The Film: Invitation to Hell (1984)
The Principles: Directed by: Wes Craven, Written By: Richard Rothstein, Starring: Robert Urich, Susan Lucci, Soliel Moon Frye, Kevin McCarthy
The Premise: A family moves to a suburban town only to be coerced into joining a suspicious club.
Is It Good?: No. Absolutely not. Invitation to Hell concerns a family of four moving to an isolated urban community where the father, Matt Winslow (Robert Urich), is going to work for an up-and-coming technology firm that is building a heat resistant suit to send men to Venus. Soon he realizes that everyone who works for the company is part of a secretive country club run by a woman named Jessica Jones (Susan Lucci), who is trying to get Matt and his family to join.
We have an obviously malefic secret society goading families into walking into this big door that emanates smoke and Matt is working on an extremely heat resistant astronaut suit that comes equipped with a laser gun and a flamethrower. You see where this is going, I see where this is going, but the movie is going to take an hour and ten minutes to let our hero figure it out. And we’re going to have to sit through stilted 1970s movie-of-the-week caliber acting and unnatural dialogue until we at last get to see Matt don his magic spaceman suit and walk through Hell shooting Star Wars lasers at Susan Lucci.
There’s a sort of sustained madness involved here, the movie opens with a limo driver who runs over Susan Lucci because he’s distracted by sexy girls in bikinis, she then rises from the ground like Dracula and points her finger at his car causing the window to explode, she then walks around to the driver’s seat to confirm that the driver has indeed melted into a puddle. This is the cold open we’re given and it teases the same kind of sustained insanity as weird 1970s TV movies like Horror at 37,000 Feet. Even though the movie gets more normal from there, things remain off-kilter and bizarre. None of the performances are bad in the usual way, it’s not that the actors come across as flat, they just seem like an alien race attempting to ape the cadences of human speech but the only examples they have to go on are David Lynch movies.
When the movie isn’t completely hackneyed it’s rather dull and the subtext is a thematic wasteland. You see, Susan Lucci is the devil (probably) and she’s taking people’s souls by offering them wealth, power, sex, the usual shit. But Matt Winslow is pure, he loves his family and has no need for such creature comforts, the laser-beam shooting astronaut suit helps him survive the flames of hell but the real laser-beam shooting astronaut suit was inside of him all along!
The case can be made that pretty much all of Wes Craven’s output outside of The Hills Have Eyes and A Nightmare on Elm Street has a lot of deep-cut flaws, but even goofy stupid shit like Deadly Friend and A Vampire in Brooklyn at least have some sort of validity as the kind of odd movie you might catch on TV at three a.m. and have a good laugh about. Invitation to Hell is dreck, it’s awful puerile garbage and even for completionists it’s a waste of time.
Random Anecdotes: Michael Berryman is in here somewhere, allegedly. It may be the only Craven movie he’s in that’s worse than The Hills Have Eyes II.
Soleil Moon Frye’s (Punky Brewster herself) acting as her character’s demon-possessed doppelganger is ridiculously adorable.
Cinematic Soulmates: The Stepford Wives, The Manitou, Deadly Friend, The Horror at 37,000 Feet