The Godsend (1980)

OCTOBER 10, 2013


A good rule of thumb is if Donald Pleasence shows up at your door, acting all Donald Pleasence-like, it's best to just phone the police and lock yourself in the bathroom until rescue (this is even more true since 1995, when he passed away). Well, since she looks a lot like him, the same rule applies to his daughter Angela, who moseys on into the home of the Marlowe family, gives birth, and then disappears, prompting the Marlowes to raise the child as their own alongside their four other children. Thus, she is The Godsend of the title, which of course is an ironic one as you can probably tell by glancing at the genre tagging - but the real surprise is how grim this movie is.

See, most killer kid movies have the little bastard take out a mailman or family friend or something, but usually leave the family unit intact. Someone might end up in a hospital, but instances where they kill one of their siblings or a parent are pretty rare - so I was kind of shocked when young Bonnie killed the youngest Marlowe child (they were sharing a crib!) 10 minutes or so into the movie. And then a few minutes later another one ends up dead (of course, we don't SEE these events and the parents believe them to be accidents, but we know better), which was a bit of a shock as I figured after the first one they'd flash forward a few years to when Bonnie was like 10 or something and would proceed to do the usual killer kid thing of going after randoms.

But no! I won't spoil specifics, but tragedy keeps striking the Marlowe family, and even when you think there's going to be a triumph, screenwriter Olaf Pooley (working off Bernard Taylor's novel) twists the knife one more time, ending the film on the downest of down notes. In fact, it's the insular nature of her vengeful acts that produce the one problem I had with the film - it's kind of slow and repetitive. It takes a while for anyone to suspect that maybe it's not all accidental, so it's death, grief, things get back to normal, death... repeat. And then there are weird jumps in time that give the film a bit of a clunky feel on top of it, something that's probably the result of adapting a full novel into an 86 minute film. But since they can't really show Bonnie doing anything, it's a pretty action-free movie until the final 20 minutes, so while I don't share the "it's boring" opinion I've heard from a few others, I can certainly see where they're coming from.

See - and if you're a longtime reader you know this - I love these kind of movies, and have always felt that there aren't enough of them (this is only the third this year, and one was a lame Children of the Corn sequel). So I'm kind of an easy mark here, and you'll have to take my praise with a grain (or two) of salt. Yes, it's kind of a bore, and the bland filmmaking doesn't help - it's shot rather much like a TV movie and primarily set inside bland locales. But, you know, our murderer is a young child who racks up her first victim when she's only a few months old, so I can forgive everything pretty easily. That said, there really isn't much to it; we never find out much more about Pleasence's character, and there isn't much of a supporting cast. Maybe it WAS a TV movie, I dunno.

The film is featured on Scream Factory's new release titled All Night Horror Marathon, which also features The Outing (which I actually SAW at an all night horror marathon), The Vagrant, which I saw and hated as a kid and am too busy to give it another chance, and finally What's The Matter With Helen?, a 1971 thriller from director Curtis Harrington. More melodrama than horror, it was too damn slow for my tastes, and it didn't help that the poster (and accompanying box art) spoils the film's twist conclusion, which would be akin to making an Empire Strikes Back poster showing a family tree with Vader above Luke and Leia. And it's too clearly a ripoff of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, with the two aging leading ladies (Shelley Winters and Debbie Reynolds in this case) trying to eat the others' scenery - it's even got a showbiz plot for good measure. The final 20 minutes or so are fun in melodramatic shocker kind of way, but getting there is a chore even if you DON'T know what's coming. Helen is the only of the four films that was previously released on DVD (and it was a late swap for another title that they had to pull due to some legal issues), so the set has some novelty if you're a fan of any of the others since you can finally ditch your inferior VHS version, and it's only 9.99 - a price worth paying for any movie you like, in my opinion.

Final note - if nothing else, The Godsend demonstrates the value of the word "The". There's another evil child movie simply called Godsend, and that one sucks. Let this be a lesson to all of you film titlers out there.

What say you?


  1. Saw this one as a kid, maybe the best way to see it, and was disturbed, mainly by the sheer grim matter-of-factness of the kids' deaths. I think the low-key, unflashy approach may have accentuated the emotional impact, in a way that a more in-your-face modern style might actually work against. There was nothing to distract from the shock and pain implicit in those scenes, no fast cuts and confused camerawork to soften the blow.

  2. No, this was definitely a theatrical release, not made for tv. I saw it in Detroit when it was released on the first Friday of January, 1980.

  3. I was home one winter afternoon for whatever reason, back in the 80s, and watched this and loved it. Beware of mumps!

  4. PS--the movie i watch each and every Halloween season *was* made for tv, and is called "Dark Night Of The Scarecrow". It finally came out on dvd, so i can retire my ancient vhs tape.

  5. Watching this film on TV right this very moment.


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