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Invitation to Hell:
"Satan and Wes Craven want you to feel the burn, baby."
Most of the time I know I have to review a movie the moment I finish reading the plot summary. In this case, I'll just put it out in the open because otherwise you won't know exactly why we're both sitting here, wasting our time.
"An engineer who designs space suits and LASERS must resist the advances of Satan, represented by an infernal country club/gym."
Read that again and yes, that's why you're here. Invitation to Hell came out back in 1984...the same year Nightmare on Elm Street hit the theatres. I can only imagine how the face of horror could have been changed if THIS movie had been as popular as Freddy Krueger. Sadly, I have a pretty good imagination and morbidly wouldn't mind seeing the "spacemen in Hades" genre blossom at least a little.
In the tradition of most Wes "Dear God I made some really bad movies that I wish people would stop writing about on the internet" Craven films, the flick starts with a surreal introductory scene that doesn't make much sense, but damn it's kind of cool. That is, if you think hitting 1980's fashion victims with limos falls under the definition of "cool."
Welcome to Steaming Springs. It's pretty much one of those stereotypical community clubs for members only where you have to either be someone important or have a lot of money to get in. If you grew up in the early 1990's suburban America, you might even remember these things. They were huge for a while when everyone wanted to emulate the latest trend amongst the rich. By the 1990's, the middle class Americans like my family got the option to spend far too much money to use exercise equipment and feel like somebody important by being part of something exclusive. Sort of. I digress...Invitation to Hell revolves around the notion of the members only Country Club and I think Wes Craven was a little unhappy with them as well. Because this Country Club is run by Satan, which in movies is rarely a good thing.
So a limo driver isn't looking where he's driving (looking at rich girls in bikinis) and drives over some crazy lady with huge earrings and mad scientist hair. The driver looks in his rear view mirror and sees the woman he drove over slowly rise, glaring at him menacingly. With a well-manicured hand she gestures to him...
...causing him to start to scream and emit massive about of steam....
...before turning into a melting muppet before your very eyes. That's the film's opening, introducing us to the concept of a crazy witch who can't be killed by automobile accidents and has the power to melt other human beings. With Steam. Because she works for Steaming Springs. See? It's all coming together...this is a good movie after all. Really. Would I lie to you?
So here are our protagonists: The Winslow family. Well, only one of them is the real protagonist, but the family deserves a nod mostly for giving the main character some sort of motivation. The daughter (who would later grow up to be Punky Brewster as well as the voice of Jade from BRATZ) and the wife (played by terrible movie star [Witches of the Caribbean] but decent television [Six Feet Under] star Joanna Cassidy) are extremely stereotypical and as generic as they come, despite the people playing the characters. The Son though....take a look:
The NEverending StoooOOOrrrry....(nah nah nah, nah nah nah, nah nah nah). It brings me joy watching Bastian (Barret Oliver) in another movie besides the Neverending Story. He hasn't been in too many movies but he was so iconic he...I'll stop gushing and move on. Suffice to say Bastian fanboys and girls will be slightly distracted. I'm sure Punky Brewster fanatics or psychotic fans of "Ghosts of Mars" will be thrilled by the mother and daughter here, but hey, I'm a Neverending fan to the end (that's Neverending but you know what I mean).
Which leads us to our hero. Robert Ulrich (known to most of our generation as the narrator of that show "When Animals Attack") plays Matt Winslow, the hotshot engineer who's just moved to a corporate-run town in California (Silicon Valley/Silicone Mountains) for an exciting new job. He's the ethical engineer who hates working for The Man, but his evil capitalist wife thinks that money is better than morals so here he is, selling out. The husband/wife struggle is pretty much constant in the film. "I love you honey but why do you have to force me to submit my will to the Dark One?" is a constant theme emitting from our hero's lips. The movie's about the evil of steady employment as much as the evil of Satan. Go figure.
So what is he working on?
So he's designing Space Suits?
NASA: Totally Not getting Astronauts used to the idea of being blown up since 1984. Yeah, that's an offhanded Challenger joke, but seriously, Matt is designing space suits so that man can survive on the extreme heat of Venus. It gets better. The suit has lasers in it. They demonstrate this by blowing up a few cinder blocks. Why an astronaut would need wrist-mounted lasers is beyond me, but hey, it means we might actually get to see hot Demon versus Laser action. As you can see, this movie is a weird amalgam of what you'd expect from a made-for-TV (television, not transvestites) movie. It's got subtle evil magic, social drama, and freaking lasers. Now if it only threw in aliens or something, we'd be in business.
Oh right, they're looking for aliens on Venus. Does that count?
Last but not least (and all these things are coming at you rapid fire because they kind of fling them at you in the movie like so much monkey crap) is the helmet, which has an Artificial Intelligence in it that allows it to analyze what you're looking at. Oh and it's got a hippy vibe to it, because it "reads auras so it knows if something is hostile or not". Check it out:
See? I guess it works. I wonder what happens when someone accidentally leaves it on and that devil lady from the country club walks in?
Dear Lord, it's an evil alien detector. Thank you Wes Craven, that's....stupendous.
Long story short, now the rest of the film is made up mostly of the devil-lady saying that Matt should totally join the Community Club and asking him if he likes to have orgasms, casually. Hey, if the folks at the gym offered to pleasure me regularly, I might actually have kept that membership. Don't judge me, you'd do the same. Devil Lady (played by Susan Lucci, who has been in no less than 400 episodes of the Soap Opera All my Children) indoctrinates Matt's family into the club behind his back, mostly because the wife thinks it would be best if they all conformed and cashed in on having rich friends. There's a bit more to it than that, but it ends with the Devil Lady asking "Do you Forsake ALL for the Club?" Kind of an ominous question, but Matt wasn't known for marrying his wife for her intelligence. When Matt gets back, his wife is into rough sex, they've redecorated the apartment with a gothic motif that I actually kind of like, but is meant to show the family is evil and the kids are... different.
If you've ever wanted to see Bastian from the Neverending Story grunting like an animal and attempting to strangle a bad actor, this is the movie for you. In a similar vein:
Punky Brewster goes crazy, talks with a demon voice, and vivisects her stuffed rabbit. I don't know if this movie is terrible or awesome anymore. Matt interrogates Punky (by beating her up a little, I swear) and finds out his family is being held captive in Hell, which is conveniently located right below the Country Club. Since there's a big Halloween party going on that night, he needs a costume...and something that'll stand up to the incredibly hot temperatures of Hell. Eureka, he steals the Space Suit he was designing so that no one will recognize him and he won't be burned to ash when he decides to go joy-riding in the sea of fire. His disguise works pretty well, as he's able to slip into the compound without incident.
Well, he does run into a military general dressed up as a Nazi, but hey, I'm sure a lot of military folks do that when they want to let their hair down, right?
Oh, and while it's not important, we do get to see Matt use his space lasers against his demon possessed friend, played by Joe Regalbuto...the bald guy from that old show Murphy Brown. Jesus Christ, some made for TV movies are almost incestuous in who they cast. It's like they just stockpile television actors in a box, and when they need one they just shake it, and someone desperate will fall out and work for food. It's not an all-star cast, but it is a cast where between all of them they probably constitute something impressive. To someone. Who liked old TV shows and likes seeing their favorite actors in terrible roles for novelty's sake. You know, people like me.
Why am I reminded of an old Calvin & Hobbes Spaceman Spiff comic? Yes, we do get to see a spaceman in hell. If the movie had elaborated on that concept instead of making it a brief "look at our special effects" thing, we might have found something golden.
Spaceman Matt is led to a cliff where he sees a spirit version of the town, filled with people screaming. Since the lasers don't work on the Soap Star Susan Lucci, he jumps off, which starts the required "our movie doesn't have to make any more sense" finale you see in a lot of supernatural horror movies from the 1980's. You know what I'm talking about...when they defeat the monster by not being afraid of it and it turns into a harmless mist or when they find a magic flower that lets them go into the dreams of the chief and get the magic sword or maybe they just get a magic stone and throw it into the eye of the monster, thus reversing time and the whole film never happened, or....
You get what I'm saying.
In this WTF finale, we see that the Devil is holding Matt's family prisoner using Evil Tractor Beams, similar to those in the movie Faust: Love of the Damned. What is it about ultimate evil and its love for Tractor Beams? Apparently, just pulling the family members from the harmless disco lights is the undoing of the Devil, who starts to explode in a disco inferno of dance and light.
And, with a bit of NOOOOOOOOOO!, Devil Lady explodes in minty fresh blue light, depositing Matt & his now no-longer-evil family back into their apartment. The apartment by the way is now back to normal so apparently part of the selling-your-soul package was literally interior decorating. If the Horned One advertised that more, he might actually find more people willing to part with their souls. I mean, after all, moving is a bitch.
The characters step outside and watch a terrible special effect meant to illustrate that the Country Club that you can't see is totally on fire. And so the film peters out to a slow, uneventful close, like most TV movies.
Now the funny thing is that I've reviewed made for TV movies before. Many of them aren't too terrible, but the older TV original flicks follow a weird formula you should be glad they don't use these days. You have to remember that back in 1984, movie studios were totally freaking out about home video and television stations were worried that people would stop watching their station if people had more control over what they watched, thanks to VHS tapes. One day I'll have to write about it in more depth, explaining how Mega-Cineplexes with 24 wide screens fit into this little drama and how it all leads up to why we should all be really, really glad the Internet is around. But I'm getting off topic.
I hope you enjoyed this little look into why you shouldn't join a Country Club or, by extension, be an actor on Television. Thanks for tolerating my brief look at Spacemen in Hell with Lasers (which would have been an awesome movie title) and I'll see you next time.
"who humbly apologizes for the implication that there's anything funny about setting astronauts on fire"
Copyright 2008 Jared von Hindman or maybe just Jared Hindman. It depends. Any images used that are not Jared's are used via Fair Use review purposes and belong to their respective owners....who are nice people that don't want to sue me.
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