Friday, 24 September 2010

Deadly Blessing

Famous nowadays for a scene in which a young Sharon Stone has a spider dropped into her mouth, Deadly Blessing, Wes Craven's 1981 film, is one of the director's more marginalized films, unfairly so as it remains a fascinating work for a number of reasons.The film set in the pastoral farmlands of Ohio begins with a murder. A farmer is killed in mysterious circumstances when he's crushed under the wheels of one of his machines. It appears to be the work of an Hamish-like fundamentalist religious sect, who shun the sinful conveniences of modern life, and preach a sermon of fire and brimstone. And now it seems the killer has turned his attention on the farmer's widow...

On paper it sounds pretty uninspiring but nothing in Deadly Blessing is quite what it seems. Early on in the film Craven quite skillfully disorientates the audience about where exactly the film is going and the pace of the film from there on in rarely flags, with a number of suspenseful set pieces. Without giving it away, the final sequence of the film is quite astonishing so be sure to stick it out to the end. It may leave you with your jaw on the ground but it does add quite an extraordinary dimension to the events of the film.

Craven's direction is typically solid throughout, and performance-wise, this is one of the better casts from Craven's early film-making career. Maren Jensen (best known for the original TV series of Battlestar Galatica) playing the terrorized widow, Martha, is especially good and makes for a strong resourceful heroine. Its quite a shame, Deadly Blessing would be her last screen appearance. Impressive too is a fresh-faced Sharon Stone who very bravely shares screen time with some rather nasty looking spiders. And of course there's Ernest Borgnine playing the sect leader with all the thunder and fury of a deranged preacher. His biblical beard looks a little phony but he's great nevertheless. Michael Berryman the poster-child of The Hills Have Eyes is in there as well, and appeared on the striking UK video sleeve.

Deadly Blessing is an important Wes Craven film as it sees him working towards the kind of dream ambiance of A Nightmare on Elm Street. The film seems preoccupied with dreams - Sharon Stone's character has nightmares about being visited by a ghostly presence, and watching the film a second time I was struck by the how much of the film makes little sense with odd moments of strange, surreal imagery - a milk carton pouring blood, a flock of chickens in a coffin. In fact two from ideas for the film would be loaned out to A Nightmare on Elm Street - the aforementioned spider-in-the-mouth sequence and a scene where the heroine shares a bath with an unwanted guest.

Deadly Blessing remains unavailable in the US on DVD which is strange considering Wes Craven recorded a director's commentary for the film. My copy is the R2 budget release courtesy of Arrow. Completely barebones, not even a trailer, the film at least looks good, preserving the modest 1.78 widescreen image. The informative commentary track can be found on Umbrella's Australian release (coded for Region 4) and of all the editions of Deadly Blessing available it's the one to get...

1 comment:

  1. I saw this just once on VHS waaaay back there - I liked it okay - would like to see it again because of that subconscious prep work Craven did seem to be doing for A Nightmare on Elm Street.