Wes Craven’s always been sort of hit or miss for me. It seems that for every great film on his resume (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, The Hills Have Eyes) there’s an equally not-so-great movie (The People Under the Stairs, Deadly Friend, The Hills Have Eyes 2), so, when Scream Factory stated they’d be releasing one of Craven’s more obscure films, Deadly Blessing, as part of their Collector’s Edition Blu-ray series, it was the first time I found myself indifferent to one of the company’s announcements. It didn’t help matters that even some hardcore Craven fans counted the film amongst his worst offerings. Having never seen the film, myself, I went into it with low expectations and high blood alcohol content, and, you know what? I really enjoyed the heck out of it.
Deadly Blessing tells the story of Martha and Jim Schmidt (Maren Jensen and Douglas Barr); a recently wed couple starting out their new life together on Jim’s farm, ‘Our Blessing’. It’s as romantic and idyllic as life can be, considering the farm lay smack dab in the middle of an Amish-like religious sect known as the Hittites, of which Jim was once a member. Shunned by his father, Isaiah (Ernest Borgnine) for choosing his outsider wife over his own people, Jim has moved on, still retaining many of the spiritual traits and good nature of his former people, but also accepting that a life outside the sect is not a first the first class ticket to hell he was raised to believe it would be. He’s also become something of a buffer between his former sect and “outsiders”, like their neighbors, Lois Stohler (Lois Nettleton), and her daughter.
While out plowing the field, Jim happens upon William (Michael Berryman), a ferociously devout-yet-mentally challenged Hittite, chasing Faith, and calling her an “incubus” (a word that Jim knows all too well as it’s the same word his father used to describe Martha and any other outsider who threatens the sanctity of the sect). Jim intervenes, sending William back home, and comforting Faith and Lois.
Later that night, someone sneaks into Jim and Martha’s barn, and paints the word “Incubus” on the wall directly above Jim’s tractor. Jim ventures out into the barn later on to work on the tractor, and discovers the graffiti. Infuriated, he starts to clean it off, but soon realizes he’s not alone. Before he can act, however, someone puts the tractor in gear, and Jim is crushed beneath it.
A few days later, Martha attends Jim’s funeral with Lois. While his death has been ruled an accident, Martha isn’t buying it, and, when Jim’s former family, led by patriarch, Isaiah, inexplicably appear at the top of the hill to mourn their loss, Martha is even more convinced that there’s more to Jim’s death than meets the eye. Thankfully, she does not have to go through this alone, as her two best friends, Lana (Sharon Stone) and Vicky (Susan Buckner), make the trip from L.A. to spend some time with their grieving friend after the funeral. The arrival of two more gorgeous outsiders sparks even more controversy amongst the Hittites, especially Jim’s younger brother, John (Jeff East), who takes an immediate shine to Vicky despite his forced engagement to his fervently devoted cousin, Melissa (Colleen Riley). It isn’t long before bodies start piling up and the list of red herrings thins out, leading to a “shocking” supernatural showdown that, for better or worse, could only have come from the mind of Wes Craven.
Deadly Blessing really surprised me in that I went into the film expecting a religiously-themed supernatural horror film but, instead, found it to be more of a giallo-esque slasher, replete with a black-gloved killer, moody lighting, a bevy of beautiful faces, and that delirious psychosexual subtext that was always a hallmark of the sub-genre. As a matter of fact, the film is completely devoid of any semblance of paranormal activity right up until its rather abrupt and (in my opinion) incongruous finale. Deadly Blessing is also an important film for Craven fans as one can see the genesis of several of director’s signature setups, angles, and scares that he would employ in later films, such as the “between the legs bathtub cam” from Nightmare on Elm Street. For the life of me I can’t understand why so many Craven fans consider this one to be such a weak entry in his oeuvre, as I found it to be one of his most competently crafted and effective flicks.
Scream Factory apparently agrees, as they’ve given Deadly Blessing the Collector’s Edition treatment, presenting the film in an attractive 1.78:1 transfer that, while not nearly up to the level of quality of their best releases, looks pretty damned good for a thirty year old print of a low-budget film. The image is a touch soft, and colors a bit faded, but I blame much of that on the early 80s aesthete. There are moments of exceptional clarity, especially in close-ups where fine facial detail is readily apparent, and I found black levels to be pretty consistent throughout. The accompanying DTS HD Master Audio track squeezes a 5.1 mix out of a mono source, and the results are good, but, purist that I am, I much prefer the DTS HD 2.0 option as it just sounds more natural to me.
Being a Collector’s Edition, Scream Factory loads this one up with a great collection of supplemental goodies, including a very engaging commentary track featuring Craven and Horror’s Hallowed Grounds host, Sean Clark. The track is very conversational, with the two amiably discussing the film’s finer (and not so fine) points, and Craven offers up some interesting anecdotes about the film’s production. Other extras include four interview featurettes (all in HD) with Michael Berryman (Say Your Prayers!), Susan Bruckner (Secrets Revealed), writers Glenn Benest and Matthew Barr (So It Was Written), and creature designer John Naulin (Rise of the Incubus). Rounding out the extras are trailers, television and radio spots, and, of course, a reversible cover featuring the film’s original poster art on one side and a gorgeous new cover painting by Nathan Milliner.
While I’m not the biggest Craven fan around, I will say that, now that I’ve finally seen the film (to be fair, this marks the first time that this film has been available to own in North America since the days of VHS, for crying out loud), Deadly Blessing ranks amongst my favorites from the director. It’s a moody, suspenseful, and really entertaining slasher with supernatural undertones, and Scream Factory’s Blu-ray presentation fantastic. Very highly recommended!