Wes Craven is a funny old sort. No one can deny that he has made some great horror movie’s, some of the greatest in fact: A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes, Scream, Last House On The Left, all classics, or nasty and spiteful if we talking about Last House On The Left. He’s also made some interesting, less remembered movies like Serpent And The Rainbow and The People Under The Stairs which are well worth checking out. But then he’s done some just awful nonsense like My Soul To Take, Cursed and Deadly Friend, in which a decision was made, presumably by Craven, to have an evil robot girl throw a basketball so hard at a granny it makes her head explode. Why was that a good idea? I suppose it’s still vaguely remembered by horror fans so it must have had some effect.
Deadly Blessing (not a prequel to Deadly Friend) falls into… Well I don’t know which camp it falls into. It not a forgotten horror classic, in fact for great stretches it’s not even horror, more like a farming melodrama.
Set in Ohio, it concerns a handsome looking couple, Jim and Martha Schmidt, who’ve moved back to run a farm in his home community. Unfortunately, a large section of that community are Hittites, who look and act exactly like Amish folk, but apparently aren’t. Although quite frankly, they are. Why Craven wanted to create this Amish environment with its child beatings and big beards but then change its name is beyond me. I presume he didn’t want to offend the Amish, but then none of them go to the cinema so come on Wes, offend away, they’ll never know. Anyway, the Amish have a particular hatred towards Jim because he was one of them but decided to run away to the big city and marry Martha, not so much a sweet Amish girl as a Littlewoods catalogue model. So Jim’s family has disowned him, fine, we’ve all been disowned by our family at some point (haven’t we?), but why rub their noses in it by moving back next door to where they are and start up your sinning ways right in front of their eyes. Have some respect Jim Schmidt.
Anyway, none of this matters much because Jim is soon murdered in his barn and Martha is left all alone trying to work out who killed her husband. Actually she doesn’t do that at all. Instead, she in its her two best mates down to stay for a while and all three of them sit around drinking and flirting with Amish boys like their in a proto Sex and the City. They wear lots of glamorous silky outfits and far too much well-applied make up. It’s like Charlie’s Angels in the country but instead of Bodley they have Ernest Borgnine shouting at them with a pitch fork.
A very young Sharon Stone makes up one of our trio and I’d like to say you can see a star in the making, but she’s given little to do except slouch about drinking, then, after swallowing a spider and seeing something dark/badly lit in the barn, slouch about crying. She does look great in silk though.
The aforementioned Ernest Borgnine is the best of the bunch acting-wise, or let’s face it, just any-wise. He plays the leader of the Amish community, and while there is no denying that he is required to do a fair amount of beating and shouting about sinners, he doesn’t totally go overboard, managing to give his fairly thinly written character a bit of depth and understanding by underpaying certain bits when he could have quite easily have eaten scenery. I looked it up and he was nominated as worst supporting actor at the Razzies for this, which says all you need to know about the Razzies.
Anyway, as you might have noticed I’ve not talked much about the scares in Deadly Blessing. Well that’s because for long, long stretches of the film there aren’t any. I mean it’s great that we have some character development. One of Martha’s mates starts a relationship with Jim’s Amish brother, but that takes up a lot of screen time and ends up (SPOILER) in fiery death for both involved, and seems like a waste of time. It takes forever to get to the good stuff. I have to admit I fell asleep somewhere round the middle mark and had to go back on myself to see what I’d missed. I’d missed nothing.
It does pick up towards the end, there’s a whole subplot about the mother and daughter who live next door which somehow becomes the focus at the climax. And the killer is meant to be an Incubus, according to the Amish and they believe it is disguised as Martha, which is odd because that’s a male demon which likes to have sex with women, so if they’d have done any research they’d know they were talking out of their self righteous arses.
Anyway, there’s very little demon-based action until right at the very end, and that’s just stupid in the same way Nancy’s mum being yanked through the window at the end of the very first Elm Street movie is stupid. In fact there are a few moments that remind you of Freddy Krueger’s first outing. There’s a bit where Sharon Stone is having a nightmare and hands come out of the wall behind her which ain’t dissimilar to the stretch Freddy in the wallpaper scene, and a snake in the bath bit which, shot for shot, is almost identical to the bit where the razor glove comes out of the bathwater.
There’s also a harking back to earlier Craven as lumbering giant Michael Berryman from The Hills Have Eyes pops up for a bit as an Amish simpleton before being stabbed to death. Poor Michael Berryman, he looks like such a sweet guy, big fella with a gentle voice, such a shame he only gets cast as cannibals or, here, a voyeur and potential rapist.
Anyway, look, there’s not a lot to see here, the setting is different and there are some interesting bits here and there, but there are also great stretches of nothing like the Ohio sky. No one explains why the film is called Deadly Blessing, not even a “well it’s a blessing to live out here in the country but since all these here murders, you could say it’s a deadly blessing”. It’s good to see Borgnine, Berryman and young Stone certainly, but this is definitely one of Wes Craven’s lesser outings. Not as rubbish as the following year’s Swamp Thing but then even that had Adrienne Barbeau and a funny rubber suit. And maybe that’s the thing with Craven’s roster of movies, they all have something of interest, Deadly Friend has the basketball, Cursed has Christina Ricci, and My Soul to Take has… er… okay, I’ve got nothing.