When I decided to write about my favorite dumb/bad/cheesy horror movies last year, the one that leaped to the top of the heap was Wes Craven’s 1981 gem, Deadly Blessing. Big problem: my VHS tape of the film had long gone the way of Goodwill—same as my VCR—and the movie appeared to be unavailable. Not even an old copy on Netflix. There were some used copies around, but their price tag would have necessitated a second mortgage, I swear. So fuggedaboudit. Plenty of cheesy horror movies to go around. Still…
But Eureka! Thanks to an outfit called the Shout! Factory, Deadly Blessing came out last month on DVD and Blu-Ray. Why, my wife wondered, did I do the Snoopy dance when I learned of its re-release? Do I need to repeat myself? I’m easily entertained.
While some horror movies play it for laughs, Deadly Blessing takes itself Deadly Serious, and given some questionable acting, over-the-top dialogue, and curious plot twists, there are moments where you have to pause the film and laugh your butt off. Foremost provider of unintentional laughs was the late, great Ernest Borgnine, an Academy Award winner, no less, for his 1955 role as a Bronx butcher in Marty. (Check it out; classic film, and you’ll see the neighborhood in which I grew up.) He plays Isaiah, the unquestioned leader of the religious sect called the Hittites, so stiff and tight-lipped that it appears as if he had a broomstick inserted where the sun don’t shine. His efforts won him a Razzie nomination—a dubious distinction.
PRAY YOU’RE NOT BLESSED
The story, with Spoiler Alert in full force: young, beautiful Martha (Maren Jensen) has married Jim, a former Hittite shunned by his dad, Isaiah, for going off to school. Why they now choose to live next door to the Hittite community in a house called Our Blessing is questionable, but what the heck. Their other neighbors are a woman named Louisa (Lois Nettleton) and her weird daughter, Faith (Lisa Hartman).The latter, an artist, loves to paint pictures of Martha.
Since the Hittites use no machinery (they’re like the Amish, although as one character says, they make the Amish look like swingers), some Hittite “boys,” including the adult but child-like William, are curious about Jim’s tractor. Later, while in bed, Jim hears his tractor start up and goes out to investigate. A few minutes later, he’s toast.
Martha’s two best friends, Vicky (Susan Buckner) and Lana (Sharon Stone, in her first feature role), arrive to console her. The same day, Martha hears the Hittite boys poking around the barn and chases them off, but big William (Michael
Michael Berryman as William
Berryman, renowned for The Hills Have Eyes) loses a shoe. His father makes him go back for it (“More than the cost of the shoe is the cost of the lie!”) that night, and after he retrieves it he stands outside Martha’s window and gawks at her getting undressed. His reward: a knife in the back.
Isaiah and the Hittites come looking for William, and Isaiah offers to buy back the farm, but Martha tells him to piss off. He calls her an incubus, a demon from hell that seduces and rapes people. (“She could not speak the truth if she knew it!”) Isaiah then intimidates one of the Hittite kids and learns that they had gone into the barn with William. The kid gets a hell of a whipping. (“If thine eye offends thee, pluck it out. If thine own hand offends thee, then in God’s name, cut it off!”)
Lana begins seeing spiders all over the place, and she also has nightmares. When she goes into the barn the next day, all of the doors and windows slam shut, and she’s stalked by…something. A door finally opens, but before she can get out,
Martha (Maren Jensen) has cause for concern…
William’s body drops down from the rafters. The sheriff, a wise man, advises the three women to get outta Dodge, but Martha insists on staying, and she buys a gun. (“I’ll be damned if these guys don’t eat brimstones for breakfast!” the sheriff says about the Hittites.)
Vicky meets Hittite John, Martha’s brother-in-law, and they are attracted to each other, even though John is engaged to his blah cousin, Melissa. That night, as Martha takes a bath, someone enters her house and slips a snake into the tub, where it slithers between her legs. (“Touch me there again and I’ll scream.” I swear she says this!) The snake then pops its head up, and she manages to kill it.
Vicky and John meet again, and Melissa sees them. She runs home, devastated. John is confronted by Isaiah, who begins whipping his son. John defies him—a Hittite no-no—and Isaiah shuns him. “Go! Go to thy whore!” Isaiah shouts. “You are none of us now!” And if those lines don’t make you pause the movie, the best is yet to come. John runs outside. Isaiah
Isaiah (Ernest Borgnine) looks terminally pissed.
follows, screaming, “You are a stench in the nostrils of God!” One of the best lines ever from a horror movie.
(Big spoilers coming. Stop right here if you’ve never seen the film and are all excited about doing so.) Everything hits the fan now. Vicky and John go joyriding, and when they stop, someone stabs John to death. Vicky dies when her car is set on fire. It looks like Melissa might have done it, since she grabbed a big knife and hurried out, but no, she only wanted to protect John. So whodunit?
In a scene that became the poster—literally—for the film, Lana has a nightmare (or not) where two hands hold her head, a voice tells her to open her mouth wide, and a spider comes down a web strand right into it. Martha tries to calm her down, but when Lana pours a glass of milk, it is blood that comes out of the container. As they freak, Martha finds a scarecrow of her husband in the bedroom with a flower that she had thrown into the grave. She hurries to the cemetery and finds that her husband’s body has been dug up.
So are there real killers, or supernatural killers? Well, yes and yes. First, Melissa and her knife show up at Louisa and Faith’s house, believing that Faith is the incubus. In truth, Faith is not a woman but a man, since Louisa didn’t want a boy and raised him as a girl. They subdue poor Melissa then hurry over to Martha’s house. Faith, the messed-up guy, has always been in love with Martha. She/he and her/his mother have been killing most everyone. Lana and Martha kill Louisa, but Faith won’t go down easily. Melissa and Isaiah show up, and Melissa inserts that big knife in Faith’s back. Isaiah proclaims the incubus dead.
End of movie, right? Wrong. Lana is heading back to Los Angeles and begs Martha to come with her, but no-oo, she’s gonna stay in Our Blessing. After Lana leaves, Martha goes back inside. The house darkens; the ghost of her husband, Jim,
Vicky (Susan Buckner) and John (Jeff East) hit it off.
shows up and tells her to beware of the incubus. Seconds later the demon rises up through the floorboards, grabs Martha and pulls her down. End of story. (You followed all of this, yes?)
For me, the flaws in Deadly Blessing just make it all the more endearing. It’s back on my minimum once-a-year viewing list. I mentioned that this was Sharon Stone’s first significant role in a long and continuing career. Conversely, both Maren Jensen and Susan Buckner fell totally off the radar after this film. I’m not sure what happened to Buckner, who was talented and quite attractive, but Jensen, who had a leading role in the original Battlestar Galactica TV series, had a debilitating illness that sidelined her for years. She ultimately recovered, but never returned to acting.
So enjoy, and remember—beware the incubus!