Invitation To Hell (1984)

AUGUST 9, 2007


As Invitation to Hell began with a woman being run over and then getting up and killing the driver, I began to ponder the directing style of Wes Craven. Specifically, the fact that he doesn’t really have one, in terms of certain angles or motifs (i.e. Spielberg always working in "people looking" and daddy issues). Unlike early John Carpenter films (the ones with Dean Cundey as DP), which were always recognizable as Carpenter’s, Craven has never really had that significant ‘look’ to his films. Not that it’s a bad thing, but it’s worth noting. I think.

Anyway, bizarrely enough, the DP credit came up, and guess who it was? Dean Cundey himself! Weird.

A 80s TV movie starring TV staples like Robert Urich, Soleil Moon Frye, and Susan Lucci doesn’t really have much promise regardless of who is directing it, and I’m not sure anyone could pull off a really great movie about a secretive health spa, but for what it is, it’s enjoyable enough nonsense. Though I should point out that the family apparently lives next door to the Freelings, so maybe I was just clouded by my memories of their suburban nightmare.

Either way, I always have a soft spot for movies with nonsensical computer technology. The spacesuit they are designing somehow knows if something is benign or not, and there’s a scene of Urich looking at a computer database that left me laughing out loud. He asks it to search for all the people at the company that have been promoted, and it lists them all. That’s OK enough (though he puts about 20 words too many in his search), but then he types in “How many of them belonged to the Health Spa?” and the computer replies, in RED text (previous was white), “ALL OF THEM!” It’s like what Ask Jeeves pretends to be, almost 20 years before it was created!

I also took particular interest in young Punky’s rabbit doll, which is the most sinister looking goddamn doll I have ever seen in a film, even the ones where the doll was the killer.

Isn’t that haunting? Later in the film, when the health spa cult (there’s a term you don’t see often enough) has taken control of her, she goes apeshit and begins stabbing and cutting the damn thing to pieces, and from my perspective, she wasn’t really doing anything wrong.

The ending of the film is also a howler, as Urich dons his spacesuit and literally goes into Hell (which resembles one of the mid level sets from an old Star Trek episode). And then fires a laser gun at the Devil. Wow. Nowadays, TV movies are either about detectives or battered women or true crime stories (or all three), it’s nice to know that back in the day, you could see an original film of a guy wandering around hell firing Flash Gordon weapons at Satan right before the nightly news.

Oh Wes, I never thought I’d see a film of yours top Shocker in terms of pure nonsensical storytelling, but I have been proven wrong. Bless you sir, bless you.

What say you?



  2. I think you're dead on about Craven not having a style. If it wasn't for his trio of horror hits (Last House, Nightmare, and Scream), I think he would be lumped in with all of the other work for hire directors. Would "Red Eye" have been any different with Peter Hyams or John Badham behind the camera? This isn't a bad thing, I really liked "Red Eye," but I don't think only Craven could have made it. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that Craven has said on a number of occassions he doesn't really enjoy horror movies that much, and if it wasn't for the success of "Last House" which lead to "Nightmare" he probably could have gotten out of them. Whereas with people like Carpenter, Raimi, Romero, etc. you can see their love of the genre in every frame and their attempt to do something unique. However, it makes you wonder how someone that could make two truly bizarre horror films (Serpent and the Rainbow and The People Under the Stairs) would show a lack of interest in the genre.

    I also think that it is a shame we don't get T.V. movies like this anymore. I remember in the eighties, crap like this would come on prime-time all the time. Now about the closest thing we get is a terrible Stephen King adaptation. I miss the days of Terrorvision and Trilogy of Terror, and yes, Invitation to Hell even. Craven also had another made for T.V. film that I believe was called "Chiller" if you can track it down. Good stuff.


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