Dark Faith (Deadly Blessing, 1981)

Taking on religious zealotry, Deadly Blessing focusing on a couple who live in a farming community of Hittites. Jim was a Hittite, but left the faith when he married Martha. When Martha becomes pregnant, they seek the help of a local midwife who is also not a part of the Hittite community. When Jim is murdered one night, two of Martha’s friends come from the city to help and comfort her.

The women find themselves at odds with the local Hittite leader Isaiah who is certain they are a threat to his community, seductresses who tempt the men. When his son is murdered, things begin to escalate.

There are some pretty good frights in the film, especially some nightmares involving spider. Ernest Borgnine chews some scenery. The nightmare imagery hints at what was yet to come. But the storytelling just barely rises above the level of a TV movie (one of the writers was also a writer on Craven’s Summer of Fear). I never found myself feeling invested in the characters.

This is not a Wes Craven classic, and that is too bad. Seeing Craven explore religious and secular conflict feels like it would be fertile ground for him. But in the end, Deadly Blessing is fairly mediocre.

Fast and Furious (The Quick and the Dead, 1995)

Quick_and_the_Dead_posterStop me if you’ve heard this one…a mysterious drifter comes to town with a purpose only known to her.

Ellen wanders into a small town ruled by Herod.  Every year, Herod holds a quick draw competition.  Gunfighters from all over come to show off their skills. He is a cruel and vindictive man. He has a former partner in crime, Cort, in chains.  Cort walked away from his criminal ways and became a preacher. But Herod is trying to push Cort into cast away his faith.

Ellen is a hard drinking and tortured woman.  She has arrived for the competition.  But as she grows closer to her goal of fighting Herod, the weight of vengeance starts to wear her down. She takes some comfort with Herod’s young and cocky son, called the Kid.

The Kid is tired of living under his father’s shadow.  This is one of the closest points to being human Herod has.  He tries to force the Kid out of the contest when it is clear the kid aims to go against his father.

Meanwhile, Cort tries to convince Ellen to walk away…leading to Herod seeing an opportunity and set Ellen and Cort against each other a shootout to the death.

If this sounds like a mass of western cliches…well, it should.  This is the point of Sam Raimi’s film.  He is paying a very loving homage to the classic spaghetti western.  At the same time, this is shot with the classic Raimi style.  Weird angles, impossible visuals and over the top characters.

This is Gene Hackman at his scene chewing best.  His performance as Herod is the classic “Evil Town Leader” mold, and a whole lot of fun. As the Kid, Leonardo DiCaprio is a lot of fun to watch.  He is immensely over confident, but that is kind of his charm.  Russell Crow’s performance as Cort is a bit more understated. And it serves the character well.  Cort is a bit like Bill Munny from Unforgiven in that he turned from evil and seeks a more righteous path.  But his past refuses to make this easy.

Raimi fills the background with a remarkable cast of character actors.  Lance Henrickson is the fancy Gambler and gunfight Ace.  Keith David is the bounty hunter hired by the town to kill Herod.

The Quick and the Dead is a great love letter to the westerns of Sergio Leone and entertaining as all git out.

In Search of White People (Allen Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold, 1986)

Allen_Quartermain_City_of_Gold_PosterPretty sure this sequel was greenlit before the previous film hit theaters, hoping to have a franchise.  For Chamberlain and Stone, this was the end of the road.

Everything that plagues King Solomon’s Mines?  Is still here.  There are no improvements.  Poor effects, awkward performances… the sexism, Jesse still does not really do a thing other than getting in trouble and get saved by Quartermain.

For racism, the natives do not fare any better this time around.  They are either primitives or mysterious primitives.Their search is for the titular Lost City of Gold…a city of myth inhabited by white Africans.    The white people they find are (of course) not primitive.  Oh, and they are ruled by Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.

This sequel is no improvement over the first film.  Granted, it is not really any worse.  Just equally terrible.

To a Pulp (King Solomon’s Mines, 1985)

King_Solomons_Mines_PosterTo cash in on Indiana Jones, Cannon Films produced this film based on the pulp works of H. Rider Haggard.  King Solomon’s Mines has been adapted more than once, both before and after this 1985 version (mainly TV and direct to video).

Allen Quartermain is an adventurer and fortune hunter hired by Jesse Huston to find her missing father in the African Jungle.  She believes he disappeared during an expedition to locate King Solomon’s Mines.

They brave all sorts of obstacles to reach the mines, including Germans and African tribes.

The film is definitely going for the feel of Indiana Jones, especially Raiders of the Lost Ark.  The film even cast John Rhys-Davies (Sallah in Raiders) as one of the villains.  The end result though?  Not very good.  It misses the mark in its performances, it’s action scenes and general tone.  The effects are cheap imitations of what we get from the ILM produced adventures.

What really hurts the film above all though?  It’s extremely dated sexism and racism.  At no point does it appear to have occurred to the film makers that Jesse might actually be interesting if she…well, did stuff.  Jesse exists solely to get in trouble, be saved and scream a lot.  She never shows the strength or smarts to be part of the resolution.  This was four years after audiences met the fiercely independent Marion Ravenwood.  Even Willie Scott had more presence.  Adding that Sharon Stone just lacks any charisma in the role, Jesse is forgettable and is just a pretty girl for Chamberlain’s Allen Quartermain to win.

And the racist choices.  O.M.G.  Rhys-Davies has clearly been painted a shade of brown.  It is distracting and embarrassing to watch.  The African Tribes are the worst of primitive stereotypes.

The end result is a film that just cannot compete against other pulp based fare, and lacks any charm on its own.

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