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December 11, 2011

Movie Review: Deadly Blessing (1981)

Directed by Wes Craven

Reviewed by Greg Goodsell

After Martha (Maren Jensen) movies with her husband John (Jeff East) to live at his country estate, the couple gets a chilling reception from the nearby Amish-like sect the Hittites. Her husband has been cast out from the sect, and his unforgiving father and sect leader Isaiah (Ernest Borgnine) refers to Martha as an “incubus.”

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Investigating a noise in the barn, John is killed after an unseen hand turns on his tractor, crushing him. His death written off as a freak accident, Martha’s longtime gal pals Vicky (Susan Buckner) and Lana (a young Sharon Stone) arrive at the country home to show their support. The girls all chip in to do their part by wearing as little as possible in order to inflame all the nearby Hittite men. The women’s only nearby friends are Louisa (Lois Nettleton) and her quirky daughter Faith (Lisa Hartman) who hate the Hittites as much as they do – but for different reasons.

The rustic country home is soon under siege. Snakes are slipped into bathtubs, make-out sessions in cars are violently interrupted and human blood is left in a milk carton as a warning. Our heroines learn far too late that who they consider friendly definitely aren’t, and the supposed big shock conclusion was used far more effectively in Sleepaway Camp (1983). A last-minute jack-in-the-box monster comes bursting through the floorboards to send the kiddies’ home thinking they got their money’s worth.

The Amish (and they are Amish; Hittites my ass!) as depicted in this second-string Wes Craven effort are far, far from the cheerful go-getters as seen in Witness (1985). Parochial, intolerant, physically abusive to small children, these shady brethren generate a sinister threat whenever they appear onscreen. One of the more remarkable things about Deadly Blessing is the fact that after everything is said and done, the baleful Hittites are proven to have been absolutely right all along!

It’s obvious that Craven was gearing up for his nocturnal nemesis Freddie Kruger in his defining A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) in this film. Blessing’s most notorious image, recreated on the film’s poster, is of a spider descending into Sharon Stone’s mouth is shown to have been a bad dream. Way back in 1972, Craven also used a “dental surgery” nightmare segment in Last House on the Left to goose things along. Is it safe to say that Craven has an oral fixation?

Deadly Blessing is solid entertainment with gorgeous cinematography benefitting from the authentic Texas and Ohio locales. It also features a fresh-from-the-vine Sharon Stone headed for bigger and better things, so what are you waiting for?

TRIVIA NOTE: At one point, a character hitches a ride into town where a theater marquee reads Summer of Fear, the overseas title of one of Craven’s made-for-TV thrillers, Stranger in Our House (1978).

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