Rob: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Rob DiCristino.
Adam: And I’m Adam Riske.
Wes Craven’s Deadly Blessing (1981). It stars Maren Jensen as Martha, recent widow of Jim (Douglas Barr), who walked away from his traditionalist Christian community when the two married. Martha’s friends Lana (Sharon Stone, in her first major film role) and Vicky (Susan Buckner) soon arrive to help her cope with her husband’s mysterious death, but the three women find themselves continually harassed by Jim’s father Isaiah (Ernest Borgnine), the strict leader of the Christian community. Isaiah labels Martha the “incubus,” a demon that tempts the faithful with sinful acts (Side note: I’m pretty sure he means “succubus,” as the incubus is traditionally male, but whatever), and warns his flock to avoid her at all costs. However, Jim’s brother John (Jeff East), who is set to wed his cousin Melissa (Colleen Riley), quickly becomes infatuated with Vicky. As tension builds within the community, a masked killer begins picking them off one by one.
This was my first viewing of Deadly Blessing, and while I didn’t find it all that engaging on its own, I can definitely appreciate it as an early technical display from the man who would direct A Nightmare on Elm Street only a few years later. Wes Craven’s work here is economical yet stylish (featuring the “between-the-legs-in-the-bath” shot that he’ll later steal from himself for Nightmare), creating a nice baseline for what would come next. It’s a good looking movie, at least, even if there are a few too many characters and subplots to really engage with it on a human level.
Adam, what did you think of Deadly Blessing?
My two favorite aspects of the movie are the lead performance by Maren Jensen, who is pleasant, naturalistic, and resourceful (plus, looks like 1981 Lucy Hale), and the film’s sense of mystery. Deadly Blessing is a movie that is so all over the place that you feel like anything can happen in every scene. I read a review while I was watching the movie and it pointed out the Incubus being the Ernest Borgnine character’s id, which is something I would have never thought of on my own, but makes just as much sense as anything else, so why not?
Did you think the movie was “about something” in terms of theme? I felt a lot of ideas, but I’m not sure if it streamlines into something or if it’s more an artist spilling everything onto the screen because he has so much he wants to say.
Nor do the men tempted by the free-spirited, braless-jogging women get time to explore the nature of that temptation. There’s so much to the idea of repressed, religious aggression boiling over into violence, but Deadly Blessing isn’t about that, either. I’m edging around spoilers again, but the movie doesn’t seem interested in taking a side when it comes to the religious and social elements it presents, which makes it even harder to figure out what we’re supposed to take away. And then there’s a final scare that (like Nightmare) muddles things even more! It’s so frustrating. It points me toward the movie not actually being “about” anything.
But we know Craven can do this right. Take Scream, for example: The characters are constantly debating the influence of scary movies on real behavior. Randy, Stu, Tatum, and Billy make references and callbacks, trying to navigate their way through the mystery using the genre savvy they’ve already demonstrated. Sidney pushes against that; Her life is an actual horror movie. It’s not cute. It’s not a joke. She resists her role as a Final Girl until the last possible moment. This is what makes the last act of that movie such a brilliant confrontation of ideologies! This isn’t to say that all movies have to be metatextual inversions, but nothing in Deadly Blessing really approaches that level of thematic complexity. Which, again, is okay! Craven is practicing. But that’s all this really is. Practice.
What I got most out of Deadly Blessing thematically is that religion is (brace yourselves everyone and I don’t mean to offend) an easily corruptible force. I don’t think the movie executes this well, but the biggest problem is that the Hittite community in the film can’t not bother those outside of their faith. Even if the women are looking to mind their own business, this supernatural demon, or the killers, or Ernest Borgnine are bugging them and it all goes back to the Hittites.
Rob: Agreed, which made it so much more frustrating that the movie doesn’t do much with them. I don’t want to say they’re a red herring, but they’re kind of a red herring.
Adam: I know Wes Craven grew up very religious and later turned away from his upbringing, so the movie can’t help but feel rich in that personal experience. I just don’t think his storytelling sensibility is there yet to express these emotions in a clear way through a plot. The movie is as confused as its author and that’s ok. It makes for a fascinating experience. I’ll take this movie all day over his other Deadly movie.
Rob: I’ve never seen Deadly Friend. Not even Kristy Swanson can save it, huh?
Adam: It’s not very good at all. Going back to Deadly Blessing...what did you think of Sharon Stone? For me, every sentence was an adventure. She reminded me a lot of myself when I did my one and only play in Chicago where I got very actor-y with my script and wrote/rehearsed ACTIVE CHOICES, but the problem was everyone watching my performance could see my ACTIVE CHOICE in every beat. I wish I had a documentary during my “An Actor Prepares” phase. You specifically would find it very funny. I was bad. It’s why I have so much respect for actors.
Adam: Is that even Sharon Stone?
1. Now that we’re at the end of Scary Movie Month, what were some of your favorite new discoveries?
2. Is there a Wes Craven movie you feel is his most underrated that you want to call out here?
3. What are your three favorite Incubus songs?
Rob: The only new favorite that I’ll add since our last discussion is The Return of the Living Dead. I know I’m a garbage person for not having seen it already, but it was one of those movies I never bothered sitting down for because I’d already ingested so much of it through pop culture osmosis throughout the years. It’s amazing, obviously. That’s not news to anyone.
Adam: Yep, that’s a good one. RIP James Karen. My favorite new-to-me’s (that I didn’t mention last week) have been Vampire’s Kiss (even though I have a lot of problems with its office abuse subplot), The Monster Club, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which took me a week to finish, but it’s good and better than its lukewarm reputation.
Rob: I’m probably the wrong person to ask about underrated West Craven movies, as he’s the Horror Master whose filmography I have the least command of (Major gaps include the aforementioned Deadly Friend, Swamp Thing, and Vampire in Brooklyn). But I’ve been wanting to revisit Red Eye since I used a few clips in my class a while back. I haven’t seen it since the theater.
Adam: I remember loving Rachel McAdams in that movie and thinking everything on the plane was strong, but it derailed when it got to the third act. My underrated Wes Craven is The Serpent and the Rainbow. It’s legit scary and kind of fades into the background in conversation about Craven because A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream are so seminal.
Adam: You should never guess Incubus songs. I was WAY into them my freshman year of college. Their angst made sense with my angst. My favorite songs of theirs are "Anna Molly," "Isadore," "Stellar," "Warning," and "Wish You Were Here." I’m going to listen to some Incubus now as I work on this spreadsheet. What are we talking about next week?
Rob: Our All Pacino series returns with a bang as we cover Dog Day Afternoon. John Cazale alert! Until next time…
Adam: These seats are reserved.