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Deadly Blessing

***
1981

‘…this is lurid stuff, and probably all the better for the fetid, no-holds-barred atmosphere….’

Wes Craven’s 1981 shocker seems to have a poor reputation; it’s languishing on a lowly rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and that was enough to raise this critic’s hackles and suggest a re-watch. Craven had made a name with nasty stuff like The Last House on the Left, and was about to mine the commercial route that led to Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream. But even if this is a transitional work, it’s got some effective ideas and set-pieces that are required watching for genre fans.

There’s a touch of The Wicker Man about the set up; after the death of workhorse Jim Schmidt, his wife Maratha (Maren Jensen) is left to tend the family farm. Jim was previously a Hittite, and members of his old religion are hanging around, warning of an ‘incubus’ that they believe threatens the community. Martha’s friends Lana (yes, it’s Sharon Stone) and Vicky (Susan Buckner) arrive to provide some moral support, but Hittite leader Isaiah (Ernest Borgnine in a fake beard) has the upper hand as her attempts to terrorise them into giving up their land. The enforcer is Willian Gluntz (The Hills Have Eyes’ Michael Berryman), who soon comes to a sticky end, but are there really dark forces at work here?

The final scenes make it clear that this IS a supernatural story, but Craven plays a long game, maintaining credibility and tension and keeping most of the shocks for dream sequences, one that involves a spider which is very alarming. In fact, there’s lots of farmyard action, with snakes, chickens and all kind of critters to navigate, as well as a copious nudity; this is lurid stuff, and probably all the better for the fetid, no-holds-barred atmosphere.

While hardly a great advert for the state of Texas, and Borgnine going somewhat OTT in his tub-thumping role, Deadly Blessing is an underrated film to be sure, with lines drawn on religious belief (or not) and some weight given to the views of all sides. But there’s no reboots, remakes or anything for Deadly Blessing, and that’s a shame; the concept could work for an Ozark-style streaming series, and the brooding vibe has a timeless quality that puts it above most 80’s horror. And if nothing else, its fresh presence on imdbtv is reason enough to remind you that after fifty years in the biz, Borgnine used his own personal motto as the title of his autobiography; I Don’t Want To Set the World on Fire, I Just Want to Keep My Nuts Warm.

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  1. Vaguely recall watching this eons ago…the Hitittes, I suspect, are really the Hutterites, a 1500s Anabaptist German sect/cult similar to Amish. Many of them fled to America. It almost reminds me of early Travolta film Devil’s Rain without the lovely lingere. Yes, I see traces of Wicker Man also. At least Wes got the title right, blessings are deadly as it originates (per occult & biblical scholars) with blood sacrifice.

    • An informed comment as always! Good to know the old nature of blessings! This isn’t quite as mad as The Devil’s Rain, but by fictionalising the Hutterites, Craven presumably didn’t want to go as far over the top as Borgnine!

    • I don’t know about occultic, but Biblically, blessings were death bed prophecies about your progeny (see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’s blessings). Definitely wasn’t all flowers and unicorns but nothing like what was in this movie…

  2. You have my curiosity and attention.. and the award for bonkers casting for this week. Easily beats my entry of just watched Linda Evans and Michael Nader with Buster Keaton in a Beach Party movie.. review out son if you keen to learn more.

  3. Another film that Sharon Stone would like wiped from her CV. Although possibly preferable to Police Academy 4. Are the Hittites related to the Mennonites? Or the Carmelites? Remember thinking this was great ghoulish fun back in the day by which time Borgnine was usually OTT but the ending was cleverly done and except for trailers and ads you could have easily been misled about the demonic elements.

    • Actually, Shazza is fine in this one. See the comments for the debate about what group Craven was slandering, but we can all agree that this is a tight, effective little chiller. So you’re no fan of Police Academy 4?

  4. So, the Hittites escaped Israel, emigrated to England and then came over to America on the Mayflower, where they became the Amish?

    Given, mean, vicious and murdering amish but amish nonetheless. I wonder if Craven had a bad experience with a horse and buggy or something…

    • I’m not enough of an expert to understand the different mindsets, but certainly Craven doesn’t paint the Hittites with a very sympathetic brish. Although the ending indicates that their suspicions are indeed correct…

      • Well, the Hittites were one of the groups that the Israelites were commanded to wipe out when they came into Canaan from Egypt. They were as evil as evil could be.
        It’s just funny because they look like Amish, which are as different from that as is possible. Pacifists to the core and principled as a group. Kind of like quakers.

          • Hahahahaa.
            Oh man, I remember when that song came out. I was in the middle of Amish country in Pennsylvania, so it was a big deal.

            As for the hittites, the ones the Israelites didn’t get, the Assyrians and Babylonians would have gotten much later. So say what you want about them, ain’t nobody to argue back 🙂

            • Which makes them an ideal name for the purposes of a horror; no defamation risk.

              How was the song received?

              • They don’t listen to radio, so while the younger generation heard it through their “english” (ie, non-amish) friends, the elders didn’t. And it was a point of pride for them.
                And everyone knew what they were really like so we just laughed at the points that were correct and went on our way 😀

        • My guess is they wanted to say Hutterites but didn’t want to smear an identifiable group (for obvious reasons) so they went with Hittites.

          • A quick bit of googling suggests this might well be the case…I wouldn’t call this a sympathetic portrayal in the way that Witness does with the Amish,…

          • But who knows who the Hutterites are today? I mean, most people barely know what the Amish are, and they are way bigger a group than the Hutterites (I think).
            It would explain why they look like the Amish though 😀

    • Yup, just watched Elm Street, and there’s a few tricks that Craven tries out here that he reprised to greater effect later. The spider scene freaked me out back in the day, and still does, but there’s a few good scares in this…

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