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DEADLY BLESSING
Blu-ray. Arrow.

Deadly BlessingDeadly Blessing is Wes Craven's transitional film – the bridge between his visceral 1970's films and the more mainstream, frankly less interesting stuff he's done since the 1980s. And I'll be honest – despite being aware that it's not particularly good, I have something of a soft spot for the film. It has a curious feel – more like his TV movie Summer of Fear / A Stranger in the House than a feature film, spliced in nudity aside – and although 1981 was still effectively part of 1970s cinema in style, it seems oddly out of time.

The film centres around the religious Hittite community, effectively Amish but for the name, who shun the modern world and have ostracised former member Jim (Douglas Barr), who has left the community and married Martha (Maren Jensen), who is seen by the religious fanatics as 'the incubus' (a phrase seemingly attached to any woman they meet). When Jim is killed in what appears to be an accident, Martha's friends Lana (Sharon Stone) and Vicky (Susan Buckner) visit, causing more unrest with their hot pants, braless T-shirts and continual need to wear silk nightdresses and lingerie (at the insistence of the producers, apparently). As members of the Hittite community start to turn up dead and the girls are terrified by a combination of jump scares and spiders (Sharon Stone in particular flipping between hysteria and near-catatonia), the film slowly plops to a rather unlikely and fairly incoherent climax, before ending on a moment of such idiocy (another producer addition in post production) that it rather sours the rest of the movie.

The film channels 1970s rural horrors like Crowhaven Farm and Touch of Melissa (a TV movie and a PG-rated horror, notably) with its culture-clash storyline, though the identity of the killer – and the motivation – are kept a secret until the rather confused end. You're unlikely to guess who it is, simply because both the killer and the motivation make very little sense – it feels like a cobbled together ending, though it was apparently in the screenplay from the start. What does become obvious early on is that the Hittites, led by scenery-chewing Ernest Borgnine, are so sinister and threatening that they have to be red herrings – and indeed they are. But Craven does at least bring a rounded authenticity to his religious fanatics – possibly because he grew up in an equally repressive fundamentalist community, and so knows that mindset only too well.

Deadly BlessingCraven certainly piles on incident – to keep the audience from nodding off between killings, there are moments of threat, a snake-in-the bathtub scene that he would riff on in A Nightmare on Elm Street a few years later (fans of movie mistakes will be saddened to hear that in this widescreen version, the infamous 'woman wearing her panties in the bath' scene that caused guffaws on VHS has now been framed so that the knickers are off-screen) and assorted creeping around spooky barns – but the film still manages to have a rather slow pace. It genuinely does have a TV movie feel, with significantly bloodless kills, and the presence of Maren Jensen as the lead actress doesn't help. While she'd achieved fame in Battlestar Galactica, by the time this film came out, that show was becoming a fading memory, and her star status was in rapid decline. As an actress, she doesn't really have the presence to engage the audience (and her character's nude scenes are all done with a body double). Sharon Stone, in her first proper film role, is more striking, even though her character has little to do and you can see that even at this stage, she had a steely, ruthless determination to be famous (and if you have any doubts, just listen to the spider story Craven tells on the commentary). The most effective heroine is Susan Buckner, who is less glamorous but more effortlessly sexy and believable as a character. Craven regular Michael Berryman pops up as a retarded Hittite, and is both amusing and sympathetic, but the rest of the male characters – Borgnine aside – are pretty bland and forgettable.

It's easy to dismiss Deadly Blessing, and it's certainly no lost classic. But Craven has always been a frustratingly inconsistent director, and this is far from his worst film. The ludicrous ending aside, it's a passably entertaining time-waster, with some good visual moments that hint at films to come. Lower your expectations and you'll probably enjoy this.

DAVID FLINT

BUY IT NOW (UK)

 

 

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