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Overall Rating

Awesome: 9.09%
Worth A Look: 9.09%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad72.73%
Total Crap: 9.09%

1 review, 5 user ratings

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Deadly Blessing
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by Jack Sommersby

"A Weak Wes Craven Effort"
2 stars

Starts out adequately enough but doesn't develop into anything distinctive or memorable.

Deadly Blessing is one of the most listless, lethargic horror movies ever made, which is quite disappointing in that it's been co-written and directed by Wes Craven, whose The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, for all their crudeness, were lean and effective. Working with a larger budget and a bigger studio this time around, he seems to have forgotten everything he knew about moviemaking. While the lighting is precise and the music score somewhat persuasive, most of the scenes are poorly shaped and lack definition; it's one of those impersonal Hollywood products so devoid of life you simply can't believe a human being ever laid hands on it. Where Craven dealt with sadistic rapists and man-beasts in his previous efforts, with Deadly Blessing he's trying to make menacing the story of an unseen fiend knocking off people in an isolated Hittite farm community, and with its reliance on top-heavy religious overtones, a much more on-the-ball director was needed to deftly blend the various elements together. With Craven at the helm, the result is a flabby, affectless motion picture that feels every single solitary moment of its one-hundred-forty-two-minute running time -- a habitual insomniac would be better off ditching their Secondal and buying an admission ticket to this instead.

The opening credits play out over idyllic still-frame shots of Hittite farmers (all clad in black pants, vests and hats, and cornflower blue shirts) working the land while a voiceover informs us, "In the rolling hills of this small farm community, untouched by time, a gruesome secret has been protected for generations." Thanks for telling us, for not only does this immediately call attention to the movie as such, but it makes us think we're watching a theatrical trailer. On the next property over is Jim Schmidt (Doug Barr) getting ready to do some work on his tractor; he's an ex-Hittite whose family next door is unhappy over his leaving, particularly his father, Isaiah (Ernest Borgnine), whose chagrin always seems to be irked. (The way the hopelessly hammy Borgnine plays him, Isaiah was born with a permanent scowl on his face -- diametric to the Joker.) He's got a happy life with his beautiful wife Martha (Maren Jensen) who he met at college in Los Angeles, but on the night of their one-year wedding anniversary, a post-coital Jim goes out to the barn to investigate some strange noises, sees the word "incubus" in red paint on the inside wall, and is crushed to death by the tractor that surges forward after mysteriously roaring to life. We know this is no accident, but Martha doesn't, and the death is written off as one.

Coming to console Martha are college friends Vicky (Susan Buckner) and Lana (Sharon Stone) from the big city. They want to take her back with them but Martha refuses, intent on staying and working the land until the spring harvest. Agreeing to stay a week, the friends become our eyes and ears around this strange community, taking in the odd customs and rigid mind-sets (someone comments that the Hittites make the Amish look like swingers by comparison); but the moviemakers basically exploit these for cheap, easy effects -- there's never any suggestion that some of the Hittites' beliefs might be wholesome and worth contemplating. Basically, their non-threatening, pugilist selves are used to accentuate the evil, supposedly physically manifested in an "incubus" (a devil that seduces the faithful) that's darkened the community -- their choir-boy whiteness has been blackened, if you will -- but they're given so little dimension we're never intrigued whether or not the violence being unleashed is coming from within their untapped reserves or whether it's some kind of supernatural force that's taken them over. The handling of the negligent material is flabby, with Craven never establishing a consistent tone (he doesn't get enough atmosphere going to envelop us), and the dramatic foci slips through his grasp at every turn.

Jensen is both attractive and capable, and she's very easy to take. But her grief is never really genuine, and not because of the actress (okay, her reaction when discovering her dead husband is far from impressive) but because the screenplay hasn't given her enough in the way of underpinnings to root the character in anything other than a standardized woman-in-peril template, so we have little emotional stake in her. As the worrisome Lana, Stone is inexpressive and wooden, but Buckner, as the flirty and spunky Vicki, manages to give her scenes some kick, especially when paired with Jeff East, who appealingly plays Jim's brother and whose character is tantalized and infatuated with Vicky. A whole movie could have been made with just these two because they have chemistry and get a real relationship going with the audience in a short amount of time. The majority of the proceedings, however, are dedicated to trite and tired point-of-view shots of someone slowly creeping upon the women when they're most vulnerable; and because Craven is so dedicated to making a "classy" and "respectful" production, he doesn't get down and dirty and inject these with the elan that would unnervingly work us over. There's a considerable chasm between intent and delivery throughout Deadly Blessing -- you simply don't know how to react to it because Craven hasn't engineered it for any readily apparent purpose.

If a studio executive ordered up a horror that would have the least chance of offending anyone while still eking out an R rating, this is how it would conceivably come out. There's a brief early-on sex scene that's filmed too close in that's not even fourth-rate Harold Robbins and is about as erotic as a sandpaper massage, a T&A bit involving a Hittite spying on Martha from outside her bedroom window as she's undressing (with Jensen displaying an admittedly spectacular tush) that comes to an end right when it's starting to elicit libidinous moans, a couple of kill sequences hindered by some truly faulty timing, a final confrontation between heroine and villain that's so confusingly put together I had a problem discerning exactly who was possessed and why, and a "Gotcha!" shock ending that would be horrendous if it weren't so hilarious with ultra-rotten special effects. (I haven't even gone into an asinine action sequence where a moving car catches fire and the person driving doesn't bother to just open the door and bail out.) Deadly Blessing is bound to disappoint fans of the genre for lack of gore and scares, and non-horror fans who might think some non-sloppy writing and believable characters are in store. Then again, this is a mishmash of a movie where the inept Barr from TV's The Fall Guy is intended to convey magnetism and romantic appeal before his untimely demise. A tall order the size of the Eiffel Tower if there ever was one, this.

Well, I guess freeze-framing and salivating over Jensen's A-plus nude bottom is worth a few seconds of your time.

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originally posted: 11/26/11 09:15:37
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User Comments

9/16/17 morris campbell ODDBALL BUT GOOD 4 stars
2/05/13 action movie fan a few good scares maybe deadly but no blessing 2 stars
12/29/02 Jack Sommersby It's a botch, but Maren Jensen is extraordinarily beautiful. 2 stars
1/17/02 David A. Very Effective Horror, but incorrectly defined "Incubus." It made me jump a few times. 5 stars
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  14-Aug-1981 (R)



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