Saturday, October 31, 2015

Spooktacular Savings #27 & Papa Mike's Video #12: Wes Craven's DEADLY BLESSING

"You are a stench in the nostrils of God!"

(Oh, RIP Train btw, for Wes Craven and composer James Horner...)

That line above is spoken by Ernest Borgnine's character, the sort of patriarch of the farm called Our Blessing in some rural backwoods place.  He leads a sect of the Amish called Hittites - who I could've sworn were mentioned by Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters as being part of the group that were associated with Zuul or something, but whatever, it's a movie - and they are super strict folks.  You can tell simply by Borgnines beard, which seems glued on but who knows maybe he grew it, and just how pissed he is in this whole movie.  Not once does he smile, and why should he - he sees that there are some "outsider" women in their neck of the woods (I use a kinder word there than he does than outsider), and that no good can come from it.  Oh, and at times he has to show some his flock a lesson or two when they get out of line (one of the younger men at one point tries to sneak a peek at a naked lady, I think that was him, or he did something else, who cares).

I wish the movie was actually from his point of view.  He may not be any more complex than the other characters, but damn it all if Borgnine doesn't make him interesting by just how much he plays so well a raging, hammy asshole.  Every time he came on screen I liked Deadly Blessing more, as much as when the set pieces would come up involving our lovely ladies on screen getting harassed by... snaked and spiders.

Sure, that doesn't sound too compelling, but the scenes are staged with an appropriate amount of suspense and Craven gets to flex his chops with setting up a character in a room and seeing what thing will come up to fuck it up; the woman who is in the bathtub seems, by the way, like a precursor to a similar scene in Nightmare on Elm Street (right down to the obvious, exploitative phallic imagery of long things between a woman's legs - by the way this actress clearly has on bottoms in the bathtub). Another impressive set piece, a couple far as I can remember, involve giant spiders and the webs that they leap off from; one of them is where the image from the poster comes from, where Sharon Stone (in her screen debut) is instructed by a voice with a set of black, furry arms to open her mouth wider and wider, and then the spider goes PLOP into her mouth.  Her reaction is intense and wild and a lot of fun.

I mention these scenes because they're the best things about the movie.  There's also some craziness that happens in the last 15 minutes or so: at one point a woman, with a guy in a car who gets killed right outside of it, gets some gasoline spilled right close by to her and a fire comes to get to her car.  That little scene works, as do some other moments of horror as things ratchet up to the conclusion (which, if you've seen Craven's Scream by the way, won't come as TOO much of a shock as to what happens to a particular character after being put down).

But everything around these set pieces and Borgnine are not interesting in the slightest.  I got something of a plot where a man is killed in a barn by a tractor that may (or may not!) be powered by someone, and the man's wife's girlfriends come to the village to help her out in her time of need.  There's also some temptations for the Hittite folk (one of them Craven mainstay Michael Berryman, who gets a couple of creepy moments), and then, uh, some dialog and conversations happen.  Stone isn't even too bad here, though she's not given much to do outside of her spidery entanglements.  I get that it's supposed to be a dramatic set up and environment, but there actually didn't seem to really be *enough* of the hittites to make them either really compelling and grounded (ala Witness) or schlocky enough (they almost get there but not quite, i.e. the tractor) to make it a blast.

I wish I could recommend the movie more - it got re-released not too long ago by the incredible Shout Factory company, who put out many of the best re-releases of genre movies in this country - but it's not super impressive aside from a few truly wonderful moments with a couple of the actors and scares.  I'm sure Craven was trying, but he needed to make it just a little less serious; if everyone was as campy as Borgnine, or maybe a couple more were, then we might have something.  Deadly Blessing is a curiosity, but not an essential film from the late horror icon. 

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