Amish horror! I always knew they were up to something, with their button-less clothes and their horse-drawn carriages. That's why I fear Pennsylvania. Cinema has taught us that Pennsylvania is filthy with both the Amish and with zombies. And Scott Weinberg. If you're a horror nut, you're always seeking to fill in those gaps in your knowledge, trying to get your hands on some obscure 70's giallo or see some of the lesser known fair by your favorite directors. Whether it's Tobe Hooper's Eaten Alive or Romero's There's Always Vanilla, there's always some little piece of film that escapes your grasp. I realized recently that Wes Craven has quite a few of those (and with good reason, I would learn). Back in 1981, after Craven had introduced us to irradiated mutants and psychotic rapists, but before he birthed Freddy, he gave us Deadly Blessing.

The isolated farming community of Our Blessing is the playground for our Hittite horrors. Having fled Los Angeles, Tom and Martha are trying to build a simple life for themselves. Tom plows the fields with his various mechanized devices while the monochromatic Amish neighbors watch and judge. They're all around, working the fields by hand and leering at the outlanders from beneath their wide-brimmed hats. The two primary Amish folks are played by Ernest Borgnine and early Craven stalwart Michael Berryman, whose presence never leads to anything good. Berryman is predictably creepy and stupid, a hulking man-child who spends his time peeking through windows and screaming, 'Incubus!' at Martha. Borgnine, as the de facto leader of the Amish clan, is equally inhospitable. You see, Tom was once a member of the clan. Instead of embracing the family's ways, he ran off to California, forsaking the Hittite path and generally whoring it up. When the prodigal son returned with his not-Amish-approved wife, he wasn't exactly welcomed with open arms.

As punishment for his inequities, Tom is killed under mysterious circumstances, a farming 'accident'. Rather than flee Amish-land, Martha digs her heels in, determined to fulfill Tom's wishes of raising their coming child on the farm. To stand by her side through the grief, her two Los Angeles sophisticate friends, Vicky and Lana (Sharon Stone), join her on the farm. The murders escalate, as do all sorts of cryptic dreams, ill omens, and generally bad stuff. There's a guy that turns into a spider, an unseen assailant with a giant knife, and further warnings of the dreaded incubus. This all culminates in a shotgun blast of and ending that was all over the place. Multiple twists will leave you both cold and puzzled, trying to piece together exactly what happened.

Despite a somewhat original premise and being one of the only Amish horror films I can think of, Deadly Blessing has little to offer. Something about it feels very 'made for tv'. Sure, there are breasts and blood and so on, but it's all very bland. Aside from a few squirm worthy moments involving spiders crawling into mouths, the film is without any thrills. It spins its wheels with an uninteresting "forbidden love" subplot and has so much going on by the time it ends that none of the threads it sets out weave together in any satisfying way. You're never quite sure just what is going on. The ominous hints are enough for momentary intrigue, but you're never given a concrete boogeyman to grab onto. By the time it barrels to its eventual conclusion, its just a mess. They killed one of the characters with the most potential early on and the rest of them give little reason to invest yourself in their fate. And Borgnine pulled a Razzie nomination for this one!

If you're a completist, wanting to check off every single box on your list, then sure, seek out Deadly Blessing. I don't think it's been released on DVD, so you may have a rough time tracking it down. Don't bend over backwards for it, though. Just rent Witness and Children of the Corn and pretend they exist in the same universe.

categories Reviews, Horror