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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Deadly Blessing Wes Craven 1981

He-She Who Walks Behind the Rows

Spoilers herein, kids. Just so ya know...

An incredibly odd little slasher-thriller-occult-drama-lost-episode-of-Little-House-on-the-Prairie hybrid, Wes Craven's Deadly Blessing is significant for three reasons. First, it features a very early screen appearance by none other than Sharon Stone, back when she was still plump and soft and didn't look like crepe paper draped over a birdcage. Second, it is one of the few horror films that dares to trade our standard Sexy Teens for Ernest Borgnine in an Amish beard. And third -- and most importantly for my purposes -- it revisits one of the most resilient and satisfying tropes that the horror genre has to offer: Chicks with Dicks.

Blessing, which marked Craven's return to the big screen after he downsized to direct the made-for-TV Summer of Fear (although I'm not sure that you can use the term "downsize" when discussing anything involving a teenaged Linda Blair...), starts out like all slasher movies should: with a montage of old-timey photos of people working in wheat fields. True, this is not the only film to start like this -- other horror flicks like Humongous and The Boogens steep us in the history of the setting or the characters with a montage of stills... but so did Mr. Belvediere. And while I like the classy-ish intro, it's just the first of a number of elements in the movie that scream "MADE FOR TV!!", even though this was a full-on theatrical production. In other words: Wes, your roots are showing.

In a series of short scenes, we learn that there are several groups of people co-habitating around some generic crops -- but honestly, it's quite difficult to figure out what the hell the relationships are among them. There's lovely (and horribly-named) Martha Schmidt (Maren Jensen of Battlestar Galactica, in her last role), who seems to be married to Jim (the yumtastic Douglas Barr from The Fall Guy), who may or may not be related to Amish-y Isaiah (Borgnine), John (cutie-pie Jeff East), and even maybe Willaim (Michael Berryman of Craven's The Hills Have Eyes), who has some sort of obsession with Faith (Lisa Hartman, way before she went Black), who is the daughter of Louisa (Lois Nettleton), who is actually kind of a freak. It's very difficult to tell anything at this point other than the fact that the costume department did all their shopping at Farm & Fleet. Then William starts blubbering something about "Incubus" and although he's not talking about the John Cassavettes-starring stinker that would be released 4 years later (although that would be amusing), you get the idea that the same kind of thing is afoot: maybe there's a demonic, murderous something-or-other that's trying to impregnante women, or something. Actually, don't get too wrapped up in all that, as none of it ends up mattering at all, anyway.

So we've got a handful of people wandering about on farmland, and some tension between the locals and the Amish-y folk (they're referred to as Hittite, which may or may not be a real sect -- hey, if you're out there reading this on your little burlap-and-twig computer, drop me a line!). Not exactly the makings of a nail-biting genre picture. Fortunately, we soon get a little sexin' (between the impossibly loving and wonderful Jim and Martha), and a little killin'; unfortunately, the person who gets killed is humpy Jim, which might make you want to switch off your VCR right then and there. But don't -- there are good things to come, one of which even involves Sharon Stone getting a tarantula dropped in her mouth. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

So Jim gets crushed to death by his Newfangled Devil Machine (i.e., tractor), and all signs point to Hittites as the culprit. But spindly, vaguely attractive Martha isn't about to pack up and leave the promised land just yet -- uh-uh. She's going to do what any recently-widowed pregnant woman whose husband has been murdered in cold blood mere yards from her open bedroom window in the middle of nowhere would do: invite her sexy single friends from Los Angeles to come and sleep over! Yes, in a staggering display of poor judgement, Martha invites the trashy Lana (Sharon Stone) and plucky Vicky (Susan Buckner) to come hang out with her in the armpit of the heartland. How exciting -- let's all go to Walton Mountain and have a Womyn's Circle under the Weeping Willow! Luckily, it's not long before these city mice tire of churning butter and get themselves into trouble: Vicky starts making cow-eyes at the virginal John (much to the displeasure of Isaiah, who openly denounces her white-piped yellow running shorts), and Lana sets about getting stalked by all sorts of nasty-looking spiders and nearly gets her silly self butchered in the barn by a mysterious intruder in black (in the film's most prolonged and best-directed suspense sequence -- it's actually really good). In fact, Lana is so pickled by her attack that she spends the rest of the movie whining and lounging about in cheap fabrics like some sort of flyover-state Veronica Lake. I think it's hilarious that these two came all the way to Green Acres to console their very recently-widowed (and possibly knocked-up) friend, and then one starts porking the locals while the other turns into a sniveling wreck who needs constant monitoring and attention. That's what friends are for, I guess.

Anyway, there's a near-rape, a strange egg-gifting by Faith, and a REALLY nasty dream sequence in which disembodied hands hold down Lana's head while a huge, hairy spider drops from the ceiling into her gaping, lipsticked mouth (one wonders why Sharon ever consented to such an indignity; then one remembers that Sharon later became famous for scrogging with a post-prime Michael Douglas in Basic Instinct and realizes that the gal has had far more disgusting things in her mouth than a hairy 2-pound arachnid). That's just about worth your ticket price right there. BUT WAIT! There's also a great snake-in-the-tub scene (foreshadowing Nancy's rub-a-dub with Freddy in A Nightmare on Elm Street years later) -- if you see the VHS version, note how the terrible cropping reveals that Maren is clearly wearing a black pair of granny-panties in the tub. Like we all do, right ladies? The increasingly whorish Vicky and her little Virgin Valentino go joyriding after Vicky sees Summer of Fear at the local theatre (subtle, Wes.), and we all know that Amish + cars = certain death for all involved. Sure enough, John gets knifed in the back and Vicky and her hot rod (aka Chariot of Satan) go up in a ball of righteous, cleansing fire. Meanwhile, John's Amish betrothed/rape victim, Melissa (Colleen Riley of The Hills Have Eyes Part II) goes to Faith and Lois's farm with a Chicago Cutlery steakknife and gets attacked by an obviously batshit Lois. Martha has a decent freakout when she sees this, and when she gets attacked by Faith, Faith's shirt rips open to reveal that she is actually a man -- or at least a he-she of some sort.

Um, WHAT?

Yes, folks -- this makes absolutely no sense. But apparently Faith is packing cack under that frilly Prairie Dawn getup, and mama Lois has been killing people to keep the terrible secret safe. The fact that the ladies have dug up Jim's body and have it propped up in the attic seems to suggest that Faith had a "thing" for him -- but then why was she painting a portrait of Martha (in which she looks vaguely Indian, for some reason) as a priestess? Were Faith's girly-bits in love with Jim, while her boy-bits were swinging toward Martha? But why did Momma have to kill anyone in the first place? Was the secret really in danger of getting out anyway? We're left to assume that the whole "incubus" song-and-dance was the buggy-folks' way of condemning Faith for her non-traditional gender classification, but it really doesn't make any sense either that they would care or that her identity crisis would lead to Sharon Stone having nightmares about eating spiders. Right?

It's all really kind of confusing, and in this day and age not nearly as shocking as it may have been at the time. So we fade out and come back what must be a few days later, as a horrifically-dressed Sharon Stone (looking every bit like Angelina Jolie in Sky Captain, minus the eyepatch) heads back to the city, leaving Martha to live in a new harmony with the funny-hat-people. But wait -- as she closes the front door and turns toward the kitchen, the ghost of Jim appears, moaning "Iiiiiincubuuuuuuus... iiiiiiiincuuuuubuuuuuuussssss......." -- and with that, a giant demon bursts out of the floor, grabs her, and pulls her into hell. The floorboards settle back into place and we cut to credits.

Um, what the FUCK?!?!?!?!?

It's obvioius that this little coda was tacked-on after a group of studio execs -- having watched the final print after blowing rails of coke off of Sharon Stone's ass for two hours -- decided that the movie would be improved by a pathetic demon and some reverse-motion exploding-parquet footage. And oh -- oh -- what about one of those "double exposures" with the ghost of the dead husband?! They stopped just short of having Martha wake up as an Amish woman, with the whole thing having been a terrible dream -- which, if this is ever remade, I'm sure will be the way to go. The ending is spectacularly bad, yes (and it's just about the only thing I remembered about the movie before I rewatched it recently) -- but it's such an obvious afterthought that it's really not even worth discussing. In all, with its condemning message about hermaphrodites, copious (and meaningless) spider footage (including the last shot -- I think there are a total of 4 rack-focuses to spiders throughout the film), hot Amish love, and horrific acting by the future Mrs. Scary Guy Who Got Bit by a Lizard at the Zoo, Deadly Blessing is definitely worth a looksie.

Rating (out of 5):