"If thine right eye offends thee - pluck it out"
One of the things I like the most about Shocktober is that it’s the perfect event for seeking out films in my collection that I haven’t seen in a long, long time. Films that I haven’t seen on DVD. I’ve seen the movie, yes, but not since I’ve upgraded from VHS to the silvery disc which kind of gives you a clue how long some of these discs have been standing on the shelves, unopened.
This is one of those movies. I owned the Channel 5 video in back in the day, the disc was bought quite a while ago when I saw it ridiculously cheap in an online sale, probably with some others I’d never seen before and thus it was pushed to the back of the queue.
It’s a little seen, often overlooked gem of a film that is definitely worth checking out. It’s one of the director’s early films before Hollywood and big budgets began to beckon. I’d say it’s not as raw and brutal as The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, which preceded it, but it’s not as polished as A Nightmare on Elm Street. It bridges the gap between those films in Craven’s career, just as Nightmare is the conduit between the early part of his career and the point where Craven "went Hollywood".
But going Hollywood wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing in Craven’s case. Especially compared to, say Tobe Hooper - who burned out very quickly after Texas Chainsaw Massacre and his superior adaptation of Salem’s Lot for TV. Anything post Lifeforce has nothing of the early promise we were show. Or how about John Carpenter? Strong start, but the bigger the budget, the less creative and less scary his films became.
From raw beginnings, Wes Craven has seemed to consolidate his talent and delivers more often than not. Okay, maybe his later films have more polish than the early stuff, but his early material makes good on the promise that was shown early on.
A young couple have a farm next to a Hittite settlement. The Hittites are an insular, repressive religious cult who shun 20th century life and are so strict, they make the Amish look like party animals. They toil on their land in the same way as their eighteenth century forefathers, wear a lot of burlap, have horse drawn carriages, the men have those quaker beards without the moustache, spend an inordinate amount of time spouting the Old Testament and are led by Isiah, a stern fire and brimstone disciplinarian played perfectly by Ernest Borgnine.
Isiah has severed all connections with his eldest son, who has left the cult, married an "outsider" and has embraced modern miracles such as electricity and even (gasp) a tractor.
But even the son’s murder early in the film brings no reconciliation as Isiah is convinced the son is burning in hell for turning his back on his people.
He leaves a pregnant young widow. In her time of mourning, she is joined by two friends, the death toll increases among the Hittites who are convinced that the incubus (a demon who possesses its host in their sleep) walks among them. This may or may not be what’s bothering Sharon Stone as she is tormented in her sleep by nightmares of a spider and an unseen figure dressed in black - and Craven keeps us guessing until the final scene as to whom is doing what to who. Part of the explanation is pretty far fetched and definitely jumps the shark but all in all, it’s been such a long time since I’ve sat down to watch this, I’d forgotten all but the skimpiest of details about it.
I remembered that Maren Jensen starred in it - she played Athena, Apollo’s sister in the original Battlestar Galactica, and I remembered that Jeff East (young Clark Kent in the Smallville scenes of the 1979 Superman film) appeared, along with Ernest Borgnine. Somehow, over the years it completely escaped me that this featured an early role for a young Sharon Stone, preceding Total Recall.
Something that struck me in this, my first viewing in about 20 years - I was stunned at how Deadly Blessing seemed to be a dummy run for Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, with several striking similarities. Check this out:
As I mentioned, Stone’s character is visited by a dark and unseen demon in her sleep, who torments her in her dreams.
There’s a sequence in a bath where several identical camera angles to a similar scene in "Nightmare" are used - except Freddy’s gloved hand appearing from under the water is replaced here by a snake’s head.
There’s an additional ending. Just when you think that things are okay, and the film is over - they really aren’t and there’s a final shocker, which just like Nightmare, is effective visually - but don’t try and reason it into the rest of the plot line because you’ll be tying yourself up in knots as several plot lines (and no specific spoilers here) will begin to unravel.
Despite this - it’s a good evening’s entertainment, definitely an understated slower burn than several other of Craven’s films that I’ll be watching this month.
Next up - let’s go with the original The Hills Have Eyes (1977) And holy crap - I've just seen that if you're quick enough, you can buy the film from that link for only three pence. The world has truly gone mad.
Copyright © 2010 - 2011 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.