Deadly Blessing (1981)

Synopsis:

When a member of a religious sect, Jim Schmidt (Douglas Barr, TV’s The Fall Guy), marries outside his faith, his father (Ernest Borgnine, Marty), who is also the church’s leader, disinherits him. After Jim and his wife (Maren Jensen, TV’s Battlestar Galactica) move to a farm near his relatives’ land, he dies under strange circumstances, leaving his widow all alone to fight the constant harassment of her in-laws.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“You are a stench in the nostrils of God!”

Horror maestro Wes Craven’s exercise in rural Gothic is one of his most obscure films. It’s definitely not as well-known as Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (1977), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and the Scream films. The lack of popularity can be attributed to its inaccessibility — hopefully, the new Scream Factory DVD will change that.

This is Craven’s first film with a relatively decent budget. Deadly Blessing is, unfortunately, high on ominous atmosphere, but low on logic (I assure you that the title means nothing). That’s fine because the plot is completely bonkers anyway. Some scenes are good, but it ends up being “much ado about nothing.” However, it’s a pretty entertaining combination of slasher and the supernatural.

As I said before, Deadly Blessing is very atmospheric. The film was beautifully shot in rural Ohio by cameraman Robert C. Jessup (Silent Rage). The bucolic ambiance adds greatly to the overall feel of the movie. The eerie music score is by James Horner, who was about to break into the big leagues with films like 48 Hrs. (1982), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Cocoon (1985) and James Cameron’s Aliens (1986).

The cast is filled with many familiar faces. Oscar-winning actor Ernest Borgnine is imposing and menacing as Father Isaac, the formidable head of “The Hittites,” a weird religious cult. Borgnine’s role isn’t all that big, but he makes his scenes count.

Sadly, the inimitable Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes), who plays a mentally-challenged “Hittite,” disappears too quickly. Pre-stardom Sharon Stone (Basic Instinct) has a small, but pivotal role (by the way, Stone in the woman on the official theatrical poster). The cast also includes Jeff East (young Clark Kent in Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie) and Lisa Hartman (TV’s Knots Landing).

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Flaws and all, Deadly Blessing is a rather fun (and very creepy) incursion into the macabre. The actors are pretty good, and horror icon Wes Craven does an outstanding job establishing the proper mood. And some scenes, specifically a scary dream sequence, anticipate similar moments in Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. Lower your expectations and you may enjoy it. Color, 100 minutes, Rated R.

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