Arrow Video continues their quest to unearth respected, semi-forgotten genre works and give them a loving home on DVD and Blu-ray with Wes Craven’s 1981 religious horror-drama, Deadly Blessing. A young farmer, excommunicated from his family who are involved in an archaic, fire and brimstone religious sect called ‘the Hittites’ (who, according to one character, “make the Amish look like swingers”), lives a peaceful existence with his beautiful wife Martha (Maren Jensen), near to his estranged clan. However, their marital bliss is shattered one night when Martha’s husband is mysteriously crushed by his own tractor.
All alone on her property, Martha’s two best friends Lana (Sharon Stone) and Vicky (Susan Buckner) pay a visit to offer their support and decide to stick around to help with the healing process. Naturally, Martha believes the Hittites are behind her husband’s death, particularly his incensed father (the late Ernest Borgnine) who accuses his daughter-in-law of being an incubus (surely he means succubus, the female equivalent?). It isn’t long before one of the Hittites’ own is murdered, and doubt is cast as to who (or what) is actually behind the crimes.
Deadly Blessing is a Craven work which rarely gets in look-in. It was made almost a decade after his infamous 1972 debut, The Last House on the Left, and three years before Freddy Krueger was unleashed into popular culture. On the whole, the film is a relatively restrained affair from a director not exactly renowned for his subtlety. Like the first half of his 1977 mutant cannibal survivalist yarn The Hills Have Eyes, there’s more of a reliance on suspense here, and the gore quota is almost zero. In fact, aside from an unnecessary, fleeting splash of 80s-style nudity, this looks like a creepy TV movie.
Acting-wise, Stone shows little promise in one of her early roles. Borgnine, however, is perfectly cast, playing the Fred Phelps-like patriarch with a demented glee as he exerts an iron grip on the community and spouts some wonderful religious-themed verbal smack-downs (“you are the stench in the nostrils of God”). Frustratingly, Deadly Blessing tacks on an overtly fantasy reveal, completely betraying the subdued material which has come before. Those last few minutes aside, this is a fun little shocker, made with some thoughtfully-staged scares and a craftsmanship absent from much of Craven’s recent efforts.