who has had a long and rather successful career. He is probably best known for “Last House on the Left” (1972), “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984) and “Scream” (1996). He’s thrown out quite a few clunkers over the years like “Shocker” (1989) but Craven always seemed to have a knack for knocking out a pretty good film when his career needed it. Deadly Blessing came out in 1981, a time when Craven’s career seemed to be at a bit of a standstill since the cult success of Last House and 1977’s “The Hills Have Eyes”. It seems to me this one came out about the right time it needed to in order to boost some life into Craven’s cinematic bloodstream readying the cinema world for  Nightmare which would debut three years later.

His performance landed him a spot in a Motley Crue video.
Deadly Blessing stars Maren Jensen (Battlestar Galactica) as Martha, the wife of Jim Schmidt (Douglas Barr) who is a former “Hittite” and living on a farm next to his father’s farmland of which he has been shunned for “leaving the faith”. Animosity between the two families is quickly established as one of the Hittite men sneak onto the surrounding property and harass Faith (Lisa Hartman)a neighbor, calling her an “incubus”. The harasser is none other than Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes), playing a not so bright Hittite man, William, who constantly is causing trouble with non Hittite neighbors.  Jim runs William off and makes sure Faith is okay. He also meets Faith’s mother, Louisa (Lois Nettleton), who lives next door. Louisa is a midwife and Jim inquires of her services because Martha is pregnant.  That night Jim hears some noises out in the barn and goes to investigate. An unseen attacker starts up the tractor and crushed Jim with it. Martha, awakened by the tractor goes out to investigate and finds Jim’s body in the barn.
The happy couple....later Jim dies...and winds up on The Fall Guy.

At Jim’s funeral, Jim’s father Isaiah (Ernest Borgnine) shows up with his family. They mourn from a safe distance with no interaction with Martha who is considered an “Incubus” now that Jim has died. Martha’s friends Lana (Sharon Stone) and Vicky (Susan Buckner) come to stay with her and help her grieve. Trouble soon starts up again when William and several of the younger Hittite boys sneak in to Martha’s barn on a dare. When Martha investigates the barn the boys are able to sneak back out but William’s foot gets caught in the chicken door and he loses his shoe. Later that night he comes back looking for it and is knifed by an unseen attacker. The next day Isaiah and William’s father come to the farm to ask Martha if she has seen him. Again she is accused of being an “Incubus” by Isaiah but his accusations are met with a door slammed in his face. The next day Lana goes into the barn and discovers William’s body hanging from a rope. The Sheriff is called in but Isaiah refuses to let the Sheriff take the body into town for an autopsy. When the Sheriff tries to tell Isaiah that an autopsy can tell them who committed the murder, Isaiah responds that he already knows who did. Martha has basically been condemned of an act she didn’t commit.
Does this look familiar?

The lovely ladies of Deadly Blessing.
While Vicky is out jogging one morning she meets John Schmidt (Jeff East), Isaiah’s son and Jim’s younger brother. When Isaiah discovers them talking he quickly dismisses her and tells John to shun all of the non believers. John is engaged, not happily, to Melissa (Colleen Riley) his cousin. John is eventually shunned  by his father after he confronts him over being disciplined for talking to Vicky. That night he hitch hikes downtown and meets Vicky. They drive back to the farm and both murdered by what might be a jealous Melissa but we never see exactly who commits the murders. As Lana and Martha wait for Vicky to return from her trip downtown some strange things occur at the house. Lana opens a milk carton that is filled with blood and Martha finds a scarecrow poised inside her room. She discovers that the flower on the scarecrow is the same that was buried with Jim. She goes out to the family burial site and finds that his grave has been dug up. This is when she discovers that it was Faith that was committing the murders. Martha and Lana fight off Faith and Louisa in a bloody finale that has Melissa the victor in an odd twist. After all the bodies are cleared away, Martha is left alone in the farm house and is visited by the ghost of Jim. He tells her that the Incubus is still here and the floor suddenly bursts forth and a demon, the Incubus, drags Martha to Hell.
Mermaid Isaiah delivers the gospel.

This film had me up until the last 30 seconds! Craven delivered a really well written yarn about good vs. evil and the Puritanical imperfections of religious zealots. He also delivered the goods on the exploitation level with a good dose of nudity and stuck with the good ole slasher rule that if you stray from the straight and narrow, you’re gonna get killed. The musical score also delivered some mood setting Omen like narratives courtesy of James Horner. There is also a nice dream sequence involving Lana, mysterious hands and a spider. Craven developed a very uneasy mood throughout the film, especially with the inner workings of the Hittite family. I think the film could have done with a little more focus on that aspect as it seemed to provide some rather chilling moments. My big complaint is that ending! Yowsa! I didn’t expect the shock ending and well it kinda leaves the film flat. Still though Deadly Blessing is a good early 80’s piece that really set up Craven for what would become one of his best films, A Nightmare on Elm Street.   


No comments:

Post a Comment