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September 20, 2013

Movie Review: Deadly Blessing (1981, Scream Factory)

Before Wes Craven went on to become one of the supreme auteurs of the horror genre with films like Nightmare on Elm Street and the Scream series, the filmmaker grabbed enough cult status to keep his name relevant with Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes. These were great films - visceral, nasty and both as unrelenting as anything produced in the 1970's.

In 1981, Craven's approach for the Amish themed thriller Deadly Blessing takes a more restrained but still includes many of his classic touches fans have been able to see in his work over the past 40 years. Scream Factory has just released the Collector's Edition of Deadly Blessing, and folks, it's pretty special because this is the first time it's ever been released on Blu-ray and DVD in the US.

Trios of woman (Sharon Stone, Lisa Hartman and Susan Bruckner) live in a farmhouse near a crazy Amish sect called the Hittites. This particular group is headed by a sadist named Isaiah Schmidt (Ernest Borgnine, Marty, The Dirty Dozen and The Wild Bunch). Schmidt barks about the existence of the Incubus, a demonic creature taking the lives of heathens going against the group or daring to leave.

Borgnine and Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes, Cut and Run) turn in the best performances in Deadly Blessing. In his role as William Gluntz, Berryman comes across as a slightly smarter version of Lenny Small from Of Mice and Men. Known best for being the snorting, grunting menace, Pluto, from The Hills Have Eyes, here Berryman actually shows some acting chops as a simple-minded, misunderstood Hittite who gets into a whole heap of trouble with the Incubus. Borgnine is a powerful presence here, which isn't a stretch for the legendary actor. He's also got a kick ass beard!

The looks of Deadly Blessing is almost that of a TV movie which coincidentally he did a few of around the early 80's. Craven really succeeds in just creeping the viewer out - not with gore or the extreme violence portrayed in some of his previous works, but with mood, a sense of dread and spiders. Yes, arachnophobes, this is movie will make your skin crawl as there are plenty of our eight-legged friends among the cast. Snakes may also slither their way into the story but I won’t go much further than that.

Scream Factory and Red Shirt Pictures join forces yet again with some excellent interviews with Creature Designer John Naulin, Susan Bruckner and Deadly Blessing writers Glenn Benest and Matthew Barr and actor Michael Berryman. The best features are without a doubt the commentary with Wes Craven and the interview segment with Michael Berryman. Berryman is an absolute gent and full of great stories. He is so far from the characters he portrays so often in movies - as he comes across intelligent and quite funny. Trailers and TV spots are also on hand for what proves to be a pretty packed disc.

This was the first time I’d gotten to see Deadly Blessing and I’m really surprised at how entertained I was. To me, Deadly Blessing is one of Craven’s top five films and certainly receives a top-notch release by Scream Factory. Fear the Incubus!

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