Deadly Blessing (1981) **
D: Wes Craven
C: Maren Jensen, Sharon Stone, Susan Buckner, Ernest Borgnine, Douglas Barr, Lisa Hartman, Lois Nettleton, Jeff East, Colleen Riley, Michael Berryman
Plot Synopsis: After her husband dies, under mysterious circumstances, a widow becomes increasingly paranoid of the neighboring religious community that may have diabolical plans for her.
Review: Prior to Deadly Blessing, director Wes Craven had made Last House on the Left & The Hills Have Eyes. They were bold, daring, thought provoking movies. Whether you loved or hated them, Craven attempted to explore the material in a thought out manner. Both films were commercially viable, but so far from the norms of easily accessible horror cinema, that it left Craven's career at a standstill. The people who controlled purse strings couldn't see how Craven's aesthetic could translate to mainstream cinema. Deadly Blessing is symbolic of that.
The story involves a woman whose husband has died under mysterious circumstances. That woman's husband also happened to be a member of a religious sect, who the husband abandoned when he choose his wife over his religion. With her husband's death and a set of horror like occurrences, that woman becomes convinced that the religious sect has gone beyond preaching to taking on murderous behavior.
The cusp that forms Deadly Blessing is that religion can be used for great good, but it can also be the basis for great evil, that the members of a particular religion can take on the behaviors they preach against, in order to ensure the religion's survival. It's a premise that was every bit as viable in 1981 as it is today, maybe even more so with religion taking prominence in an array of political issues that are transforming modern society.
When it comes to diving into religion, Craven doesn't get to the heart of why this religious sect acts a certain way or attempts to make you see the world through their eyes. In not giving the religious sect a meaningful characterization, they're simply a red herring that's meant to act ominous on cue. Craven is dumbing down his own material, removing any religious statement that might be considered offensive or daring, to create something more marketable for the every man, the every woman or even the every teenager.
There are some well staged horror set pieces that are effectively executed. A bathtub scene, that's highly reminiscent of one featured three years later in A Nightmare on Elm Street, exudes far more tension here then it did with Elm Street. If anything, Deadly Blessing cements that Craven has a sure hand at creating suspenseful horror scenarios.
However, if you took out the scare scenes, what are you really left with? The answer: Nothing! There's a premise, but, outside of that, there's nothing left to grasp onto. Making something more marketable doesn't mean sacrificing substance. It means finding some sort of story that'll appeal to a broader audience.
What Craven failed to understand is that his past work was a success and continued to endure, because it meant something to someone. In attempting to create something more mainstream, Craven has made a film that meant nothing to no one. [R] 100 minutes.
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