Friday, October 19, 2012

Deadly Blessing (1981)

The Hittites are what most people believe the Amish to be. A religiously crazed society that shuns off the outside world. The idea of technology frightens them. They accuse those who don’t follow in their path as worshipers of Satan (or the Incubus, as stated numerous times throughout this film). In reality, the Amish are kind and gentle folk who work hard and are polite to others. It’s true they don’t use technology, but they don’t necessarily view it as the devil’s work. To them, it’s an advancement they don’t need in their lives, nor do they want it to consume it.

While it’s easy to look at the depiction of the Hittites in “Deadly Blessing” and see mockery, it’s not quite that. If Wes Craven’s intention was to slander the Amish, he wouldn’t have made up his own religious cult to center the film around. He actually sticks up for the Amish when he has one of the characters state, “The Hittites make the Amish look like swingers!” Not a robust defense, but it’s sufficient.

There’s no sin of pretense present in “Deadly Blessing”. The only cardinal sin being committed is monotony. The film’s pace moves slower than a snail and it suffers heavily from an identity crisis. It’s marketed as a thriller, but plays more like a drama a good seventy-five percent of the time. The horrific elements Craven lines up seem shoehorned in. It’s as if he originally intended to make a drama about different cultures colliding and the producers wanted him to crank out another horror film. Therefore, he shoved a bunch of scares and murders in to appease them.

The film starts out seemingly as a drama. John (Jeff East) and Martha Schmidt (Maren Jensen) are a happily married couple living in the countryside. He’s a natural farmer, as he was raised by Isaiah (Ernest Borgnine), a strict Hittite who shuns the outside world. He shuns his son as well when he goes off to college and comes back with Martha. Having already inherited the house, the couple stays there and farm as a way of standing their ground.

One night in his shed, John is run over by his tractor. It’s clear this isn’t the work of the paranormal and that of homicide. It’s written off as an accident, but it’s quite hard to run yourself over with a tractor if you’re not driving it. All fingers point towards William Gluntz (Michael Berryman), a slow Hittite who causes trouble wherever he goes. He’s shortly disposed of, leaving the killer a mystery.

This would work as a thriller if Craven didn’t constantly forget about the killer. There are long stretches where we get the obligatory culture clashes between Martha and the Hittites. Her neighbors are the only two around her that aren’t Hittite and help fend them off. Her two best friends, Lana Marcus (Sharon Stone) and Vicky Anderson (Susan Buckner), arrive to help her cope with her loss and clash with the Hittites, as well.

I won’t spoil the extremely lame twist, but I will state it doesn’t make much sense. Even with the little development the killer angle had, one would assume it would have to do with the Hittites. After all, their beliefs and hostility towards Martha is heavily established. As you can probably tell, such is not quite the case.

The performances do help in attracting some attention to the film. Maren Jensen handles herself well in the female protagonist role. I was quite impressed with her shock in finding her husband dead. It was a believable response that actually touched me. Ernest Borgnine turns in a splendid performance as the wicked Isaiah. He was the only one who could channel both the drama and horror elements of the story at once. Sharon Stone, in one of her earliest roles, is adequate as Lana (and man, was she gorgeous). Michael Berryman has fun hamming it up in his brief appearance.

The only other thing worthy of note is a scene that would be played out once again by Craven a few years later in “A Nightmare on Elm Street”. One of the most iconic scenes from that film is of Freddy’s hand rising out of the bathtub which Nancy is bathing in. Here, Martha is bathing in a tub when the killer sneaks in and tosses a snake in. In almost the same angle and shot, the snake slowly rises out of the water and stares her in the face. The only difference here is she notices it and we get a brief showdown.

Other than that, “Deadly Blessing” is a forgettable bore! The pacing is slow, the tone is all over the place and the film is simply boring. The countryside setting is never used to it’s full advantage and, as the end result shows, the Hittites weren’t used to their full potential. It was a novel idea, but a bland execution. One of Craven’s weakest films!

MVT: Ernest Borgnine would be the only reason I’d ever recommend checking this out. He turns in a strong performance as Isaiah!

Make or Break: I’m going with the long stretch of time between John and William’s death and the next attack. That part plays out like a drama which is where the tone of the film was broken.

Final Score: 3.75/10

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