Review: Deadly Blessing DVD

Mood wins out over blood in this forgotten Wes Craven flick

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Certificate: 15
Running Time: 98 mins
Year Made: 1981
Director: Wes Craven Screenwriter: Glenn M Benest, Matthew Barr, Wes Craven
Cast: Sharon Stone, Ernest Borgnine, Michael Berryman, Maren Jensen, Susan Buckner, Douglas Barr

Released: 14 November 2011 Price: £15.99 Number Of Discs: 1
Distributor: Arrow Video

Largely responsible for the shape of much of modern horror, Wes Craven dabbled in numerous styles and subgenres across his one-man mission to shock and startle, but with the rehabilitation of his earlier, more visceral canon through remakes (and sequels upon remakes upon reboots) of The Hills Have Eyes and Last House On The Left, along with a great cinematic hat-doffing from Rob Zombie’s recent genre exploits, it seems a crime akin to the existence Jaws 3D that one of the strongest of his early films is largely overlooked and unloved, were it not for the schlocksperts over at Arrow Films.

The framing of some of the shots, and the murderous score would be echoed to great effect in Nightmare On Elm Street three years later, and the equally overlooked 1988 ‘real’ zombie movie  The Serpent And The Rainbow. Like the latter, Deadly Blessing keeps the supernatural at arms length – as the tension between a rural, Amish-like community of Hittites and local outsiders (one being an extremely wooden and glassy eyed Sharon Stone) erupts into a spate of mysterious deaths, accusations of a diabolic presence and a blossoming romance betwee to the two factions, all the while the presence of the wild-eyed William Gluntz (played by The Hills Have Eyes‘ headlining mutant Michael Berryman), the thunderous fire and brimstone patriarch Isaiah Schmidt (Ernest Borgnine), and faintly otherworldly local girl Faith Stohler (Lisa Hartman) adding a touch the whodunnit and the constant background murmur that maybe, just maybe there is something to this ‘Incubus’ business after all…

A spiritual father in the first half to 2010’s superb The Last Exorcism (in which suspicions of the supernatural and the oppressive presence of the rural religious is at the fore), the second half is very much a slasher in terms of genre tropes, as a mysterious figure sows terror amid the cast, attacking with noose, snake and venomous spider like a psychotic Steve Irwin. Craven may have presided over far more obviously influential and relentlessly referenced flicks, but Deadly Blessing‘s foundation stones can be found shamelessly repurposed and shoring up much of modern horror. The mysterious masked killer who could be any member of the ensemble would get a celebrated second wind in Scream, and scenes would be ripped wholesale – a bathtub attack, anxiously recalled bad dreams and haunting external shots of old houses – to feed the creative furnace of A Nightmare On Elm Street.

Deadly Blessing may be a woefully underrated chiller, with great set-pieces and constantly knuckle-whitening tension, diminished only by its dreadful ending (the full on daftness of it is restored for the first time for UK audiences on this DVD), but as a bridge between the Craven’s exploitative early canon and his later mainstream successes, it has the sort of secret second life that gives hoary old horror archivist real satisfaction.