Directed By: Wes Craven
Starring: Maren Jensen, Sharon Stone, Susan Buckner
Tag line: "Pray you're not blessed"
Trivia: Ernest Borgnine had to be taken to the hospital to be treated for a head injury following a mishap involving a horse and buggy
After the visceral brutality of The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, director Wes Craven cooled things down a bit with 1981’s Deadly Blessing, a psychological horror movie in which a recent widow finds herself caught between a religious sect and an unknown evil that’s terrorizing her small community.
Though happy on their farm, Jim (Douglas Barr) and Martha Schmidt (Maren Jensen) occasionally have run-ins with the Hittites, a deeply religious society that owns most of the land in the area. Jim himself was once a Hittite, and his father Isaiah (Ernest Borgnine) is the group’s spiritual leader (Jim was shunned by his family when he married the “outsider” Martha, who he met in college). Then, one night, tragedy strikes: while out in the barn, Jim is crushed to death when his tractor inexplicably rolls forward. To console Martha and help her get back on her feet, her best friends from college, Lana (Sharon Stone) and Vicky (Susan Buckner), come to stay with her for a few weeks. In addition, Louisa Stohler (Lois Nettleton) and her daughter Faith (Lisa Harrtman), the only other non-Hittites in the area, offer to help Martha any way they can. As for Isaiah, he tries to convince his “heathen” daughter-in-law to sell the farm back to the Hittites, but Martha refuses.
Then, all at once, strange and horrible things begin to happen to the residents of this small town, some of whom are murdered in cold blood. Isaiah and the rest of the Hittites are convinced these mishaps are the work of “The Incubus”, an evil deity sent to destroy their Christian way of life. Is the sinister force that’s plaguing the area supernatural, or are these killings the work of a madman?
Considered one of Craven’s lesser works, Deadly Blessing is not as frightening as the director’s first two films (unlike The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, most of the violence occurs off-screen). But it’s a decent enough horror movie, with a setup that’s inherently creepy (an out-of-the-way farm surrounded on all sides by religious zealots) and several scenes that are sure to get your pulse pounding (most of which feature a young Sharon Stone, who, as Lana, experiences terrifying nightmares involving a spider, and at one point is locked inside a barn with the killer). And while Ernest Borgnine was nominated for a Razzie (as Worst Supporting Actor) for his portrayal of the fanatical Isaiah, the veteran actor did a fine job bringing this one-note character convincingly to life (he’s especially spooky when, during a prayer meeting, he punishes a young Hittite boy by beating him on the hands with a stick). Also good in his brief supporting role is Michael Berryman as a nosy, somewhat unhinged Hittite named William (who, it turns out, isn’t as crazy as we first think).
The final twist may seem far-fetched to some, and the movie’s very last scene, though eerie, will likely leave you scratching your head. But even still, Deadly Blessing is better than I was led to believe (it currently holds a 20% “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes), and a lot more intriguing than I would have guessed.