Deadly Blessing marks the transition between the confrontational cruelty of Last House on the Left/The Hills Have Eyes and the more allegorical, elegant later works by Wes Craven. Unfortunately, it’s a flawed film, it doesn’t achieve harmony between the very distinctive genre conventions it’s rooted on, its overall mysterious tone is continuously brought down by the banality of the slasher bits, by their rough, lifeless construction (the movie’s low points, accompanied by a typically overwrought score by James Horner, it doesn’t help), contrasted with a mostly truncated but daring experiment in supernatural horror. As I said, this unpolished quality is partially due to the director deliberately distancing himself from what could be directly linked to his infamous exploitation efforts, but that’s what makes it appealing, and there is one particular scene I would put among Craven’s best and most revealing moments.
Instead of the progressive and slow deconstruction of a mundane space into a short glimpse of hell, as we see in the movies of Mario Bava and a few others, Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street and his subsequent films are unique because of the quick transitions between these spaces, the ordinary and the ones tainted by an underlying reality, by occult horror, done with incredible ease, in Deadly Blessing we can see that effect attained almost in a single shot. A shot that indicates both the exterior and interior of the barn, the life of the community and the unknown. Those transitions are always physical, a very common aspect in Craven: interiors, or home, is where the guiding rules of a society will be disputed, where the hidden truth behind misunderstood external problems will be disclosed and change its structure, heal it or destroy it. Everything becomes uncertain, an entirely different world also exists in the ideal suburban neighborhood of A Nightmare on Elm Street, a gruesome one, the same goes for the practices of the strange religious group and their relation to “the forbidden barn”.
In this scene from Deadly Blessing, it takes just a focus pull to turn a nightmare image for Sharon Stone’s character into reality, an image of the only path to leave the terrifying place, and a very simple technique brings another dimension, that simplicity is what is extraordinary, a good example of the close connection Craven makes between artifice and the subconscious, why it must be always precise, because it’s easy to get whimsical and senseless, just look at the Nightmare sequels for proof, it’s surprising how wild his movies get in their fantastic elements without ever losing contact with their basis in real-world problems, a mistake even some masters of the genre occasionally make. I think it’s a great scene lost in a largely erratic film, maybe a sketch for greater things, in Shocker or The People Under the Stairs, something this good will appear every 10 minutes, but there’s mastery here.