The third movie I watched during my vacation horror-palooza was Wes Craven’s 1981 movie Deadly Blessing. It’s the Ernest Borgnine cult-leader slasher that you never knew you wanted.
This movie has a lot going on and not all of it works. It’s like when you go to Applebee’s and you buy one of their desserts and it’s something ridiculous, like an apple fritter deep-fried and smothered in peanut butter with chocolate ice cream on top. It’s okay because there’s so much sugar and sweetness but you know you would have been happier if you’d spent a little more money on a simpler dessert with better quality ingredients. Having one small piece of really good chocolate cake is better than eating an entire container of Chips Ahoy. This movie is like that, it has so many elements but not all of them work well together.
Maren Jensen stars as Martha Schmidt. This was her last role before she quit acting after she was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr Syndrome. That’s a shame because she did pretty well in the movie, however messy everything else was. She’s married to Tom Schmidt (Jonathon Gulla) and they live in a farm in Hittite country. According to one character, “the Hittites make the Amish look like swingers.” Tom actually used to be a Hittite but he left when he met Martha. His father, Isaiah (Ernest Borgnine!), is actually the leader of the community. He considers Martha an incubus who seduced Tom away from his faith.
Tom is killed one night when investigating a noise in the barn. Someone who’s unseen crushes him with his tractor. Martha’s two friends, Vicky (Susan Buckner) and Lana (Sharon Stone) come to the farm to comfort Martha. Martha’s not alone in the community, Faith (Lisa Hartman) and Louisa Stohler (Lois Nettleton), a non-Hittite mother and daughter offer their comfort.
Things were always tense between Martha and her Hittite neighbors but things become more tense when William Gluntz (Michael Berryman, Papa Jupiter in the original The Hills Have Eyes), a mentally disabled man goes missing and is later found hanged in her barn. Vicky’s romance with Tom’s brother, John (Jeff East) only adds fuel to the fire. Meanwhile, Lana is having creepy dreams about a creepy man forcing a spider in her mouth. Sharon Stone would only agree to do the scene if the spider was defanged. That seems really, really mean. Martha takes a bath and someone sneaks a snake into her bathtub and this isn’t some kind of innuendo, it’s a literal snake. This scene could have been creepy until you realized that the actress is wearing giant black underwear and I spent the whole scene wondering why the character was bathing with her bathing suit on. Someone stabs John when he’s making-out in a car with Vicky and then sets the whole thing on fire.
So what’s going on? Are these occurrences supernatural? That would explain whatever scared Lana in the barn by slamming all the doors and windows shut. Also, Lana’s bad dreams. Or is someone from the cult stalking them? Whoever killed Tom, Vicky, and John seems definitely human.
Spoilers yon! Turns out that, one, Faith is a man! And, two, he’s stalking Martha and he’s pretty obsessed with her. Faith is the killer. Why does he cross-dress? I HAVE NO IDEA. A shoot-out between Martha, Faith, and Louisa ensues with only Martha surviving. Until an actual incubus made of foam rubber bursts from the floor and drags Martha down.
The ending of this movie just pisses me off. It would have been so good if it was a straight-up slasher. Even if they kept the cross-dressing Faith twist, it would have been fine. But having an actual incubus is just overkill. Plus, the movie is an hour and forty-five minutes. It was just way too long.
I think this movie is like a bridge between Wes Craven’s earlier, more brutal work in the seventies and his more mainstream work in the eighties. We still have him casting Michael Berryman. But we also see the themes of danger hidden within the home in this movie. There’s also this shot of Martha in the bath that looks an awful lot like Nancy’s bath scene in A Nightmare on Elm Street.
I just didn’t like this movie as much as I thought I would and I think my go to Ernest Borgnine cult movie will have to be The Devil’s Rain, which I haven’t seen yet. Skip this unless you’re a die-hard Wes Craven fan.