ahhhhh, those wild and crazy amish!!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"We are the kindred of god! We have no business with the serpents!"
"You are a stench in the nostrils of god!"
The above is just some of the exquisite dialogue that awaits you in 1981's Deadly Blessing, an odd offering from Wes Craven, whose first (technically) mainstream production features some wholesome TV stars of the past, trapped in an unmitigated miasma of weirdness. Some of the actors are:
Sweet, exotic/Hawaiian-looking girl next door, Maren Jensen from the 70's Battlestar Galactica; strapping boy next door Doug Barr, the sidekick from the The Fall Guy TV show; Lisa Hartman from her pre-Knots Landing days; Jeff East, the young Clark Kent from 1978's Superman - The Movie... And the list goes on....
The basic story is (or so it seems): an Amish-like religious sect, called the Hitites, tries to harass and kill the widow of their recently departed kin (not to mention, her city slicker-girlfriends who are visiting) so they can reclaim the "consecrated" land "wrongly" bequeathed to her. Like all outsiders to this sect, she has been branded the "Incubus" (a demon that takes you in your sleep) ... and she must be destroyed!!!
Many viewers find this movie to be wildly incongruent and confusing ... and, you know what, they're all right. Especially guilty is the ending, where the film's three contributing screenwriters must have had some sort of creative mental breakdown. Still, I must also defend the film by saying it has a certain uncanny SOMETHING! This is a horror flick that has a cozy leisurely quality, due, in no small part, to its pastoral setting and TV movie vibe. However, shamelessly applied to this tranquil canvas are a slasher film's prowling camera, leather gloved hands, peeping tom shots of naked women, the foreboding "Supernatural," primitive and ritualistic (almost pagan) motifs - spiders, snakes, and chickens ... etc.
As for the quality of the filmmaking, it is quite good. Wes Craven creates a realistic intimacy between the young widow and her girlfriends, and is an elegant craftsman in creating suspense - he only flounders toward the film's climax, where he resorts to bombastic chaos, instead of genuine tension; the photography is, simply put, very atmospheric; and, finally, the score by James Horner (which features rich-sounding ceremonial GONGS) beautifully alternates between the idyllic and the sinister - his only misstep is to pepper the soundtrack with ridiculous chanting, taken straight from the The Omen. Not good.
Since many of the actors were borrowed from television, their performances come off as workmanlike. Not bad, though! Ernest Borgnine, however, shines as he earnestly hams it up as the fanatical leader of the Hitites. A young, slightly Rubenesque Sharon Stone also stands out - not particularly for her acting (it turns out she gives a pretty spacey performance) but for her otherworldly fashion model presence.
As for the film's many twists, they are not satisfyingly calculated ... they are of the slapdash kind ... Almost as if the film's screenwriting trio were sporadically taking drugs to heighten their creativity ... "making it up as they went along." Visually, however, the film always works. It's the type of movie that FEELS right, but whose plot motivations are sketchy.
Some of the film's head-scratching moments are:
1. A virginal supporting character is SUDDENLY revealed to be a clairvoyant killer.
2. The protagonist, played by Maren Jensen, discovers that her dead husband's body has been exhumed from its grave and strategically replaced with a horde of frisky chickens that leap out of the coffin and terrify our heroine.
3. A cute, but dowdy, neighbor played by Lisa Hartman, clandestinely paints the Maren Jensen character from across a field while she's doing chores outside her house. She is obsessed with her. Toward the end of the film, the Jensen character discovers the paintings. It is eventually revealed that Lisa Hartman is a hermaphrodite with a crush on Jensen. Also, we discover that Hartman's mother is psychotically overprotective about her half-and-half offspring and will do anything to shield her from heartbreak. The film even intimates that she (not the Hitites) may be the one stalking Jenson and her female houseguests. The final exhausting kicker is when the filmmakers reveal that the Hartman character is the messenger of the "Incubus" ... not the Jensen character, who was initially branded by the Hitites. Got all that?
4. Earlier in the film, the Jensen character eventually locates the missing body of her dead husband (good guy Doug Barr) in the barn/studio of Lisa Hartman. He is reverently propped up in his burial clothes like some embalmed maharajah. This does not make any sense since the Hartman character is obsessed with Jensen, not her husband.
Still, despite all of the film's loopy loose ends, I rather watch something cheesily intriguing like Deadly Blessing over tedious Oscar prestige films like The English Patient or The Hours. Any day!
My rating: 7 out of 10