Deadly Blessing was Wes Craven’s third film after the brutal back-to-back onslaught that was The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes.
Unlike those two terrifying features, Craven took a very different tact with this film. Crafting a creepy, atmospheric movie full of tension, intrigue and dream-like moments. He meshed that with slasher sensibilities, perfectly predicting the career trajectory he would set himself on for the coming years concluding in his two most famous films A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream.
Revolving around the Hittites, a religiously fanatical farming community who one character describes as making “the Amish look like swingers”, Deadly Blessing opens with the murder of the son of the Hittites leader, who had already disappointed his father by leaving the community to live with his wife on a nearby piece of land.
As the widow attempts to get over her grief she is heavily hindered by the constant verbal abuse from the Hittites. They blame her for her husband’s death and brand her Incubus for taking one of their own away from them.
However, when two of her female friends come down from the city to stay and console her, things take a terrifying turn as the trio become terrorised by an unknown assailant who seems intent of terrifying and killing the women.
As fingers are pointed from all sides the females fear for their lives and their sanity, desperate to discover who or what is behind their attacks and confront it before its too late.
Blending a traditional ‘stalk and slash’ plotline with more supernatural elements as Deadly Blessing does is one of the truly successful horror formulas. This is because it keeps the audience on the edge of their seats, unsure whether what they are seeing is an unknown being from the beyond or simply a psychotic stranger playing mind games.
Craven’s skill in scares and stylistic shots are apparent even in this early work, and his deft direction propels this film above other horrors of the period along with the excellent cast who deliver great performances in roles which could have easily become clichés.
Martha – the widow unwilling to give in (Maren Jensen) centers the film, giving the audience an identifiable heroine along with her two friends played by Susan Buckner and a very young Sharon Stone in her first ever speaking role.
On the other side is Ernest Borgnine, playing Isaiah the head of the male dominated Hittites. Spouting hate and scripture in every sentence, he is the perfect foil for the feisty femmes. His animosity and belligerent blinkered belief is best shown in one shocking scene where he delivers a brutal punishment to a young boy for lying.
With a culture clash raging between the old ways and the new, there is also a very clear theme of female sexual empowerment versus patriarchal rule. This is not only displayed by the conflict between the three women and Isaiah, but also through the development of various plot lines and in some of set pieces including an extremely phallic snake in a bath scene.
Deadly Blessings main scares are to be found in the aforementioned set pieces, all of which work extremely well – especially Sharon Stone’s assault in the barn and the horrible spider sequence which will make anyone arachnophobic after watching it.
Craven’s talent and his obsessions are truly on show in Deadly Blessings. It’s a film that is not what it seems from the outset up until the ending, and is well worth watching as a slice of stylish horror slightly different to the norm.