Invitation To Hell


It’s truly phenomenal what skeletons you can dig up when pulling a deep search into the filmography of a beloved auteur and for an extra juicy dumpster dive, horror directors are where it’s at. Take the late, beloved icon Wes Craven, a filmmaker whose high concept frighteners effortlessly broke new ground when blending social metaphors with truly harrowing violence, but who still had to endure an awkward learning curve when transitioning from the seat-of-his-pants, guerilla filmmaking of Last House On The Left and Hills Have Eyes to slicker horrors such as his seminal Nightmare On Elm Street.
To say Craven was struggling would be a little unfair – after all, we weren’t to know back then he was going to revolutionise horror in the 90’s with the smash hit Scream – but the fact that his clunky TV movie, Invitation To Hell, was released the same year he debuted Freddy Krueger into cinemas just shows how inconsistent Wes’ output could really be.


Engineer Matt Winslow has just moved his family to Southern California thanks to his new job at Micro-DigiTech, a tech company that has him working on a heat resistant space suit that scan threats via the helmet and contains a flame thrower in the wrist (A flame thrower? In space?).
Happy that their fortunes are seemingly on the rise, both Matt and his wife Patricia seem to face an odd amount of peer pressure to join the local Streaming Springs Country Club which is run by the glamorous Jessica Jones who swans around the place with her voluminous hairdo held together with enough spray to singlehandedly melt the ice caps while striding around in a red jumpsuit looking like Elizabeth Tayor was clothed by the aliens from V.
While Matt views the club with suspicion, Patrica is eager to start charging up those social rungs, desperate to join the in crowd and leave the older, poorer times behind and she signs herself and her kids up for membership with disturbing results.
By now, Matt is in full conspiracy mode and the fact that his family are now acting completely different (they try have their perfectly healthy family dog euthanized) is only more disturbing to him and he vows to get to the bottom of whatever is rotten in the local country club.
It ultimately turns out that the place is hiding an entrance to Hell and anyone who joins the club loses their soul to the fiery netherworld, so Matt decides to break into Streaming Springs and somehow brave the unholy fires in order to get his family back – if only there was some way he could endure such inhospitable conditions. Saaaaaay, wait a minute…. doesn’t Matt have a suit that could perform exactly such a task?


The second of four TV movies Wes Craven made throughout his life (the last one was made as late as 1990), Invitation To Hell may surely be the most bizarrely random one of them all. You feel that with all the left field plot twists, cack handed metaphors and unsubtle performances, Invitation To Hell was maybe supposed to be a satire, except for the damning fact that it doesn’t contain a single chuckle, both intended or accidental.
Still, this rickety paranoia thriller at least has a few welcome faces involved with Robert Ulrich, the veteran of too many tv movies to count taking the lead, Joanna (Blade Runner) Cassidy playing the wife, Bastian from Neverending Story playing the son and appearances from horror stalwarts Kevin McCarthy, Nicholas Worth and Michael Berryman in smaller roles.
However, this doesn’t alter the fact that the movie is an incredibly hokey piece of laughable crap that, if you didn’t already know it was directed by one of horror’s greatest names, you’d lose money in a bet if debating it. The basic bodysnatching/stepford wives premise has been done far better elsewhere (McCarthy’s presence has got to be a sly wink, right?) and the execution is utterly laughable with the introduction of Matt’s fire resistant spacesuit being the key to allow him to enter actual Hell, being one of the most absurd plot devices I’ve ever witnessed in my life. It actually gets worse thanks to the fact that he manages to smuggle it into the country club thanks to there just happens to be a costume party occuring there on that exact same night is screen writing on a scale so bad it borders on offensive.


Still, despite all of the tacky writing and dimestore visuals, you can’t say Invitation To Hell doesn’t shoot for the moon with an absolute fever dream of an ending that sees Robert Urich enter Hell in a spacesuit (represented by a pantomime cave and a couple of moans), jump off a cliff and beg his wife to return while she badly mimes playing the piano. At times during this sleepily unhinged finale, the TV movie amusingly starts to resemble what would happen if you laced the food of the members of a community theater with LSD and let them put on an improvised show, but for long time admirers of Craven’s work, there are some weird parallels.
A moment when Matt confronts his two demon kids talk in raspy voices feels vaguely reminiscent of parts of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare when Heather Langenkamp’s kid flirts with a bout of possesson and parts of the finale (the villain exploding into light on the face of our hero’s “niceness” with he and his family awaking and literally opening a door on a blindingly bright new day) feels like a dry run as the closing moments of the orginal Elm Street.


A regrettable stepping stone to greatness as Craven edged ever closer to a certain red and green jumpered child slayer, Invitation To Hell manages to be one you’d quite happily to RSVP in the negative.


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