Deadly Blessing (1981)
“Pray you’re not blessed”
Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Maren Jensen, Sharon Stone, Susan Buckner
Synopsis: This film is set in Amish Country, at a local farm, where a woman’s husband is mysteriously killed by his own tractor!
This early(ish) horror movie from Wes Craven could have been a bona-fide classic had the writing been a little clearer with regard to some character motives, because Deadly Blessing has a nice, creepy atmosphere and an unusual storyline in which modern values clash with perhaps outdated religious ones in the American Midwest. Craven and his fellow writers at least have to be applauded for (just about) plausibly manipulating three hot chicks into a remote farmhouse where they can be menaced by nature and evil, and spied upon while naked by inbred country folk.
Model Maren Jensen, whose last film this would be, plays Martha, an unusually beautilicious farmer‘s wife, married to the hunky Tom (Jonathan Gulla), who was once a member of the neighbouring Hittite community, a religious group closely based on the Amish community. The Hittite men wear black suits and hats and have beards without moustaches, while their women wear modest dresses that cover everything from neck to ankle. The Hittites also reject modern mechanical items, and Tom’s zealous father, Isaiah (Ernest Borgnine) is so incensed by his son’s use of farm machinery that he forbids his younger son, John (Jeff East) from having anything to do with his older brother. Another neighbour who has problems getting along with the Hittites is young Faith (Lisa Hartman) whose talent for art offends local Hittite weirdo William Gluntz (Michael Berryman), and her mother (Lois Nettleton), who is strangely flirtatious around Tom despite being a self-professed misandrist.
One fateful night, Tom sees a light on in the barn and when he investigates find the word Incubus scrawled on the wall in red paint. As he’s painting over the word he’s crushed by his own tractor in a scene shot through a red filter. There are plenty of suspects, even though his death is seen as a tragic accident: Isaiah and William both have their reasons, for a start. Anyway, nobody is charged and Martha angrily rejects Isaiah’s offer to buy the farm from her, deciding instead to maintain the place herself — because everyone knows just how easy it is to run a farm without any help. Luckily for her, two friends from the city have arrived to offer her their support — although not their manual labour. Lana (Sharon Stone) and Vicky (Susan Buckner) are on a mission to cheer their friend up, because all a grieving widow with a farm to runs needs is a couple of city girls lounging around the place, shrieking at spiders and inflaming the ultra-religious neighbours.
One of those unable to resist the siren call of modern city girls is William, who pays the price of peering through a window of the Schmidt widow’s house to watch her slip out of her clothing when an unknown assailant stabs him in the back. Lana, who really didn’t put much though into her suitability for life in the country, gets freaked out in the barn in which Tom died when all the shutters unaccountably close on their own leaving her in darkness with all those creepy-crawlies you find in the countryside. Naturally, she freaks out so it’s probably something of a relief when the episode comes to an end with her encountering the body of William swinging from a beam. Meanwhile, Vicky starts getting close to John Schmidt, a relationship which disturbs Isaiah, who is becoming increasingly obsessed with the idea that an incubus is stalking the countryside.
Although Deadly Blessing could technically be described as a stalk-and-slash horror flick, it’s actually pretty restrained for that sub-genre, although it’s noticeable that all those who die have been, or are about to, participate in sex or, in the case of poor freaky-looking William, entertaining thoughts about it, which is, in a cockeyed way, in keeping with the theme of an incubus orchestrating many of the creepy incidents taking place around the Schmidt homestead. The deaths aren’t particularly gory, and Craven seems more interested in exploring the tensions between the two communities in the midst of a demonic possession of sexual persuasion than simply rolling out a gory set-piece every ten minutes.
It’s also refreshing to find a movie of this nature which doesn’t revolve around sex-starved teenagers. Of the three female leads, it’s perhaps inevitable that a delicious-looking pre-stardom Sharon Stone makes the biggest impression, while Jensen is just a little too bland for her role. And of course it’s always good to see Michael Berryman; the guy has a face that was made for horror movies, and his unique features make any movie he appears in memorable. On the negative side, however, Deadly Blessing’s rather muddled storyline means it might need a couple of viewings to fully understand — which is a commitment most viewers probably won’t be willing to make.
(Reviewed 15th September 2013)