The word “professorial” gets thrown around a lot in reference to Wes Craven, the horror specialist responsible for Last House On The Left, The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare On Elm Street, and Scream. It comes up in an interview with the writers of his 1981 curio Deadly Blessing—just released in a perversely souped-up special edition—and it’s clear enough from a commentary track that lays out his thought process with quiet articulateness. While it’s absurd to imagine a horror director as a madman foaming at the mouth, it’s fair to say that Craven has always maintained a complicated relationship between the gory and prurient aspects of genre filmmaking and his deeper rationale for indulging in it. And so it goes with Deadly Blessing, one of the sillier efforts of his career, a hysterical tale of fanatical Amish that tries to double as a portrait of the insularity and fervor of the deeply religious and a leering slasher about three beautiful woman stranded in the sticks in their negligees.
Lest the Amish rise up in protest against a movie they’re not allowed to see anyway, Deadly Blessing focuses on a cult called the “Hittites,” who one character claims are so forbidding they “make the Amish look like swingers.” Battlestar Galactica’s Maren Jensen, in her final role before a premature retirement, stars as the wife of a former Hittite, now living happily on a farm adjacent to church property. When her husband dies in a dubious accident, Jensen resolves to stay in her home, but happily accepts the comfort of her two visiting friends, played by Susan Buckner and Sharon Stone, in her first sizable film role. But the women are harassed (and worse) by cult leader Ernest Borgnine and his minions, who believe that Jensen is “the Incubus” and must be destroyed.
Borgnine earned a “Worst Supporting Actor” nomination from the Razzies, but the honor underlines one of the problems with the Razzies: His cartoon fury as a bearded zealot may not be a graceful piece of acting, but it’s a standout element in a film that casts him for a reason. In fact, Deadly Blessing could use more of Borgnine’s fire and brimstone, instead of relying on more standard slasher thrills, albeit with snakes and spiders in addition to household cutlery. Whatever statement Craven was looking to make about religious fanaticism gets undermined by the outrageously stupid ending. Craven’s best work resolves the contradictions of his bloodlust and intellect—in that, Deadly Blessing isn’t one of his best.
Key features: In addition to the Craven commentary (moderated by Sean Clark) and the interview with writers Glenn M. Benest and Matthew Barr, the disc also includes new interviews with actors Buckner and Michael Berryman, and creature designer John Naulin.