Deadly Blessing (1981)

Director: Wes Craven

Starring: Maren Jensen, Sharon Stone, Ernest Borgnine, Michael Berryman

“If thine eye offends thee, pluck it out. If thine own hand offends thee… then in God’s name, cut it off.” (Isaiah, Deadly Blessing)

There’s an interesting story told by screenwriter Glenn Benest in Arrow Video’s upcoming DVD release of Deadly Blessing (this review is based on a review copy of said DVD). The story goes that a young Sharon Stone, in her first big role, had just come from a modelling career and had no idea how to act or what to do.

Like a deer in headlights, Stone kept asking director Wes Craven for guidance and help her with her acting. The cast and crewmembers looked at each other and Craven explained that he didn’t do that sort of thing, he was more about setting up shots and the like. “GOD DAMN IT,” Stone then screamed at the top of her voice, “WOULD YOU DIRECT ME?”

Sharon Stone demanded this spider have its teeth removed before agreeing to do the scene. Seriously

In a way it’s a shame that Craven politely declined and had a quiet word with Stone rather than giving her the advice she seeked, because she’s clearly the weakest performer by far in what is an otherwise effective little film.

Deadly Blessing focuses on Martha Schmidt (Battlestar Galactica‘s Maren Jensen), a headstrong city girl married to Jim, a country boy who used to be a member of the Hittites. The Hittites are a strict religious community (much like the Amish) who feel technology is the work of the devil and constantly warn of the coming of the demonic Incubus. Jim had married Martha to get away from his cultish peers, and they’re not happy with him.

Ernest Borgnine is excellent as the head of the Hittite community

After a mysterious accident kills Jim, Martha tries to get to the bottom of things with the help of her city friends Lana (Stone) and Vicky, who come to stay with her as she mourns. As more people die and Martha and her friends are continually harassed it becomes clear that there may be a killer in the midst of the Hittites.

Many of the key scenes in Deadly Blessing feel like rough drafts of similar scenes in Craven’s later film A Nightmare On Elm Street. Sharon Stone’s character, for example, has a recurring dream about a menacing figure and the scene in which she tells her friends about it is very similar to that in A Nightmare On Elm Street where Nancy and Tina discuss their dreams about Freddy.

Check out the review of A Nightmare On Elm Street on this site to see how Craven re-used this shot

Perhaps the most obvious similarity however is the scene in which Martha takes a bath and is attacked by a snake, who comes out of the water between her legs in a shot that is replicated almost identically using Freddy’s glove in A Nightmare On Elm Street.

The film is a little slow-paced and while there are a few memorable moments (like the aforementioned snake in the bath and a scene involving a spider and an open mouth) there’s a whole lot of nothing going on for large parts of the movie. Despite this, it never really feels boring because these moments are timed to appear just as interest begins to lag.

Michael Berryman was also in Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes

All seems fine with Deadly Blessing and it seems fairly straightforward until the film’s last three minutes. First of all the story is resolved in a bizarre manner that fans of Sleepaway Camp will find familiar, and then there’s a ridiculous shock ending that was actually removed from the film when it was first released in the UK because the studio was concerned it’d confuse viewers.

Not only is this mental ending reinstated for the upcoming DVD, it’s also addressed in the aforementioned interview with the screenwriter in which he confesses he didn’t write that scene and was shocked when he saw it in the cinema, noting that it was clearly added to give the film a ‘Carrie‘ ending to end it on a final scare.

Deadly Blessing has separated critics but I enjoyed it. It’s not action-packed by any means but it’s an interesting film that ends with a clever little twist followed by a fucking ridiculous second one.

WHERE CAN I BUY IT?
Arrow Video is releasing Deadly Blessing on DVD in the UK on 14 November. It’s got an interesting 15-minute chat with the screenwriter and a half-hour interview with actor Michael Berryman who discusses the Wes Craven films he’s starred in and then goes on to completely slate the Hills Have Eyes remakes. And, of course, the film itself now has that bizarre twist ending reinstated. You can pre-order it from Amazon for £8.99 by clicking here.

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