Some movies get a bad reputation in basic resource texts and, for better or worse, that becomes how they are known to people who can only experience them through these resources. The Godsend is an example of a horror film that fits this designation. It tends to get low marks in standard references, written off as a dull copy of The Omen. However, an objective look at The Godsend reveals that while it is fundamentally flawed, it also has interesting qualities that the “yea or nay” nature of a capsule review can’t touch on.
The Godsend was adapted from a novel by Bernard Taylor and focuses upon a family that is torn apart by an unexpected intrusion. Alan (Malcolm Stoddard) and his wife Kate (Cyd Hayman) are living a quiet life in the country with a bunch of kids when they are visited by a mysterious, heavily pregnant stranger (Angela Pleasance). She quickly has her baby and disappears. Kate decides to take the newborn in and over the next few years, the couple’s natural-born children begin dying under strange circumstances. Alan begins to realize what is happening but runs the risk of being branded insane and losing what’s left of his family as he tries to square off with the murderous moppet.
After a quietly spooky opening segment, The Godsend begins to announce its flaws. To begin with, it’s written in a very superficial way by Olaf Pooley, who just barely sketches out his characters and treats the bad seed titular character as a one-dimensional hellspawn. His broad-strokes approach fails to set up the kind of ambiguity that would have gotten under the audience’s skin and thus makes the evil so obvious that our protagonists kind of look like dolts for failing to see it. He also fumbles what could have been an acceptable shock coda.
Another problem is Gabrielle Beaumont’s direction, which is pedestrian in the extreme. She tends to shy away from the grimmer edges of the material, thus blunting the impact of the kind of horrific events (murderous children, temptation to murder a child) that should be intensely disturbing. When she does deal with the horror elements head on, she directs them in a very bland way, rushing through setpieces in a styleless, perfunctory manner. Both Pooley and Beaumount were t.v. vets and their superficial approach to the material gives it the feel of middling made-for-television fare.
However, The Godsend is oddly compelling despite these flaws. The concept of a child methodically bumping off the siblings in a previously happy family has a chilling quality: even with the simplistic, “edges sanded off” treatment it gets here, it’s still potent enough to creep the viewer out in spots. The acting is also above-average: Stoddard and Hayman give subtle performances that lend the material a note of believable emotion that it might not have had otherwise. It’s also worth noting that while her onscreen time is brief, Pleasance is a spooky and compelling presence.
To sum up, The Godsend is a deeply flawed stab at quiet horror but it’s also more interesting and watchable than its poor critical history would suggest. If you’re in a patient frame of mind, it might yield up a few effective chills.
Blu-Ray Notes: This was issued by Scream Factory on July 14th as a part of a double-bill blu-ray with The Outing. The new HD transfer for The Godsend looks pretty good, capturing the details of the hazy look nicely as well as the film’s muted color scheme. The lossless mono soundtrack sounds nice and clear. The one extras for this title is a trailer that works overtime to sell it as an Omen clone. Throw in The Outing as well and this disc offers a nice value for the deep-catalog horror film collectors.