Deadly Blessing Review

I’ve always had a soft spot for Wes Craven. The first horror film I saw was Scream, I wrote about him in college and I have a tradition of watching his films on Halloween. Over the years I’ve seen a lot of his work and, despite one or two duds (cough My Soul to Take cough), loved them all. There’s still a few I’ve yet to watch and, until recently, one of them was Deadly Blessing.

Made in 1981, Deadly Blessing is one of Wes Craven’s early films and probably one of his least known. It’s a weird little film to watch, mainly because you can see were he started to play around with some of his later themes like nightmares. It’s also fun to note that this is Sharon Stone’s first speaking role in a film, but we’ll get to that later. This release by Arrow Video is unique in that it features the ending that wasn’t shown in cinema for fear it’d confuse the audience. Having seen this ending now, I’m inclined to agree with them: it is confusing.

With the backdrop of rural America the plot is relatively easy to follow. After Martha’s husband dies in a mysterious tractor accident, she finds herself shunned by his fanatical Amish-like family who believe she is the tool of Satan. To keep her company, her two friends Vicky and Lana (Sharon Stone) join her on the farm. Queue plenty of spider related visuals, close encounters with snakes and barn based antics. Followed closely by an end that is both surprising and extremely confusing.

That is the best description I can give as I’m still not sure what really went on. Not because the plot was deep and complex, but because the film doesn’t seem to really try and explain what the hell is going on. This is apparent in the random directions the film seems to take. One moment it’s occult horror with spooky dream sequences, the next is a slasher film before going back to occult horror.

Despite the lack of direction it’s fun to see some early examples of Wes Craven playing around with the idea of nightmares. One chilling scene featuring a snake scaring Martha in the bath is an almost early draft of the bath scene in Nightmare on Elm Street. In fact, one shot from between Martha’s legs of the snake coming out of the water is identical to a shot in Nightmare on Elm Street.

The film has a great atmosphere. James Horner’s chilling score coupled with the rural, sparse locations add a great atmosphere of suspense and tension. The acting is really good and adds to the tension, especially Maren Jensen’s Martha and Michael Berryman’s William. The one exception is Sharon Stone who, for all intents and purposes, is atrocious. She permanently looks like a deer in headlights and over acts everything. According to an interview with screenwriter Glenn Benest, young Sharon Stone stood on set and requested a little guidance on her acting. Wes Craven explained he didn’t do that, but maybe if he had then her performance wouldn’t have been so bad.

Overall the film isn’t anything special, a nice little insight into Craven’s earlier work and a chance to see Sharon Stone balls up her role. The atmosphere is well paced and, despite the lack of direction and the confusing ending, the story is entertaining enough with some memorable deaths. An enjoyable watch for the fans.

The DVD features the usual extras with an introduction by Michael Berryman as well as a documentary about his career in horror. The interview with Glenn Benest is a nice touch, especially since it details some behind the scenes stories and gives some background to the more confusing aspects of the film such as the ending, as well as provides a reason for Sharon Stone’s acting.

All in all, a good film. Enjoyable to watch but not the easiest to watch.

Michael Wharton

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