JANUARY 21, 2013
At first I felt bad for skipping Deadly Blessing for all these HMAD-ified years, as it's the only theatrical feature from Wes Craven that I hadn't seen (besides Music of the Heart, which I contemplated reviewing as a horror movie to amuse myself), but on the commentary he claims that he couldn't even find a copy for himself to prepare for its recording, so I guess I have a good excuse. Thanks to Shout Factory, it's now back on shelves, in a pretty terrific special edition Blu-ray to boot as part of their Scream Factory line.
So was it worth the wait? Yes and no. It's got a few terrific setpieces, but the movie as a whole doesn't quite gel together as well as his best films. It's also fairly backloaded; ask anyone what their favorite scenes are and just about all of them would be in the film's final half hour - Sharon Stone's extended barn sequence at around the 45 minute mark is the only exception. As with Shocker, it takes a while to get everything in place to reach the point that people will say the movie is about - Stone's character isn't even introduced until the 20 minute mark, and there's a good hour or so before the three female leads are being terrorized by whoever seems to want them dead or at least out of their house.
It's also got a somewhat clunky slasher angle (spoilers for 30 year old movie ahead!). Someone/something kills the would-be male lead early on, and all signs point to the Hittites, a farming community that is even more extreme about being anti-technology than the Amish (also: they are encouraged to marry cousins). Among their number is Michael Berryman, who is of course the prime suspect since he had an altercation with the dead guy just a few hours before... but then he is killed as well. It's a good surprise, but it also sort of kills the mystery way too early. The Hittite community is too tight to suspect any of their members, so it has to be... well, I won't spoil that, but there's only one other option at this point, and no one else of note is introduced. I guess we could suspect the brother of the guy who died at the beginning, who rejects his father (Ernest Borgnine!) and the Hittite ways, but I never considered it.
But once it gets going, it's pretty solid. Craven gets a lot of mileage out of things anyone's afraid of: snakes, spiders, scarecrows... hell, he even manages to get a jump scare out of a bunch of chickens. And even though I pegged the villain (SPOILER AGAIN!), I didn't count on them having an accomplice, nor did I (or presumably, any rational thinking person in the world) see that accomplice's own little secret coming. It's a slow burn on a plot level, but also on an insanity one - even Stone's character (a heroine) starts going crazy by the end, to the point where heroine Maren Jensen has to defend herself from the villains AND her best pal. Add in the completely bonkers final scare (apparently inspired by Carrie and Friday the 13th, but not a dream in this case) and you have a movie that hides its true identity as a batshit near-classic, like a girlfriend that you date for three years before realizing she's cool with roping her best friend into the bedroom. Let us know up front!
Another surprise was how great the movie looked. I enjoy Hills Have Eyes, but it and Last House (which I don't enjoy) are hardly easy on the eyes, so I wasn't expecting such a 180 on his next feature (well, if we don't count the TV movie Summer of Fear, which is referenced here). But it's actually quite lovely to look at; as I've said before it takes effort to make Texas look bad (even when subbing for Pennsylvania!), and Shout's typically strong transfer elevates it even further. Of course, maybe the high def is a bit TOO good - Borgnine's fake beard was probably best seen on VHS - but it's not like Star Trek TOS in high def, where you can see every mistake in Nimoy's makeup.
Shout has also provided a healthy supply of bonus features - more than they even list on the back of the DVD! The biggest draw is the new commentary by Craven, moderated by Sean Clark, which isn't always very screen specific, but rarely falls silent as Craven discusses how he got involved, working with the actors (he hints more than once that Stone was a bit of a pain in the ass), an accident that put Borgnine out of commission for a while, etc. He also explains that the ending was a late addition that he wasn't happy with, which should surprise no one. In addition to the track are four interviews, that run about an hour all together. No Stone, sadly, but Berryman, co-star Susan Buckner (who looks a lot like Anna Gunn in the film), creature designer John Naulin, and finally Glenn Benest and Matthew Barr, who wrote the original script. Theirs is by far the most interesting, as they aren't too pouty about Craven's changes and have some great anecdotes from the shooting, as well as their thoughts on the stupid final twist. Berryman's is notable for being the only guy on the set who seemed to be OK with Stone (though he alludes to her fighting with one of the other girls, an issue not explained elsewhere), and both his and Buckner's include thoughts on some of their other films, for a little extra value. The usual collection of TV spots and photo galleries round things out for close to three hours' worth of bonus material (including the commentary), much more than the back of the disc lets on as it only mentions the commentary and "interview".
While not up to his classics, Wes certainly has worse entries in his filmography, and it's interesting to see him playing with a few of his common themes (dreams, tyrannical fathers) long before Nightmare On Elm Street, Shocker, etc. That said, I can't believe there aren't any booby traps in the movie! No wonder he didn't own a copy himself, this must be like an illegitimate child in his eyes.
What say you?