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eighties horror you might have missed

Deadly Blessing (1981)

Not to be confused with Wes Craven's later film Deadly Friend. No, this is Deadly Blessing, starring Athena from Battlestar Galactica (Maren Jensen) and Sharon Stone (in her first speaking part). Ernest Borgnine (fresh off of Escape from New York) and Craven-regular Michael Berryman both play Amish-like members of the nearby "Hittite" village, who fear their neighbor Martha (Jensen) may be something called "the incubus" (which is odd because an incubus is a demon in male form; a succubus is a demon in female form, but whatever). To my wife: don't read any further - I'm going to talk about spiders.

I really had no idea where this one was headed, even halfway into the film - it's a very unusual and interesting story, with lots of odd tangents. At first there's a slight Children of the Corn vibe (even though Deadly Blessing pre-dates it by 3 years), reinforced by the black-and-white stills of the Hittites during the opening credits. As it turns out, something else is going on. Someone kills Martha's husband with a tractor (in a tinted-red death scene). It's clear that the same person is trying to attack Martha and her friends, but mostly they are able to protect themselves: a dog is maced, a snake is killed in a bathtub, Sharon Stone escapes a giant spider web and the women practice shooting guns at cans, while waiting for the killer to return. Martha also finds a velvet painting of herself in the basement. And then you find out that one of the characters "was half and half" (which maybe explains the whole incubus/succubus thing). There's more, too. The most shocking scene in the film, has Sharon Stone lying in bed in an overhead shot, as hands reach out to hold her head in place, as a very large spider drops from the ceiling and into her screaming mouth. As the story goes, that really happened during filming, but only after Stone insisted that the spider be de-fanged first.

The score is an early one for James Horner - his first non-Corman feature. It is primarily orchestral work, but with subtle beds of sound texture and the perfect amount of discordant sound effects, all incorporated quite well with the rest of the film's sound design. Horner also makes interesting use of choral and chanting elements, at times reminding me of Ligeti's choral pieces. Horner also composed the score for Wolfen in 1981, and would break into the mainstream one year later, with his score for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

The newly-formed Scream Factory has just announced an upcoming blu-ray release of Deadly Blessing, possibly due out later this year. I'm hoping that they'll include some of the interviews and special features seen in the recent Arrow UK special edition release. For now, you can watch it on Netflix Instant.

Comments

The end of this film is so utterly bizarre. During the film you're wondering whether or not the bad guy is simply a slasher or if it's supernatural, and then.... whaaa??? Enjoyable, but not particularly well-written! Sharon Stone sure was hot, though.

yeah, there's a lot packed into those last 15 minutes or so. not exactly coherent, but I sure enjoyed it! also, I thought it was weird that it was 100 minutes long - as if they had added in some additional footage for this release?

something that I forgot to mention is that the movie that's playing at the theater ("Summer of Fear" aka Stranger in Our House) is a made-for-TV movie that Craven had directed some years earlier.