Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Batshit Charms of Deadly Blessing

This entry was written for the superlative Final Girl's August Film Club. Thanks, Stacie! Spoilers for low-budget thirty-year-old horror ahoy!

Deadly Blessing is Wes Craven's fourth film - or his fifth, if you count Angela the Fireworks Woman, an incest porno he wrote and directed under a pseudonym. I don't, but brought it up anyway because this is intriguing trivia that you can now share with friends and...well, maybe not family. The movie is ostensibly about a woman fighting off some unseen evil forces and the judgment of the mysterious Hittites (???) after her husband is killed by his own magically animated tractor, but the story flies totally off the rails after half an hour so I'm not terribly concerned with discussing it. Rather, there are three things Deadly Blessing is obsessed with that are much more interesting:

1) Ernest Borgnine looking creepy

I could probably fill this entire post with pictures of Hittite spiritual leader Father Isaiah leering menacingly, but out of respect for the late Borgnine, I'll keep it to four.

Craven apparently has some unresolved issues with deeply Abrahamic religions. Nearly every time you see Isaiah on screen, he acts sanctimonious, abusive, and generally awful, whippin' kids and passin' judgment in the name of the good Lord. He also ends up being completely and totally right. His constant ballyhooing about the "incubus" and the "return of the evil one" are ultimately fulfilled in a kick-ass ending where, after dispatching the murderous hermaphroditic threat and her insane mother, heroine Martha ends up getting sucked through the floorboards of her house by an enormous bugbeast anyway.

You can't tell what's going on this picture because you can't tell what's going on in the sequence much like you generally can't tell what's going on in the movie and it is amazing. This ending may seem like a total cheat, but it achieves a satisfaction in the spirit of Drag Me to Hell, where the lead is buffeted so extensively by forces beyond her control that her defeat seems inevitable. Cruel, yes; unfair, definitely; deliciously wicked, you bet! Much like EBo himself.

2) Spiders

So many spiders!

Deadly Blessing is an arachnophobe's simultaneous nightmare and, if said arachnophobe is looking for a jolt or three, delight. What do spiders have to do with the movie at large? Damned if I know! Craven simply seems to realize that they're creepy and awesome and makes extensive use of them throughout the film. The obvious piece de resistance is this, when poor baby Sharon Stone ends up with an unexpected visitor in the night: 

I'm not afraid of spiders at all, but I watched this with two roommates who are terrified of them and the screams were off the charts. DELICIOUS. 

Up until Scream, I always found Craven to be a filmmaker who would throw anything he could at the screen in order to get as many scares as possible. Spiders, knife-wielding women with two sets of genitals, knife-wielding women under religious trances, killer farm equipment, milk cartons filled with blood, German shepherds, exploding cars, snakes, chickens erupting from coffins, sinister Amishesque cults - nothing is off limits for the man. That sense of unhinged randomness is what makes Deadly Blessing work. The movie is unpredictable, and despite the murky filmmaking and slow pace, that quality makes it sort of scary.

I mean, you've gotta love a man who's not afraid to cast people who look like these two in a movie. Granted, the former was a Craven mainstay whose roles ranged from a raping, baby-kidnapping mutant to a mildly retarded "man-child," and the latter is credited simply as "Fat Boy," so maybe I'm giving him too much credit. 

(The self-plagiarism is obvious, sure, but let the man do what he wants.)

3) Paint and paintings

I love paintings in movies. Every time I see one, I want to own it. If I had more than thirty cents and a broken rubberband to my name, my house would be full of reappropriated horror movie art. Deadly Blessing has a handful of eerie paintings, brought to us by crazy hermaphrodite Faith, and though they're not the most technically proficient examples of film art, they still capture the movie's sense of warped pastoral bliss pretty well. 

Honestly, though, the movie is just really into paint. It all starts with the Hittites and their obsession with calling the un-Hittite women "incubus":

This is made especially funny if you're aware that "succubus" is the proper term for a seductive, amoral female devil. It probably seems a little pedantic to get tied up about the distinctions between mythical demons, but Wes should know - attention to detail goes a long way! Ominous red paint makes a reappearance when Martha, sick of all the crazy shit happening on her farm, buys a gun and initiates a little target practice. Her first mark? Why, that can of paint, of course!

I'm not really sure why they're so surprised. What else did they expect to be inside a paint can? Like much of what we see in Deadly Blessing, there's no point to this scene except that it looks cool. Good enough for me!

All told, the movie is strange, barely coherent, and goofy as hell, but a ton of fun regardless. There's a sense of unselfconscious weirdness to it that is rarely seen in horror anymore; the last time I ran across a movie this far into left field was Wes Craven's own My Soul to Take, one of the most insane things I've ever seen from someone who's been making films for forty years. The man is not afraid to take chances, I will say this much, and though they don't always pay off we are all the richer for them. 


  1. Now I'm itching to see "My Soul to Take"! Also, the Incubus/Succubus thing bugged me too, but who knows with these Hittites. They probably point at the planes flying overhead and yell "Hippogriff! Avert thine eyes!"

    1. You must! If you found the mythology of Deadly Blessing cryptic and the horror setups implausible, My Soul to Take will have your head spinning. Just the first ten minutes alone are a time-jumping vault into Crazytown. Based on the dismissive, intensely negative reviews, I was expecting a throwaway - what I got was a curious, hilarious gem of a movie.

    2. You absolutely nailed this! Great review. Aw Deadly Blessing, you so crazy. I loves ya.

    3. Thank you so much, Stacie!

  2. Shared your post with my friend and he had it has his movie night. They loved it. Thanks!

    1. Candace: glad the recommendation worked out! I'm happy that my babbling about slow-paced 80s horror amounted to fun for your friends. :)

  3. Drew,

    I will be watching this tonight per Candace's recommendation and now certainly after reading your review! Ever consider being a movie critic?

    1. Thanks for the compliment! Hope you enjoy. I would love to be a movie critic, but it's not exactly a realistic job to work toward these days, what with the death of print and all. Shame, shame.