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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Deadly Blessings (1981) horror

Deadly Blessings (1981) - This review is part of the Final Girl Film Club, brought to you by the wonderful Stacie Ponder, artist writer, film maker Check yer out at her Final Girl blog.
Deadly Blessing by Wes Craven was a very unexpected film, something of a mystery something of a weird supernatural thriller, but a film with a definitely unexpected ending.
 We open with the Hittites working in the fields, like the Amish but with more religious fervor they shun the modern world and all its useful tools.
Faith (Lisa Hartman-Black) is a painter and neighbor of these people. A simple girl with a keen eye and a nervous twitch.who William, (horror icon Michael Berryman), does not like. He plays a man child who acts out breaking Faith's painting and yelling "Incubus". He could be in trouble with the leader of the Amish Isiah Schmidt (Ernest Borgnine), but first lets focus on establishing this cult. When son John (Jeff East) looks longingly at a tractor, as he toils with a hoe. Isiah makes it clear how the community feels about that. "We have no use for that kind of machinery so do not covert what he has, do you understand?" His son apologizes after getting a real old time ear twist. It establishes both the idea that the Hittites abhor the modern technology but also establishes the Isiah character as the stern leader of the cult. As the film goes on we really learn that this sect believe they are the chosen people by God. Later in the film when John has been talking to Vicki (Susan Buckner) and not doing his endless work Isiah catches him and when Vicki tries to take responsibility because she started the conversation he says When Isiah comes by in his wagon he is clear that interacting between outsiders and his people. "We are the kindred of God, we have no business with the serpents." So not only do they think they are special they think everyone outside the cult is working for the devil. So what is this whole thing where poor little Faith is called Incubus? Well that is later so lets not get ahead of ourselves.
The guy on the tractor is Jim Schmidt (Douglas Barr) the eldest son of Isiah and recently shunned member of the cult. After getting his own farm from his Father he apparently said enough with this hand toiling and went out and got a tractor. Married for a year to an outsider Martha (Maren Jensen) they are in love and still making sweet love regularly. It is a point of contention for the Hittites to have outsiders living so close to the sect. Soon we will see that this is the first conflict that gets us thinking about the mystery to follow. Maren Jensen who was Athena on the original Battlestar Galactica television series appears here in her last film. Wikipedia has an interesting little Bio about what she has done since then.
  While John is making love to his lovely wife when someone sneaks in the house, using the Killer Point of View (POV) camera work, we seethe nude couple through the open bedroom door. Jim hearing something walks out of the bedroom and investigates to find the front door open. He gets to the porch and hears his tractor start up, the music lets us know this is some mysterious stuff and we should be tensing up. When the light fails in the barn he has to turn off the tractor in the dark. Someone starts the tractor again and hits him with it, the end of the happy couple. Its so horrible that just after having sex poor Jim had to die, it is key though in making a horror movie. All indicators at this point are clearly accusing the Hittites but who knows the killer is not seen.
 At his funeral the Hittites are up on a hill doing their own funeral, I guess they cared after all. Martha is driven home by neighbor and Mother of Faith, Louisa Stohler (Lois Nettleton) does an aweful job after the funeral she is still doing her flirting style of acting. I think it is a choice being made here where the character needs to come off just a bit strange. Earlier in the film she flirted a bit with Jim and now she almost still seems to be flirting with Martha. I think since there is the mystery of who the killer is that creating more strange characters helps keep the viewers off guessing.
  We get introduce to a couple more characters when Vicki and Lana (Sharon Stone) come to town to comfort their friend who has moved to farm country. Why they did not make it for the funeral is an oddity. It is a nice little sequence before they arrive where William while playing with the younger Hittite boys is dared to go into Martha's barn only to almost get caught when she who notices the open window. William in his panic to not get caught in the forbidden place loses a shoe which eventually sets up his death. His angry father sends him back out into the night to find the missing shoe. He heads back to her place snooping around and sees Martha undress through the bedroom window. The nudity is intriguing for this man child but unfortunately it is his undoing. You can not be a Peeping Tom in a horror movie or bad things will happen. It must have sent a psychic message to a killer that he was thinking about sin. He is knifed to death from behind as he watches the naked Martha. This is two killings now and it is a big mystery to who is doing the killing. Is it crazy painting Faith? Her flirtatious Mother? One of the Hittites seeing sin everywhere? It couldn't be Isiah could it, his rigid morality seeing evil in his son's betrayal and then seeing William corrupted by the image of Martha's fine body?
  There are a bunch of plot points in this film the first being that Isiah would like to have his land back from Martha. The way he sees it it was his before he gave it to his son, never expecting the man to leave the sect. He is willing to pay to have it back but Martha who is holding onto everything left of her deceased husband is stalwartly refusing to sell. It builds the suspicion about whether the killer is one of the Hittites so might just be a red herring. Later after a body is found the sheriff suggests she leave and shes says the funniest thing yet. "You want me to run because you can't find a killer?" really, your husband was found dead by you in the barn. Then a second death that is obviously a murder and she is not willing to go? Yes the Sheriff wants you to leave precisely because he does not know who the killer is and his police station is thirty miles away. Duh. This steadfast belief about holding onto her past life while her current one is in danger really does not make sense.
   Even when the killer comes around to get her she doesn't leave. In POV the creeper is looking for an unlocked window into the house as Martha heads into the bath. Lana and Vicki play a game in the living room while the creeper sneaks into the bathroom. The warm cloth on her face and the steam in the room does not stop Martha from suspecting that someone is there. The creeper leaves a large snake in the room which of course find its way into the tub. It is a Boa so mostly harmless but sure to give a scare to the woman. She of course freaks but is clear enough to kill the serpent. Why won't she just leave?
 There is also the temptation of Isiah's second son, John. He has the encounter with Vicki and seems quite smitten with her. After also coveting the tractor it is further down the path to damnation for him. Sure he is supposed to tow the line and marry his cousin Melissa (Colleen Riley) but she is such a plain Jane next to the blond in the shorts and loose shirt. Vicki for her part makes it clear she likes him and is somewhat dismissive of his way of life. He actually travels down the road of meeting the girl from the outside, becoming a liar to see her again, to being banished from the cult when caught. His infidelity is also punished by the killer in a third example of how lust kills.
  A third subplot was about Lana who is having dreams and bad feelings while visiting her friend. The first example is a dream she explains at breakfast. An ashen man whispered her name then came and banged on the door of a house. She shot a cannon at the door and when the smoke cleared the man was still there but had become a spider. He whispered her name again. She woke up in a cold sweat. This is the first phase of what can only be explained as a mental breakdown. I think the purpose of this subplot is to inject the feeling that something other worldly is going on at the farm.
There is a great scene of her getting really scared in the barn that sends her down the path to crazy.
  Lana while getting a bolt for the tractor has a strange experience where she is locked in the barn. The door swings closed so she props it open with a rock. Then it closes again even with the heavy rock there. She heads to a window thinking Vicki is playing a trick on her. Then the really first signs that there may be something supernatural occur. The light from outside is blocked on each consecutive window. it could be shutter closing or maybe the sun is blotted out. In the darkness she screams for Martha's help but there is no help coming. Locked in the barn with the chickens and crying she thinks she sees shapes pass by the door outside. A creepy sound from up in the hay loft, she climbs the ladder through the spider webs. Spiders being her theme for the spirit world's intrusion in her life she is really afraid. The music is clear this is not good. A bird flies, as she creeps around the loft. She sees the light of the door opening below, but a full spiders web blocks the way. She find the William's lost shoe. A hand reaches up with a yell and she runs falling down the stairway. She sees the open door but is paralyzed temporarily by a spider on her. She heads for the light and we think she is out then the hung body of William falls from above in front of her. She freaks out screaming.
  I do have to say though the later dream where the ashen man makes Lana open her mouth wide and then a spider falls into it is just going too far. It makes me queasy just thinking about it. It makes her somewhat useless for a good part of the movie. It is just a very light touch of paranormal that is not strong enough or well defined enough to really be justified as the precursor to the surprise ending.
 The final bit of plot point is Louisa and Faith. faith is established as a weird artist girl, nervous and a bit strange. She likes to paint and is used to give information about the plot to Martha. Her Mother already has come across as odd also. A bit flirtatious even with the women. She really stood out as not really being compassionate after Jim's funeral. Later we hear her go on about her daughter and men in general. She comes by the house saying she is looking to Faith who seems to be missing. She sees the gun purchased by Martha in town, a good thing to know if she happens to be the killer. She expresses her dislike for men. She also thinks her daughter pretty stupid. "She couldn't pour piss from a boot if the instructions were printed on the heel."
 When the climax arrives and she plays her part whether good or bad, her character certainly fits with these earlier scenes so there is a good character flow in this movie where the established traits of the characters are played out later in actions, this is decent writing in what is a bit of a strangely written film.
When the climax comes it is fast and furious with some major characters facing the risk of death. Vicki and John hook up and out in the middle of no where he gets to drive his first car. When they start making out the music starts up.  Melissa waking and saying his name as he gets some Vicki lips could be the connective tissue the film is looking for for a supernatural connection. Melissa brings a knife out of a drawer and runs out of the house in her night ground. She runs through the woods.
Vicki starts noticing things outside and John goes out to check things out. He finds nothing and coming back gets to feel his first tittie before being stabbed to death through the convertible roof. Vicki tries to get away but the car is stuck and she sees the gas being poured over it. She unfortunately dies in a fiery wreck.
  Back at the house, Lana instead of milk in the carton there is blood. Someone is messing with their heads or is it yet another connection to the Incubus.  Lana thinks death is after her and really this is the last thing that Martha needs to hear.  She is really unhelpful in this stressful time sort of cowering on the couch. Someone hung something just inside the door of the bedroom, a scarecrow and so the ante has been upped. On the lapel of the scarecrow is the flower that was on her husband's body when he was buried. She heads off to the grave to see that her husband is no longer there, instead chickens in the casket lead her to believe Faith is behind it all.
  The climax is all about Martha learning about the killer who has a really unhealthy obsession. Secrets will be revealed and people will die. In the end some unexpected arrivals save our lead from death. In all six characters are involved in various ways in the final sequence of scenes. Ending with the killers death and our heroine surviving the night.
  The final scene is the most confusing since the film even though it tried didn't really make the supernatural case. Daylight and Lana is leaving, the sheriff is there to drive her. She is better now and no longer really bat shit crazy. Remarkably Martha is staying at the farm! Yes, after her husband's murder, and the murders of countless other area folks including one of her closest friends, the memories are just too good to leave behind. She calmly walks back into her farmhouse,  light changes in a strange way putting her on edge, she sees the ghost of her husband walking to her. Beware! Beware Incubus! Then the ending that you could not have been expecting. Roll credits on this one!
  It is not a bad movie but calling it good would be challenging. Parts are well drawn including characters like Isiah and Vicki but others motivations are not like Lana and our lead Martha. I liked the very structured depiction of the Hittites and there conflicts as the outside world begins to affect there way of life, while at the same time the failure to define the Incubus, in a way ruined that part of the story. It leaves me wondering if there are missing scenes where the legend of the Incubus are discussed.Still I sort of enjoyed this film and recommend it as a passing fancy.
Rating (5.3) 5.0 and up are recommended, some just more recommended than others


  1. Wow, thorough review! "It is not a bad movie but calling it good would be challenging." - very true, though I think I've already got a soft spot for this super weird movie. :D

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