When I came to the obvious (and self-fulfilling) ending of the great Sam Raimi’s most overrated film Drag Me To Hell (2009) in which (spoiler warning), the protagonist is… dragged to hell, I couldn’t help but think that final scene felt remarkably familiar.

Hadn’t I seen this very same ending before? I seemed to remember something almost exactly the same viewed late at night in some grainy repeat on a tube television that barely got cable. This happens to me a lot, considering the fact that I started watching horror movies at a disturbingly young age. This time I remembered it pretty well. The protagonist is in her kitchen believing that the horrors of the film are completely over. Her surroundings start shaking and a demon bursts through the floorboards, grabs her and, yes folks, drags her into hell just as the floorboards replace themselves and the screen goes black.

Exeunt.

After a few weeks of searching and plugging an awful lot of strangely combined keywords into IMDB’s search engine, a friend found it for me. The protagonist (Martha) was played by Maren Jensen, the film was Deadly Blessing and the director was none other than Wes Craven himself.

This came as a shock to me because I had enjoyed a long and rich fandom with Wes Craven and his films. I hadn’t gotten to all of them yet, but starting with my late night middle-school lock-in showings of A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), I was hooked as a bona fide Wes Craven enthusiast. That is, I thought I hadn’t gotten to every one of them. When I realized the scene I had been searching for was from 1981’s Deadly Blessing I discovered that the circle was just about complete.

In retrospect, Deadly Blessing was, in fact, my first Wes Craven film and as you can see, its ending left an impression. Another scene that left an impression on me was the bathtub sequence (but not for the reason you might think). An unseen assailant releases a deadly snake into Martha’s bathtub while she is relaxing in the bath with a washcloth over her face. She feels something moving in the water, reaches down and finds… A bar of soap. She laughs and carries on relaxing until she feels the movement again and is forced to confront the snake in a bloody and disturbingly memorable sequence.

Does that sound familiar? If so, this is because Craven revisited this motif (which, reportedly, came to him in a nightmare) in a later film, that being A Nightmare on Elm Street. Nancy is seen relaxing in the tub from virtually the same camera angle when Freddy’s claws appear between her legs, ready to strike. They disappear faster than a deleted red herring when Nancy’s mother knocks on the door. Soon after the claws return and attempt to… oh, yeah… drag her down through the water into some dark underworld.

Ah, so the familiarity has a second dimension to it. Now let’s take another look at that impactful ending. According to many sources, that wasn’t Craven’s idea to begin with but it was forced on him by the producers of the film. After all, the film had its happy and fulfilling ending. Why mess it up later? While this may not have been his plan, it may have influenced him later on. When A Nightmare on Elm Street has reached its happy and fulfilling ending, Nancy finds herself in another dream in which everything seems perfect, believing that the horrors of the film are completely over. Suddenly her boyfriend’s car becomes possessed and takes off with her and her friends as its prisoners and the ragtop pops up with Freddy Kruger’s distinctive red-and-green sweater colors all over it.

In A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), which Craven co-wrote, we learn that this ending was, in fact, just a dream and Freddy never did claim Nancy, nor did her friends come back. Deadly Blessing had no such sequel and, wanted or not, this was the last we heard from Martha and her clan.

That clan is called the Hittites, a sect the script describes as making “the Amish look like swingers.” The domineering leader of the group is played by Ernest Borgnine (in a Razzie-nominated performance), while a young Sharon Stone portrays Lana, a close friend of Martha. The Hittites are preyed upon by a slasher killer and Borgnine’s character blames an “Incubus” for the murders.

It is, of course, left ambiguous as to whether there really is a demonic force at work or if this is “merely” a serial killer, perhaps a former (or current) member of the sect. One thing we do know is that it’s not Michael Berryman’s character, considering the fact that he is among the first to die. Don’t worry, though. This was only the second time Craven hired Berryman after The Hills Have Eyes (1977). They would team up twice more in Invitation to Hell (in which people are invited, rather than “dragged”) and The Hills Have Eyes Part II (both 1984).

While that ending (again, wanted or not) may be the most memorable part of the film and the scene with the most special effects, there is another very talked-about scene and it didn’t require special effects at all. As Sharon Stone’s Lana sleeps, a live spider drops into her open mouth. This was a real spider (albeit de-fanged) and the scene was enough to cause uneasiness and even nausea among its audience.

That audience wasn’t exactly huge, considering the lack of success of this film. Somewhere in between Craven’s edgier work like The Last House on the Left (1972) and the aforementioned The Hills Have Eyes and his big successes like Nightmare and Scream (1996) floated Deadly Blessing. Deadly Blessing may not be completely memorable in its own right (let’s face it, the film can be very slow at times and the mystery is quite by-the-numbers when brass tacks take center stage) but this is an important milestone in Wes Craven’s career and in spite of the fact that it is not among his best-known works, it is most assuredly one of his more influential films. As terrible a tagline as this might be, I would urge you to think twice… before entering… the kitchen… alone.

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