Hey remember that Wes Craven film with Sharon Stone and Ernest Borgnine? Nup, me neither. The year was 1981 and Craven had already directed two horror classics, Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes. Though he was still three years away from A Nightmare on Elm Street. So with a young Sharon Stone, an aging Ernest Borgnine, Battlestar Galactica actress Maren Jensen and a suitably creepy Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes), he headed off, well, down to the farm.
Deadly Blessings is a strange potpourri of horror genres woven together into an at times baffling eccentric amalgamation. It’s hard to know what it wants to be, or even what it thinks it is. There are elements of a supernatural thriller, slasher film, and ‘fear of the other’ religious horror all tied together with a peculiar made for TV feel.
Set in rural farmland somewhere in Texas, a fanatical Amish style religious cult the Hittites, led by an unforgiving Ernest Borgnine boasting a truly remarkable beard, lives uneasily alongside a former cult member Douglas Barr and his new wife Jensen. By the time Barr perishes in a mysterious tractor incident, we’ve seen all manner of odd incidents, with the sexually repressed Hittites in thrall of their attractive neighbour.
“Beware of the Incubus,” screams Borgnine repeatedly throughout Deadly Blessing, chastising his followers for gawking at the newly widowed Jensen and her two scantily clad city friends, who come to support her during her time of need. One in particular, played by Sharon Stone descends into an hysterical near delusional state, with one of the most iconic scenes from the film involving a spider dropping into her open mouth. The other friend meanwhile, Susan Buckner offers little support to Jensen, instead trying to seduce a young Hittite. It’s bizarre, slightly confusing and a little uneven. Throw in some decidedly oddball neighbours and things are pretty weird down on the farm. And the final ten minutes or so as Craven tries desperately to tie together the plot are admirably demented. It just keeps escalating.
Ultimately though it’s not the narrative that Deadly Blessing will be remembered for. It’s the set pieces, like the aforementioned spider and a pretty special snake in the bath scene. It’s these kinds of flourishes that Craven would ultimately use to great effect with the Nightmare on Elm Street films. Here on Deadly Blessing, he’s testing things out, moving on from the grim bleakness of his earlier films into a more commercially orientated realm. The at times nonsensical plot diversions and bizarre characters are just a bonus.