Deadly Blessing Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Wes Craven
Written by Glenn Benest, Matthew Barr and Wes Craven
1981, Region A, 102 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on January 22nd, 2013
Maren Jensen as Martha
Sharon Stone as Lana
Susan Buckner as Vicky
Ernest Borgnine as Isaiah
Michael Berryman as William
There is a small Hittite community in rural Pennsylvania that believes in a plain lifestyle uncomplicated by modern technologies. A religious order more conservative than those flashy Amish, they follow their own laws to remain pure and safe from an evil known as the Incubus, a demonic force attracted to progressive women. The group is led by the stern Isaiah, a man recovering from the disappointment that his own son has chosen to leave this pious existence for a life of fancy electronic goods and a wife named Martha, who wears pants! John, the wayward son, has chosen to start his new life directly beside the property line of the Hittites he just abandoned and many of the children of the community play on his land. Meanwhile, a string of mysterious accidents (pronounced “murders”) has poor Martha on edge, so she invites her friends Lana and Vicky for support, but this does not go well, as the zealots next door see only more free-thinking women messing with forbidden stuff, like cars.
There is a lot of back and forth between the two communities and a few supporting characters pop up in their own subplots that generally serve only to provide additional red herrings for what is actually going on. Something is lurking inside the local barn which leads to the most suspenseful sequence featuring Lana and some creepy spiders, while Martha has a close encounter with a snake in a bathtub. Additional screen time is spent exploring a possible forbidden love connection between a Hittite named John and Martha’s friend Vicky. The group of Hittite children includes a man-child named William whose hobbies include taunting a girl named Faith from the adjacent property.
All of this adds up to a fine way to spend about an hour and a half to get to the finale, but little stands out as particularly terrifying. As the film reaches the finish line, a last minute switcheroo by the producers resulted in a conclusion that is at odds with the rest of the film, but doesn’t derail the overall effect of the movie as a whole. Deadly Blessing features some gorgeous photography, courtesy of cinematographer Robert Jessup (Silent Rage), delivering a rich atmosphere that sets an ominous tone for the film. Director Wes Craven creates a handful of suspenseful moments that fans will recognize as catalysts for iconic set-pieces in future works, most notably the bathtub scene from A Nightmare on Elm Street. The film also benefits from the work of composer James Horner (Aliens), at the beginning of his illustrious career.
The casting of this film is also inspired with the awesome presence of Ernest Borgnine (The Wild Bunch) to anchor the piece as Isaiah, leader of the Hittite community. Perfectly cast as the stern man of suspicious intent, Borgnine commands your attention every minute he appears on screen. Genre fans will be happy to see Craven bringing back the distinct character actor Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes) as William, the man-child, who appears to be having a lot of fun in this role. The key roles of Martha, Vicky and Sara are perfectly portrayed by Maren Jensen (Battlestar Galactica), Susan Buckner (Grease) and newcomer Sharon Stone (Total Recall). Stone obviously went on to find the most success in her career, but the three work well together here, as each give strong performances and keep things believable even in some of the goofier moments.
Shout! Factory brings another fine disc to genre fans with this little seen early work from future horror master Wes Craven. This is neither his best nor his worst picture and he has suffered far worse public interference from producers throughout his career. Deadly Blessing is a title that shows how the director was expanding his craft beyond the limits of ultra-low budget productions. This film is not perfect, but few are. It is entertaining and has finally gotten a proper release that anyone interested in religious horror mash-ups will want to check out.
Video and Audio:
Deadly Blessing is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and looks pretty decent for a low budget horror film shot over thirty years ago. Without a full restoration, this is as good as the film will look. Colors are frequently muted and blacks occasionally soft, but this appears to be a stylistic choice and deliberately created. Shout! Factory faithfully reproduces the image here with less than perfect source material.
Scream Factory offers a respectable DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio lossless audio mix and a DTS HD 2.0 MA track that preserves the original stereo presentation. Not an overly aggressive mix but either track gets the job done. Dialogue is always clear and free from distortion and English subtitles are provided.
Shout! Factory provides a generous amount of supplemental materials for a lesser known title and fans will be surprised by some of these treats.
The best feature on this release is an audio commentary with director Wes Craven, moderated by Horror Hound magazine’s Sean Clark. Anyone familiar with Craven’s laid back discussions will look forward to the countless anecdotes from this and a few of his other works. Clark keeps things moving with a welcome approach that keeps things conversational and friendly throughout. Craven genuinely seems at ease and candidly discusses the controversies that hindered this production without much prodding. He shares anecdotes about his cast, the producers, the script and a disturbing moment with the Texas crew.
Next are a collection of interviews with various members of the cast and crew:
Say Your Prayers (14 minutes) is another conversational piece featuring actor Michael Berryman, possibly the nicest guy working in the genre. He reflects on his time working with Craven and Sharon Stone, but saves most of his praise for the awesomeness that was Ernest Borgnine.
Secrets Revealed (13 minutes) is a fun visit with actress Susan Buckner, a lady who looks fantastic and appears to be having a great time discussing this forgotten film. She tells a number of fun tales about working with the other actresses, the stunts involved and the secret she kept from everyone on set.
Rise of The Incubus (6 minutes) reveals how creature designer John Naulin made the last minute addition to the film and he also shares a production story from his work on Halloween III.
So It Was Written (20 minutes) with writers Glenn Benest and Matthew Barr, as they talk about the process of getting this film made after their previous work Summer of Fear was also directed by Craven. The reveal the numerous hurdles involved with bringing the story to the screen, the different endings and working with Wes Craven as a writer.
The remaining special features contain original marketing material including the original theatrical trailer, some deceptive television and radio ads, and a photo gallery.
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