Director Wes Craven has a lot of classics and not-classic-but-still-popular films to his name. The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street, New Nightmare, Scream and its sequels, even Swamp Thing, Shocker, and The People Under the Stairs. Mixed in the midst of his filmography, he also has some more obscure directorial efforts. Summer of Fear, Invitation to Hell, Chiller… Deadly Blessing.
My first exposure to Deadly Blessing was when I caught a glimpse of it on television during a stay in a hotel room near Red Bank, New Jersey. sometime in the very early ’00s. I had no idea what the movie was, but the scene I saw featured Michael Berryman, who had previously worked with Craven on The Hills Have Eyes, dressed in garb similar to that worn by an Amish man.
All through my life, I have went on vacations to and spent a good amount of time in an area full of people who practice the Amish branch of Christianity, meaning they have to dress a certain way, don’t use electricity, can’t use advanced machinery in their farming, and get around on either bicycles or in horse-drawn carriages. I’m very familiar with the sound of horse hooves clip-clopping down an asphalt street.
Since I’m often surrounded by the Amish and this movie featured Berryman acting quite irrationally while dressed like an Amish man, I thought it had the potential to be one of the creepiest movies ever made. Since I didn’t know how long it had been on, I turned the channel, because I didn’t want to just jump in at midway or later.
I eventually figured out what movie it was and always intended to get around to viewing it, but it has taken me this long to finally watch the whole thing.
As it turns out, Berryman’s simple-minded character William is not Amish, but a member of a religious sect called the Hittites, which are said to “make the Amish look like swingers”. William firmly believes the teachings his people receive from their preacher Father Isaiah, so much so that he’ll even chase non-Hittite women calling them incubus, which is what Father Isaiah says they are – devilish beasts that will try to seduce the faithful man. Isaiah would do better to call them succubus, which is the sort of female demon he’s talking about, an incubus is a dude. But whatever, it’s his religion.
Despite his devotion, William is also intensely interested in the lives of his non-Hittite neighbors, sneaking around, getting into their sheds, peeking in their windows, rudely busting up paintings done by a girl called Faith.
One of the non-Hittites living among the faithful is Jim Schmidt, son of Isaiah, who was once in the religion but was excommunicated by his father when he went off to the city to go to college and came back to the farm he was given by his parents with a non-Hittite bride, Martha. Jim still tries to keep the peace between the Hittites and those outside the religion, but the Hittites are so unpleasant and judgmental that it’s hard to do.
The shaky living conditions in this area get even worse when a killer starts stalking the farm land. The first victim is Jim, who gets crushed against a wall by his own tractor. The second to die is William, stabbed to death by an unseen assailant. I should have kept watching the movie in that hotel room, because the scene I saw was actually right at the beginning.
After Jim’s death, Martha’s longtime friends Vicky and Lana arrive at the Schmidt farmhouse to keep her company and comfort her. Before that first glimpse I got of Deadly Blessing, the only other time I had heard of it was in a Fangoria article that named it a “skeleton in the closet” of Sharon Stone, who plays Lana.
While the girls spend several days hanging out together, it turns out that they don’t just have a black-clad killer knocking off people with farming implements to worry about, there also seems to be something supernatural at play here, something which has the strongest effect on Lana – she finds herself trapped in a barn by doors and windows that appear to close on their own, and keeps having nightmares… Shades of Elm Street creeping into Craven’s work.
Lana’s bad dreams aren’t the only Elm Street touch to Deadly Blessing. There’s also a scene with Martha in a bubble bath (with not enough bubbles to hide the fact that she’s bathing in her underwear) with shots that are identical to Heather Langenkamp’s bathtub scene in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Here, of course, it’s not Freddy’s razor-fingered glove that surfaces between Martha’s legs. It’s a snake that the killer let loose in the house.
Vicky has the best time of all of them, striking up a flirtatious relationship with Jim’s brother John, despite the fact that John is betrothed to his cousin Melissa. Well, Vicky has the best time until this situation with John leads to her crossing paths with the killer.
In addition to telegraphing Craven’s future, there’s also a moment where the filmmaker looks backwards – although Vicky mentions the possibility of going to the theatre to see Lassie Meets Godzilla, she actually goes to a theatrical screening of Summer of Fear, a TV movie Craven made in 1978.
Summer of Fear, an adaptation of a Lois A. Duncan novel (Duncan’s work also includes the novel that inspired I Know What You Did Last Summer), was co-written by Glenn M. Benest, who also came up with the story for Deadly Blessing with Matthew Barr. Craven joined Benest and Barr in the writing of the screenplay for Deadly Blessing, and given that Craven himself had a very strict religious upbringing, it’s understandable why he would have been drawn to this subject matter.
Deadly Blessing catches quite a bit of negativity and takes some crazy twists and turns in its final act, but I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed the movie. This enjoyment largely came from the fact that it had a setting that I could relate to, and I totally jibed with the relaxed pace of its scenes that play out in a peaceful and picturesque countryside, scenes filmed in Ohio and Texas.
It’s certainly not a lost classic or a great horror movie that will blow you away when you discover it, but if you’re of the right mindset or from the right area, it might strike a strong chord with you.
It took me a long time to finally get around to watching Deadly Blessing, but now I think it’s a movie I should be revisiting regularly.