31 Days of Halloween — Day 29: Deadly Blessing (1981) — by Dr. Shock

Deadly Blessing 1981

Editor’s note: Dave “Dr. Shock” Becker is a host on Horror Movie Podcast and the Land of the Creeps horror podcast. He is also the mastermind behind DVDInfatuation.com, a movie review blog where he is watching and posting one review every day until he reaches at least 2,500 movie reviews. Follow Doc on Twitter: @DVDinfatuation.

“After the visceral brutality of The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, director Wes Craven cooled things down a bit with 1981’s Deadly Blessing, a psychological horror movie in which a recent widow finds herself caught between a religious sect and an unknown evil that’s terrorizing her small community.

Though happy on their farm, Jim (Douglas Barr) and Martha Schmidt (Maren Jensen) occasionally have run-ins with the Hittites, a deeply religious society that owns most of the land in the area. Jim himself was once a Hittite, and his father Isaiah (Ernest Borgnine) is the group’s spiritual leader (Jim was shunned by his family when he married the “outsider” Martha, whom he met in college).

Then, one night, tragedy strikes: While out in the barn, Jim is crushed to death when his tractor inexplicably rolls forward. To console Martha and help her get back on her feet, her best friends from college, Lana (Sharon Stone) and Vicky (Susan Buckner), come to stay with her for a few weeks.

In addition, Louisa Stohler (Lois Nettleton) and her daughter Faith (Lisa Harrtman), the only other non-Hittites in the area, offer to help Martha any way they can. As for Isaiah, he tries to convince his “heathen” daughter-in-law to sell the farm back to the Hittites, but Martha refuses.

Then, all at once, strange and horrible things begin to happen to the residents of this small town, some of whom are murdered in cold blood. Isaiah and the rest of the Hittites are convinced these mishaps are the work of “The Incubus,” an evil deity sent to destroy their Christian way of life. Is the sinister force that’s plaguing the area supernatural, or are these killings the work of a madman?

Considered one of Craven’s lesser works, Deadly Blessing is not as frightening as the director’s first two films (unlike The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, most of the violence occurs off-screen). But it’s a decent enough horror movie, with a setup that’s inherently creepy (an out-of-the-way farm surrounded on all sides by religious zealots) and several scenes that are sure to get your pulse pounding (most of which feature a young Sharon Stone, who, as Lana, experiences terrifying nightmares involving a spider, and at one point is locked inside a barn with the killer).

And while Ernest Borgnine was nominated for a Razzie (as Worst Supporting Actor) for his portrayal of the fanatical Isaiah, the veteran actor did a fine job bringing this one-note character convincingly to life (he’s especially spooky when, during a prayer meeting, he punishes a young Hittite boy by beating him on the hands with a stick).

Also good in his brief supporting role is Michael Berryman as a nosy, somewhat unhinged Hittite named William (who, it turns out, isn’t as crazy as we first think).

The final twist may seem far-fetched to some, and the movie’s very last scene, though eerie, will likely leave you scratching your head. But even still, Deadly Blessing is better than I was led to believe (it currently holds a 20 percent “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes), and a lot more intriguing than I would have guessed.”

—Dr. Shock

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7 thoughts on “31 Days of Halloween — Day 29: Deadly Blessing (1981) — by Dr. Shock

  1. 31 Days of Halloween day 28

    63. Call Girl of Cthulhu (**) – Not many redeeming features to this one except that one of the characters kind of looks like Penny Marshall.
    64. Alleluia (**) – If you’ve ever wondered how couples like Fred and Rosemary West or Bernardo/Homolka happen then this might shed some insight. If you don’t care about that sort of thing then don’t bother with this one.
    65. Hellions (***) – This could easily be an offshoot of Trick or Treat, from which it borrows from heavily but without the fun.
    66. Tale of Tales (****) – Lush fantasy filled with a sea monster, witches, and ogre, a giant flea, and Vincent Cassel. Less on the horror and more on the fantasy but I fine movie from the director of Gommorah.
    67. Tales of Halloween (*****) – Great anthology. Heavy on horror but injected with lots of fun. There’s also influence from The Burbs and The Great Pumpkin. Jason vs a Deadite as well.

      • Rained all day. My job involves spray painting the ground so I stayed home. Alleluia and Call Girl I watched while lying on the couch. Hellions I watched half of the night before while in bed and finished while cleaning the bedroom and changing the sheets. Then a buddy came by to watch both Tales at night.

        • I do like how the movies you watched progressively got better the later it got in the day. Tales of Halloween is one I’ve had my eye on for the last month or so since the trailer came out.

          • Watched Tales last night. Very impressed. Not quite on the level of Trick or Treat but way better than VHS as far as modern anthologies go.

  2. (Contains spoilers)

    Day 29 – Poltergeist (1982)

    Without a doubt, one of the most well known supernatural horror films ever created was 1982’s Poltergeist. With one of the most legendary quotes in cinema history in “They’re here…”, an infamous Poltergeist curse that saw the premature death of several of it’s stars, and a very memorable character in Tangina. For whatever reason, there was a period about a decade ago that I was pretty down on the movie. I don’t know if I just had one viewing experience that didn’t go well for me, whether it was because I struggled to stay awake or whatever, or if I was in one of my “Pfft…I’m not going to like that. It’s PG!” kicks. With the past two times I’ve watched the movie, I’ve been back to really enjoying the movie.

    It kicks off in a pleasant way in that before the horror begins, you’re introduced to this Freeling family. Besides being really likable, they also come across as being honest. They have faults and aren’t perfect. For example, the parents are smoking dope in the house. It might be harmless, but you certainly never saw Ward and June Cleaver smoke pot while Wally and The Beav were asleep. Heather O’Rourke as the young Carol Anne does a swell job at trying to be extra sweet and cute, without becoming annoying. The Freeling family being so likable greatly helps in garnering sympathy when everything goes wrong. You love this family and you want nothing else than for everything to work out for them.

    While it is a horror movie, there’s a good amount of light hearted comedy. The best comedy comes from the Freelings quickly getting used to the poltergeist haunting that they’re even bored by the antics. This boredom begins from an early point too. Moments after being hurled across the kitchen floor, Carol Anne does a big yawn to show that she’s done this trick enough times that it’s unremarkable now. The best joke of all comes when the paranormal team comes to investigate the haunting. The team is talking about capturing a toy car rolling across a room over the course of seven hours. Steve Freeling seems unimpressed as he opens the door to Carol Anne’s bedroom to find the room overloaded with happenings. The beds are moving around the floor, toys are flying around the room, and a record is being played by a compass. It’s a great gag. All of these jokes does take away from the film possibly being scary throughout the entire time length, but certain scenes are still scary.

    For the scares, the one that likely stands out the most involves a clown doll coming to life. It works on so many levels. So many people are already scared by clowns. So that’s going to effect a lot of people. The jump scare is going to affect everyone, even if jump scares are a bit cheap. Another thing that stands out to me about this is that Robbie’s fears remind the viewers about their own childhood fears. It doesn’t matter if you weren’t afraid of clowns or the tree outside of your bedroom window. Everyone had their own childhood fear, which will come back to your memory while watching these scenes play out for Robbie. For fears that will stick with you after the movie is over, there’s a general fear of being surrounded by some sort of danger that you’re oblivious to due to not being told some vital information. For the Freelings, it was being kept in the dark that their little community was built over a graveyard. This fear can be applied to a wide variety of possible things. For example, how aware are you of those that live around you? Do you know how many registered sex offenders live in your neighborhood? It’s just one example of something you should be aware of, but aren’t.

    Poltergeist also stands out for being surprisingly strong of a girl power sort of movie. In this film, it’s all about the women while the men tend to be pretty useless. Both Steve and Diane Freeling have two very different opinions on the hauntings. When they first discover the sliding kitchen trick, Diane is having a ball with it while Steve is so terrified by it that he forbids anyone from entering the kitchen. At the end of the movie, Steve is very anxious and wanting to just get everything on the moving truck while Diane is just casually going about her business. She thinks it’s over and there’s no need to still be stressed. It continues with the paranormal team. One guy leaves after being scared so badly that he refuses to return. Meanwhile, the biggest helps were from Tangina and Dr. Lesh. In getting Carol Anne back, it was all on Diane and not Steve. In the final big scene, Steve isn’t even there. It’s up to Diane to save her two children and get out of the house all on her own. Poltergeist certainly isn’t an anti-man film, but it is a pro-woman flick. It’s pretty refreshing when it was the opposite for nearly every other movie up to that point.

    I loved the fact that the film misleads you into believing it’s over once Carol Anne is saved. In nearly any other movie, when you save the girl, the movie is ready to be wrapped up. Instead, the movie keeps going. It’s a fantastic set-up as it’s very quiet and slow going before the next haunting officially began. It almost gets to the point where the viewer is left wondering why the movie is still going on. Then *BAM* the clown doll scare happens and all hell breaks loose. Since the movie already lied to you once about saving Carol Anne not being the ending, you don’t know what to expect with this final big scene.

    If there is a drawback to this movie, it’s that there aren’t any deaths. I’m not even necessarily saying one of the family members should have died. There’s just all of this build up and seemingly major threat, but none of it delivers. It’s not as if there weren’t some easy potential victims either. Those two paranormal guys, Marty and Ryan, could have and should have been killed. We do get one great scene where one of them has a vision of having his face ripped off, but it’s just a delusion. It’s still a great film, but a horror film without a single kill? Comes off pretty weak to me.

    Overall, Poltergeist is a classic. With a PG rating, it’s a horror film that you can show younger audiences without fear that they may be exposed to something too inappropriate, albeit, you may deal with nightmares for little Billy. The family’s likable, the two hour length goes by very quickly, and it manages to not be too predictable. Despite my desire to have seen at least one death on screen, there isn’t any denying that Poltergeist is one of the more legendary horror films that tends to be well known by even non horror fans.

    I’d give it a 9.

  3. Day 29: Gravy
    I watched this because of Dr. Shock’s review on Day 20. I loved it! This was a horror comedy that had elements of Psych, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and numerous horror references. Nice use of gore.

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