“A gruesome secret, protected for generations, rises to give its… Deadly Blessing.” The tagline to Wes Craven’s 1981 offering, Deadly Blessing, could just as well be a description of the film’s elusive home release itself rather than the mysterious, supernatural antagonist which haunts a young Sharon Stone and company in the story.
After a limited run in cinemas and an equally modest release on VHS, the film essentially disappeared forcing fans to prove their devotion through hours spent scouring boot fairs and charity shops. A 2007 DVD release corrected this, but now, in its latest incarnation, Deadly Blessing is finally making the leap to High Definition in a dual format Blu-ray/DVD with a handsome line-up of special features.
The film itself is billed by its distributor, Arrow Video, as the return of an ‘American horror classic’, and whilst it certainly does not live up to this title (ask any horror fan for examples of classic horror films and see how many times this comes up), Deadly Blessing is an interesting film for fans of the genre. Craven is more restrained here, in contrast to his 1972 directorial debut Last House on the Left and 1977 follow-up The Hills Have Eyes, both infamously violent by the standards of their time. This is likely down to the fact that Deadly Blessing was both a studio film and not Craven’s own idea/script. However, where he tones down the violence, Craven instead explores subtler methods of disturbing his audience, most effectively through the use of recurring and malevolent dream sequences. Like a forewarning of 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, in which Craven’s iconic bogeyman Freddy Krueger invades the dreams of his victims before torturing and killing them, the dream sequences in Deadly Blessing feel just as dangerous as the waking lives of its characters. Fans of A Nightmare on Elm Street will also recognise one iconic scene that Craven has lifted straight out of Deadly Blessing and transplanted directly into the later film, even down to the camera angle.
Deadly Blessing was notably Sharon Stone’s first speaking role and was scored by the now legendary film composer James Horner. All this aside, the film doesn’t have much to offer the casual viewer. There are some memorable set pieces, but the story linking these disparate elements together never really pulls us in. The supposed isolation of the farm that the three main characters inhabit, although alluded to in the dialogue, never quite feels palpable. Add to this a nonsensical twist ending, whose implications for the narrative arguably invalidate the ninety minutes preceding it, and you’ll be wondering what the hell happened to this film! Fortunately, this Blu-ray release contains a director’s commentary and separate interviews with Wes Craven, Co-writer Glenn M. Benest and actor Michael Berryman, during which all three talk candidly about the studio politics that beset the shoot, so you’ll get your answer.
The special features on this release are revealing, funny and sparingly produced. The three interviewees answer questions about the production process, on-set politics and their past, current and future work, and are allowed the time and space to talk, regaling us with anecdotes, such as the time Craven was driven away from the set in a limousine and told by the film’s producers that he had to dress the female stars in lingerie throughout the shoot in a bid to boost the box office. Craven and Co. also talk about the film’s weaknesses with surprising honesty, something which definitely elevates this release.
Deadly Blessing is available from 25th March 2013 on Blu-ray/DVD Special Edition. Distributed by Arrow Video.
Deadly Blessing Film Review by Tom Smalley