Cult Movie Retrospective: Deadly Blessing

With the recent death of the great Wes Craven, we thought we’d take a look at one of the lesser known and slightly unappreciated efforts from his filmography, his 1981 curio Deadly Blessing.

Unlike the more iconic films of his earlier career, Deadly Blessing was a fairly big studio movie. In part it may have lacked a certain uber low-budget charm. That said, those yet to discover Deadly Blessing will definitely find plenty of Craven staples. Still, this one seemed to drift in and out of the movie going consciousness without much notice and only now is it beginning to find a (relatively small) cult following.

Set in a small Hittite community (like the Amish but more extreme), a Hittite man Jim (Douglas Barr) and his new wife Martha (Maren Jensen) have been ostracized from the community with Jim’s father, and community leader Isaiah (Ernest Borgnine) believing Martha to be an Incubus who’s turned Jim to the dark side. A mysterious figure kills Jim. Soon after more people die. Martha’s friends Vicky (Susan Buckner) and Lana (Sharon Stone’s first major role) come down to look after her, and matters become more dire as Lana is tormented by a seemingly supernatural power whilst Vicky causes problems by becoming an unwanted temptation for Jim’s brother John (Jess East). Everything becomes clear as the film leads towards an insane (if not fairly silly) finale.

Maren Jensen Deadly Blessing

Michael Berryman Deadly Blessing

So many mixed emotions. If The Hills Have Eyes 2 offers the chance to see what an ’80s slasher would look like if it were phoned in by Craven, then Deadly Blessing features a more fully invested Craven poking around in the same territory. It often feels (and even sounds) like a Friday The 13th film and even proceeds a lot like one, what with the extended POV shots and James Horner’s Manfrendini-esque score.

Though, not content to just make a straightforward slasher, Craven also tosses in some supernatural trimming. When the Hittites claim an Incubus is afoot, they mean it quite literally, so there are some vaguely weird sequences where dreams and reality begin to blur. The girls start to get the feeling that they’re being stalked by the Grim Reaper himself, and he starts to prey on their fear of spiders, which pays off in a pretty gross gag towards the end.

Deadly Blessing Spider

Deadly Blessing Snake

Another nail biting scene occurs while Martha is taking a hot bath. Someone enters the house and lets a poisonous snake loose in the bathroom. While Martha covers her face with a rag, the serpent crawls into the tub with her and appears between her legs in a symbolic fashion. This scene was apparently inspired by a dream Craven had the night before shooting; he later memorably reused it in A Nightmare On Elm Street.

Indeed, fans of the auteur theory will be able to find a number of themes that also appear in other Craven movies: a stern father figure, a sense of isolation, visceral nightmare sequences, booby traps, protagonists who fight back as fiercely as they’re attacked, and of course a silly producer-prescribed ending.

All in all, Deadly Blessing is a fairly decent entry in Wes Craven’s extremely uneven directorial career, and a slightly unconventional slasher movie with some utterly tacked-on pieces of a supernatural horror movie. Craven’s main contribution to the script seems to be the horror set-pieces, which are the best parts of the movie even while working against the story. If you’re looking for an entertaining and nostalgic piece of ’80s horror nonsense with more class than sleaze, this is a good bet.

Share your thoughts on this little-remembered Craven gem in the comment section below.

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