Blu-ray Review: DEADLY BLESSING (1981)

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Review: Deadly Blessing / Cert:15 / Director: Wes Craven/ Screenplay: Glenn M. Benest, Matthew Barr, Wes Craven / Starring: Maren Jensen, Sharon Stone, Susan Buckner, Michael Berryman, Ernest Borgnine / Release Date: Out Now

Generally remembered – if it’s remembered at all – as the ‘breakthrough’ movie for Sharon (Basic Instinct) Stone - 1981’s Deadly Blessing is actually a curious stopping-off point for those interested in the career development of horror/slasher film legend Wes Craven. Having already attained a genre notoriety courtesy of The Last House on the Left (1972) and the original The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Craven attempted in Deadly Blessing to create something a little more mainstream, an edgy and unsettling horror yarn relying on psychological scares rather than the visceral blood-letting of his more infamous earlier work. But inevitably studio interference – especially an insistence that the three female leads should spend much of their screen time wafting about in their lingerie and a nonsensical ‘jump-in-your-seat’ twist ending – rubbishes what starts out as a smart and eerie chiller with vague echoes of The Wicker Man in its disorientating cut-off-from-civilisation setting.

There’s also a distinct whiff of ‘TV movie of the week’ in the storyline (hardly surprising as it was originally planned as a TV project) and Craven does his best to give the uneven material a cinematic scale, beautifully capturing his disquieting, almost unearthly middle America setting of endless wheat fields and creepy, cobwebbed barns. Martha (Jensen) is married to Jim (Douglas Barr), a former member of the Amish-like Hittite religious sect who ferociously and fiercely eschew the trappings of technology and the modern world. Rather ill-advisedly, the pair move into a farm property directly neighbouring Jim’s old Hittite stamping grounds. Jim is killed in mysterious circumstances and Martha is vilified by the Hittites (especially the striking Michael Berryman as the ill-fated William and Ernest Borgnine in fearsomely fine form as Isaiah) as “the incubus”. Martha’s two city girlfriends arrive in the aftermath of Jim’s death but Martha won’t be driven away from her home despite the campaign of fear and terror being waged against them all.

Deadly Blessing struggles to balance its supernatural story against its potentially more interesting tale of stubborn religious fanaticism but Craven manages to inject a few decent shivers courtesy of Stone’s memorable barn encounter with a tarantula and Jensen’s toe-curling bathtub battle with a curious snake. But it all goes to Hell – quite literally – with a ludicrous final sequence which might well have come from an entirely different and far less subtle movie. Deadly Blessing has its moments but the stench of artistic compromise is unmistakeable and the movie remains a frustrating misstep in Craven’s body of work, little more than an interesting and uncharacteristic curio.

Extras: Craven commentary / Berryman introduction / Craven interview / Horror Hits of Michael Berryman / Screenwriter interview / Collector’s booklet

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