Shout! Factory // 1981 // 102 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // March 2nd, 2013
Pray you're not blessed.
Jim (Douglas Barr, Spaced Invaders) and Martha Schmidt (Maren Jensen, TV's Battlestar Galactica) own a rural farm and lead a simple life, living not far from a fanatical religious group called the Hittites. Jim was once a Hittite but left the group, which is led by the radically conservative Isaiah (Ernest Borgnine, The Poseidon Adventure), long ago. When Jim is crushed and killed by his tractor and one of Isaiah's sons, William (Michael Berryman, Weird Science), turns up dead as well, things start to take a turn for the worst for poor Martha. Two friends show up (Total Recall's Sharon Stone and Grease's Susan Buckner) to share in her grief, but their support doesn't give much comfort as dead bodies begin to pop up like weeds. Is there a crazed serial killer on the loose? Or is this the work of the 'incubus'?
Deadly Blessing is one of director Wes Craven's earlier efforts, his third feature film after the influential low budget shockers The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes. The film is clearly rooted in Craven's own religious upbringing (he was born into a strict Baptist household and attended conservative Christian Wheaton College) and is apparently what happens when the screenplay for Witness gets a horror overhaul without much thought or consideration to plot, pacing, or acting.
Deadly Blessing was released in theaters, which is surprising considering it feels a lot like a made for TV movie-of-the-week. The scares are light as a feather with dialogue right out of the 'Terrible Screenwriting 101' textbook, including gems like, "We are the kingdom of God; we have no business with the serpents!" Deadly Blessing is a movie rooted in mediocrity, a rather flaccid effort that is never scary enough nor gory enough to be a truly effective horror film. Interestingly, there is some foreshadowing of Craven's bigger hits, including a bathtub sequence straight out of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street (substituting in a snake for Freddy's razor claws). For a brief few moments we get to see where Craven's career would eventually lead him, but apparently he first had to make duds like Deadly Blessing along the way.
Ernest Borgnine -- who apparently never met a role he couldn't chew up and spit out -- was up for a Best Supporting Razzie award for his portrayal of Isaiah Schmidt, and for good reason: his overacting hits wacky highs during almost every frame of the film. Borgnine is one of those rare actors who is always fascinating to watch on screen, even when he's hitting all the wrong notes. If nothing else, at least Borgnine makes his appearance interesting, if overly bonkers. Also featured is a very young Sharon Stone who strains as hard as she can to squeeze every penny out of her acting lessons. She apparently had to put a real spider in her mouth during one scene, which must have made flashing her goods in Basic Instinct seem like child's play. Maren Jensen is the lead actress and, while certainly pretty, she doesn't really set the screen on fire (not surprising, considering Jensen would leave acting after this film). My favorite character in the film is played by cult actor Micheal Berryman (who has starred in various Craven films, including The Hills Have Eyes), who has spent his entire career playing mutant weirdos due to the rare condition hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia. Berryman plays a wacky Amish-esque son who spends most of the film condemning people to hell. I sort of wish the entire movie had focused on this character, as Berryman ended up being the most interesting person on the screen.
Deadly Blessing goes completely off the rails in the final half hour, revealing a twist ending that feels as authentic as Astroturf. In fact, I would say that of all the 'twist' endings I've seen in my life, this one might just be one of the worst (Sleepaway Camp did it a lot better). Just when you think the film can't get any more ridiculous, Craven throws in a second 'twist' ending that's even more forehead slap-worthy than the first twist, and with terrible special effects to boot. M. Night Shyamalan, eat your heart out.
Deadly Blessing seems to have a lot to say about religious affiliation -- especially laws of the church and what it means to possess blind faith -- but it's buried under the humdrum killings and Borgnine's hammy acting. The film doesn't work as a horror movie, fails miserably as any kind of parable, and is barely passable as B-cinema. Everyone in this mess -- Wes Craven, Ernest Borgnine, and Sharon Stone -- have done far better work that is worthy of your time. Deadly Blessing, unfortunately, is not.
Presented in 1.78:1/1080p high definition widescreen, this is a low budget film so the transfer doesn't look great. Although the film certainly looks better than it ever has, the image is often grainy and not very sharp. I don't want to give the impression that this is a terrible picture as much as a mediocre one. Colors are relatively sharp and the black levels are all mostly solid. Fans of the film will certainly be thrilled that Scream Factory has released it on Blu-ray. The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround in English. This audio mix works fine for the film, but it certainly won't blow away anyone's home theater system. There are a few directional effects to be found here, but it's mostly a front heavy mix. Also included on this disc is a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix in English, as well as English subtitles.
For such a relatively obscure film, Deadly Blessing certainly features its fair share of supplemental materials. Included on this disc is a commentary track by Horrorhound Magazine's Sean Clark and director Wes Craven, an all-new interview with actor Michael Berryman ("Say Your Prayers!"), an all-new interview with actress Susan Buckner ("Secrets Revealed"), an interview with creature designer John Naulin ("Rise of the Incubus"), a featurette looking at the screenplay with writers Matthew Barr and Glenn Benest ("So It Was Written"), a theatrical trailer, some TV spots, a few radio spots, and a short photo gallery from the film.
Not very deadly nor much of a blessing for movie fans. Guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Radio/TV Spots
* Photo Gallery