The Godsend (1980) review

The Godsend posterDirector: Gabrielle Beaumont

Starring: Malcolm Stoddard, Cyd Hayman, Angela Pleasence, Wilhelmina Green

“Do you know what a cuckoo does? It lays its egg in another bird’s nest. And do you know what the fledgling does? It pushes the others out, one after the other, until it has the complete attention of the parents. That’s Bonnie. Bonnie must go.” (Alan, The Godsend)

You can tell a film is iconic when it spawns its own brood of knock-offs. Take Night Of The Living Dead and the way every zombie film that followed had shambling, moaning monsters just like Romero’s, for example.

Another shining example is The Omen, the success of which saw a subsequent sharp increase in the number of films about spooky religious kids: Bless The Child, Children Of The Corn, even its own sequel, Damien: Omen II.

The Godsend is one of these offshoots, going so far as to go right down the ‘British couple inherits child that isn’t theirs’ route. And you know, it isn’t absolutely terrible, even though it’s about as original as a Harlem Shake video.

Alan Marlowe and his wife Kate seem to be living the perfect life, with four children – the newest only recently born – and a large house in the countryside.

However, things take a turn for the tits-up when they head to a meadow for a picnic and encounter a heavily pregnant woman while they’re there.

"Are you sure it isn't just a massive shite you're needing, missus?"
“Are you sure you’re pregnant? You’re sure it isn’t just a massive shite you’re needing?”

Inviting her back to the their home, the couple start to get a little creeped out by the woman (played by Donald Pleasence’s daughter Angela), but as she goes to leave she starts to have her baby.

After popping out her sprog, she leaves in the middle of the night, leaving her newborn daughter behind and forcing the Marlowe family to raise her like one of their own.

What Alan and Kate don’t realise, however, is that the new baby – who they name Bonnie – is a bit of a prick.

The warning signs are there early on when they put Bonnie and their own newborn into the same crib. When they check in on the babies later their own has mysteriously died.

As the years progress, the rest of their children begin to die, one by one, in odd circumstances. Are these all unfortunate accidents, or could Bonnie be behind them?

She couldn't possibly be involved. She's so innocent looki- oh, that's interesting. My eyes appear to be melting off
She couldn’t possibly be involved. She’s so innocent looki- oh, that’s interesting. My eyes appear to be melting completely off

Of course she is, and the film makes no attempts to keep this a secret from us, continually showing her scowling at her siblings and smiling when they peg it.

Eventually Alan realises what’s going on and vows to get rid of Bonnie, but Kate isn’t having any of it. Can Alan prove to his wife that Bonnie’s a bawbag before she bumps off all his biological bairns? Little bit of alliteration there: you’re welcome.

The Godsend is interesting enough to keep you involved for its 80-minute duration but in no way does it come close to matching the drama and tension of other films of its ilk, such as its most obvious inspiration The Omen.

Whereas all the deaths in The Omen were memorably graphic and shocking, here – perhaps because the deaths of children is more taboo – each demise takes place off-camera, meaning we only ever see Alan discovering his kids’ lifeless bodies.

Odder than that is his reaction to these discoveries. I’m sure Malcolm Stoddard (Alan) was going for “shocked and dumbfounded” but instead he comes across more as “couldn’t give an eighth of a monkey’s fuck”.

Pleasence you cow, what have you done to this not-very-believable family?
Pleasence you cow, what have you done to this not-very-believable family?

Cyd Hayman, who plays Kate, is similarly unconvincing. Immediately after each body is discovered the film moves on to the next day or so, by which point Kate has calmed down a little, meaning we never actually see her raw emotions as she reacts to the deaths.

Only at one point in the movie does she properly break down, but it just doesn’t feel like enough given all the heartbreak she goes through.

I should make it clear that I’m not the sort of person who enjoys seeing women being hysterically upset. I’m just saying if you’re going to have a film in which three of the protagonists’ children are killed, it’s unnerving if their response is to look as if they forgot to pick up spinach at the shop on the way home.

Ultimately, The Godsend is a film that will keep you entertained but won’t do more than that. It won’t have you trying to figure out a mystery: it’s made pretty clear early on that Bonnie’s evil, and all you have to do is sit back and wait for her thick-as-fuck adoptive parents to figure that out.

"Spoilers - I'm a knob"
“Spoilers – I’m a knob”

It won’t have you shaking in fear (all the deaths happen off-screen and are as tense as a five-foot rope over a three-foot drop) and it won’t have you crying your eyes out (if the parents don’t look remotely bothered, why should we)?

But it’s watchable, and at the end of the day isn’t that what all filmmakers should strive for? No, not really, but whatever.

The only real ‘Godsend’ here was The Omen, because it gifted MGM with the chance to shite out this passable but completely by-the-numbers knockoff.

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HOW CAN I SEE IT?
Despite not being terrible, the only way to get hold of The Godsend is to get Scream Factory’s US DVD box set entitled All Night Horror Marathon. This contains The Godsend, The Vagrant, The Outing and What’s The Matter With Helen? UK readers can import it here, and here’s the US link.

Alternatively, there was a novel released before the film came out. It’s long out of print but you can usually find a cheap second-hand paperback here.

SHOW ME A CLIP, PREFERABLY IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE AS IF THAT WAS THE ONLY CLIP YOU COULD FIND ONLINE:

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