Deadly Blessing 1981 Review
Deadly Blessing 1981
aka Bendición Mortal
Directed by: Wes Craven
Starring: Maren Jensen, Sharon Stone, Susan Buckner
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
At first glance, one could be forgiven for believing it was fairly paradoxical that it should be Wes Craven that ended up directing Kevin Williamson’s tribute to the slasher films of the early-eighties. The polished offerings that earned him his reputation up until that point had not actually been the traditional stalk and slash flicks that Scream so lovingly references. Despite what a lot of people assume, A Nightmare on Elm Street was more of a supernatural new style of horror flick than a typical slasher. That isn’t meant as any kind of criticism, because a little originality goes a very long way in this category. At the end of the day though, Freddy Krueger was not a typical slasher movie bogeyman and neither was Horace Pinker from Shocker, which is also often wrongly confused as a formulaic Halloween spin-off. Horace’s ability to merge with electricity and possess his victims spoiled his chances of joining the brand that Mr. Myers and his knife-wielding accomplices frequent with their own stringent guidelines.
It’s a debate that could go on forever and I guess no one is truly ‘right’. For me however, with so many titles that follow the Halloween/Friday the 13th mould so closely, Freddy and the like always just felt a tad too far removed from the initial template and that’s why I don’t consider them to be true stalk and slash flicks. I mean, shouldn’t a ‘slasher’ use a blade or something to ‘slash’ with?
Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is that Craven did create a rarely-mentioned offering that can neatly slot itself alongside its counterparts and was indeed good enough to rub shoulders with a few of the genre giants. His 1981 opus Deadly Blessing, makes good use of the clichés that hadn’t been so severely overused at the time of its release and he also includes a few authentic ingredients of his own, which mark an intriguing addition to the formula.
This was also an early movie role for the woman who would go on to become one of the eighties’ sexiest leading ladies. She’s famous for the most memorable leg-crossing scene in movie history and also managed at least one credible dramatic performance in Scorsese’s Casino. You guessed it – one of the scrumptious females terrorised by the mystery killer is an extremely young and barely recognisable Sharon Stone.
The Hitties are an Amish-like sect who have built their own community in the secluded hills of a rural area. When a former member of their number is mysteriously murdered in the opening, they lay the blame on his wife, Martha (Maren Jensen) by calling her ‘the incubus’. In order to help with her grief and animosity from the locals, two of her friends drive up from the city to stay with her. After a while, a black-gloved maniac begins cutting his way through the locals and taking a particular interest in the widow and her visitors. Who could be the assassin?
Wes Craven mixes some neat visual flourishes and some superb set pieces to great effect throughout Deadly Blessing. The barn-scene has already made a place for itself amongst horror hits and it’s an electric and pulsating sequence. Lana (Sharon Stone) heads to the farmhouse to find a replacement spark plug for a tractor that the girls have been using for the land work. Once she’s inside, the door and windows slam shut, as if by a supernatural force. Then a mysterious assailant stalks her in one of the tightest and most skilfully crafted sequences of the slasher era. After a successful jump-scare, she finally sees a way out of the claustrophobic nightmare and heads for the exit. Just as she’s about to leave, an earlier victim’s corpse – which was strung up by rope – drops down in front of her, marking the perfect finish to a superb scene. Sharon Stone gets a pretty torrid time in this feature and when she’s not being targeted by the unseen menace, she’s having nightmares about a large spider being dropped in her mouth! (Real spider by the way)
The stalking in the barn isn’t the only moment that shines with the incandescent brim of stylish craftsmanship. There’s a ‘snake in bathtub’ sequence that was equally as spellbinding and Craven flick shows enough confidence in his storytelling to avoid making the movie a total rip-off of it’s peers. Although at heart, this is a slasher film with all the necessary ingredients that keep it in the category, the constant use of snakes and spiders as a skin-crawling alternative to masks and kitchen knifes is very inviting. There is also a satanic sheen and a supernatural twist at the end, which you may not get to see, depending on what version that you own. The IMDB states that the UK release omits that final scene (which is not true), but the Spanish copy that I own definitely doesn’t include it. Yes, the notorious incubus ending does add a bit of a desperate and unnecessary enigma to an otherwise logical story. Don’t blame Craven for this unnecessary inclsion though, apparently it was the decision of over anxious producers.
The experienced cast members do a good job here, especially Ernest Borgnine who is restrained when handling a potential ham-feast. Obviously someone saw enough in Sharon Stone’s somewhat amateur portrayal, which would begin her on the road to mega stardom. It’s worth noting that Lana is probably the most approachable and sympathetic character that she’s ever played. She’s certainly a lot different from the ice-cold personas that Stone would later become famous for.
Blessing has an interesting moral compass with an unusual and authentic pathway on who to root for. The plot touches on subjects such as marriage and adultery, but doesn’t reward either as a rightful path and has no defined stance. Glenn Benest’s script also builds very strong female players and this is especially evident in the climax, which I won’t spoil here. Placing the synopsis around such a religious and respectful sect explores various intriguing notions. Whilst the elders are disgusted about the modern and what they consider to be reckless ways of Martha and her alien city folk friends, the younger males are captivated by their style and easy-natured beauty. Because of the difference in the views of morality between the opposing lifestyles, there are obvious clashes and the slasher rules like ‘have sex and die’ seem all the more prohibited and stand out because of that. Although this is nowhere near as dream focused as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Craven’s obsession with our sleep subconscious is also utilised here in the aforementioned spider sequence and there’s almost always some nightmare imagery incorporated somewhere in his features. ( Remember the dentist part from Last House on the Left?). In fact, even if the incubus finale does somewhat destroy any coherent structure, it does leave the feature with a dreamlike surreal tone, even if it was unintended.
The only real let down is the somewhat intermittent pacing. A lot more screen-time should have been given to the assailant and the murders are too infrequently placed for my liking. With a fantastic score and good cast to play with, I would have perhaps liked to have seen a few more killings. Still though, it boasts an intriguing story, hot Sharon Stone, polished production and adept direction, so it’s everything a slasher movie needs to be. The jump scares here are very well delivered and the suspense is teeth-clenching. If you can find Deadly Blessing, then it’s definitely worth checking out.
Final Girl √√√√
Posted on February 6, 2013, in Slasher, Superstars hiding a slasher movie on the small print of their CV... and tagged 1981, Deadly Blessing, hidden gem, Hot Chicas, Rare Slasher, Sharon Stone, Slasher, Wes Craven, Whodunit?. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.