Wes Craven has had a long and interesting career as a director. Working almost exclusively within the horror genre, he has turned out disturbing films (Last House on the Left), post-modern classics (Scream), underrated gems (New Nightmare), lousy cash-in sequels (The Hills Have Eyes 2) and complete disasters (Cursed). Such an erratic oeuvre over the years means a number of his films remain overlooked. One of these is 1981’s Deadly Blessing, which has had no form of DVD release…until now, with Umbrella releasing a region 4 version of the film.
Deadly Blessing was something of a ‘gun for hire’ piece for Craven. Bought in to re-write an existing script, he went on to direct the film with what was his biggest budget to date, sandwiched with a few other little-known works between the twin successes of The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and, of course, A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984). Some familiar Craven themes are immediately evident, such as issues with an overbearing father and a strong female protagonist.
The story revolves around Martha (Maren Jensen), who lives in farmland adjacent to an Amish-style religious sect. When her husband, a former member of the group, is mysteriously murdered, she finds herself amidst a series of killings.
Deadly Blessing is something of a combination of films. There is the oppressive religious aspect, combined with hints of the supernatural and then even a heavy giallo influence as an unseen knife-wielding killer strikes in the darkness. Whilst the inclusion of these varying elements gives the whole a freshness, the film ends up somewhat unfocussed and the vague nature of the threat means it fails to generate the high levels of tension the plot demands.
The acting is solid across the board, including as it does the likes of Ernest Borgnine and fanboy favourite Michael Berryman, although Sharon Stone struggles a little in what is her first speaking role as one of Martha’s friends from the city down to help comfort her. In fact, the women seem to spend most of their time lounging around in lingerie, which Craven confesses on the DVD commentary as being one of the major points of producer interference.
The other main bit of studio tinkering is on the film’s ending. In the wake of Carrie, it had become the trend du jour in horror and thriller movies to tack on one last jump scare – no matter how illogical. Think of Jason springing out of Crystal Lake at the close of Friday the 13th for one such example. And so we get a very silly coda on the end of what had otherwise been a fairly realistic movie – albeit one with an unlikely reveal.
There are plenty of excellent moments during Deadly Blessing. A highlight involves a car racing to escape a burning trail of petrol in a scene that surely inspired Radiohead‘s “Karma Police” music video. Elsewhere Sharon Stone’s Lana is stalked through a gloomy barn, the safety of sunshine always seemingly just too far away. For Craven fans, there are dream sequences and, in particular, a bathtub scene that directly precursor his A Nightmare on Elm Street work.
In the end, Deadly Blessing is a solid, if unspectacular thriller. There are flashes of inspiration, but too many flaws to elevate the film beyond the mediocre. For Craven, better things were to follow…
Director: Wes Craven / Country: USA / YEAR: 1981 / Studio: Umbrella Entertainment / Run Time: 100 minutes