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.