Here’s an interesting piece of trivia for you, did you know that the Reverend Billy Graham and horror movie director Wes Craven both attended the same Christian college? It’s true! The world’s greatest evangelist and the guy who created Freddy Krueger went to the same Bible college. Craven’s religious upbringing is a unique thing to keep in mind when watching his 1981 film “Deadly Blessing,” which features a creepy, Amish-like, religious sect.
The film begins by introducing us to John Schmidt (Douglas Barr) and his wife Martha (Maren Jensen), who have only been married for a year. They live on a small farm that is nestled in the shadow of a religious community called the “Hittites.” As it turns out, John is a former member of the group, and the son of their leader, Isaiah (Ernest Borgnine). Plus, their farm was once a part of the group’s property.
Also living nearby is Louissa Stohler (Lois Nettleton) and her daughter Faith (Lisa Hartman). Faith is a bit odd and is often harassed by one of the Hittites, the strange-looking William (Michael Berryman). William often shouts at her something about the “Incubus.” Luckily, John often comes to Faith’s rescue. But one night, John goes to the barn to investigate a noise. While there, a strange black figure causes John to be crushed by his own tractor.
After the funeral, Martha’s two friends, Vicky (Susan Buckner) and Lana (Sharon Stone), come to the farm to help their friend. It doesn’t take long for things to get creepy. From the start, the neighboring Hitites don’t care for these new arrivals. After all, the Hitites have sworn off every modern technological advancement, while the only modern comfort these three ladies have forsaken is the brazier. This is enough to intrigue William, who can’t help sneaking around Martha’s farm and peering in her window. Meanwhile, Lana begins having strange dreams involving a gray man who lustfully calls her name before transforming into a spider.
When William ends up missing, Isaiah and William’s father pay the ladies a visit to ask if they’ve seen him. Isaiah takes the opportunity to offer to buy the farm from Martha. She responds by slamming the door in his face. A short time later, Lana finds William dangling from a noose in the spider infested barn.
Somehow, the Hitities are able to take away William’s body, though the sheriff wants to do an autopsy. Isaiah is convinced that he knows how to deal with this, and that Martha is in league with the “Incubus.”
From there, things just keep getting worse for the three ladies. One night, a hooded figure releases a snake in the bathroom as Martha takes a bath. The thing slides right into the tub and pops up right between her legs. Meanwhile, Lana continues to spiral into madness. In one sequence we see her dream that a pair of gnarled hands hold her head as a spider drops into her mouth. G-ross! The only one who isn’t having a rough time is Vicky, who’s been making goo-goo eyes with Isaiah’s other son John (Jeff East). After being excommunicated by his father, John meets Vicky for a make out session in her car. But they are rudely interrupted by the dark figure, now wielding a knife instead of a snake. Back at the house, the other two ladies encounter a creepy scarecrow and a milk carton full of blood before a final showdown with the killer.
Director Wes Craven definitely succeeds in creating an eerie environment for this film. The Hitites are not Amish, but they’re close enough. It’s a culture that’s familiar, but still very foreign. They have their own ways, and you don’t doubt that they would go to any length to preserve that. This comes through most effectively through Ernest Borgnine’s character. He’s very creepy.
Craven also shows a great deal of skill in putting together some of the film’s key scenes. On the surface, some of them seem silly. I mean, come on, snake in the bathtub! Really? But the scene is tense, exciting, and even humorous (in the right way) at one moment. And then there’s the spider sequence. If you felt sorry for Sharon Stone when Paul Veerhoven made her do the infamous panty-less leg uncrossing scene in “Basic Instinct,” that’s nothing! Craven dropped live spider in her mouth! You can see what’s going to happen in that scene a mile away, but it’s still gonna make your skin crawl.
On a whole, the film is enjoyable, but predictable. You don’t need to be a horror movie expert to figure out who the killer is pretty early on. However, even after what you had figured out 40 minutes earlier is revealed, Craven does something crazy. I can’t say what it is, it’s too good to spoil. I’ll just say, don’t turn this one off early or you’ll miss one of the most bizarre “what just happened” movie moments ever.
Thanks to “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” Wes Craven is often associated with slasher films. I’ve never liked gory horror films, I go more for atmosphere. “Deadly Blessing” is not very bloody and does succeed in creating a scary atmosphere. But I don’t recommend it for those with arachnophobia.