Invitation to Hell: Wes Craven's TV Movie of the Week
Dir. Wes Craven (1984)
A software developer moves into a new town to join a large corporation in the hopes of making more money and advancing his career. His family discovers a country club in town, and everyone is dying to get in.
I was stuck with two choices: I was in for either a day of the Lifetime Movie Network, or I could pick some horror movies that sounded entertaining to my wife and daughter. I just cannot abide the LMN, so I went with the latter route, hoping that I could find something to write about. I picked this film up a while back off of Ebay, knowing that, at worst, I'd be closer to getting the entire Wes Craven catalogue. Turns out, I got a Lifetime movie after all. Starring Susan Lucci and Robert Urich, Invitation to Hell was a made for TV movie from 1984 by Wes Craven and the great Dean Cundey. The film opens with Susan Lucci's character being hit by a car, after which she comically pops back up like one of those inflatable clown punching bags. She points angrily at the driver, who immediately starts burning alive in his car. It becomes apparent that Susan Lucci is the devil. She also plays the devil in this film. Urich is a family man who develops space technology, and he's been brought in as a developer by the fantastically named Micro-Digitech, which us a name that just screams "We are a fancy 80's computer company." He and his family are told that anyone who's anyone belongs to the Steaming Streams country club, which of course is run by Lucci's Miss Jones character.
What follows is a wonderfully 80's tale of family terror, with a nagging wife who wants to be a part of the community by joining the club, and a suspicious husband who desperately wants to keep his family safe. We watch as his family is seduced by evil and joins the club without him, going from a loving, totally 80's family (the daughter is Soleil Moon Frye, or Punky Brewster as everyone knows her) to minions of the devil. At one point Punky destroys her giant stuffed rabbit with a kitchen knife before turning it on dad. The wife comes at him with a golf club, and Robert Urich for sure knows now that his family is gone and he must go to extreme lengths to get them back.
Well, remember how I said up there that he develops space technology for Micro-Digitech? Well, this involves a spacesuit that can identify human and non-human threats (setting us up, of course, for the obligatory "spacesuit tells us that the people who are members of the club are now non-humans" scene), as well as the most 80's laser cannon ever put on celluloid. He uses this spacesuit to infiltrate the heavily foreshadowed Halloween costume party the club is throwing, descending through the doors of the club's spa into the Inferno of Hell.
At one point, just to make absolutely sure we know that these are bad folks, one of the main club employees is dressed as an actual Nazi. Like, swastika, iron eagle on the hat, everything. It occurs to me that that couldn't happen nowadays. You can't just dress like a Nazi unless you're playing a legitimate Nazi character now, people would be super pissed. But, it's the 80's, nobody cared about human rights or past wrongs then. It was all Miami Vice and roller rinks. This movie was clearly influenced by drugs.
Spoiler: It was cocaine.
Invitation To Hell is like The Wizard of Oz on even more drugs. And like, good, 80's drugs (cocaine' s a helluva drug). This might be the most deliciously, hilariously cheesy made-for-television film I've ever seen. It's an absolute must for Wes Craven completionists. Robert Urich is the standard TV actor, and he does a standard TV actor job. The writing was not bad for early-80's TV either. It wasn't great, sure, but it wasn't horrible. Ok, that's 100% a lie. This movie was absolutely terrible. But it was also super fun and laughably ridiculous. Which, come on, is absolutely what you're looking for in schlock like this. And here's the thing... it's Wes Craven, the master himself. And Dean Cundey? That name might not ring a bell to you, but I promise you've seen his work. The guy is a cinematography legend. Here's just a few of his credits: Five John Carpenter movies (Halloween, The Fog, Escape From New York, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China) 6 Robert Zemeckis movies (Romancing the Stone, Back to the Future I, II, and III, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and Death Becomes Her) Halloween II & III Hook Apollo 13 Motherfucking Jurassic Park Jack and Jill (Ok, maybe this one isn't as impressive) And to start it all off, he made an Ilsa movie and this flick. That's absolutely insane. The guy is a cinematography god... and he made this film. I haven't seen such a talented collaboration create such absolute shit since I collaborated with a Taco Bell burrito yesterday. Just... mind-blowing. Bottom Line: Yeah, go ahead and watch it. It's terrible, but you kinda get the feeling that this was Craven's payback for making all the good movies. Or maybe that was Cursed? All I know is, if you want to watch them all, you have to sit through this too. And it is absolutely, laughably bad. 1 out of 5 stars (but still watch it!)