I cannot recall how many hours I spent in front of the boob tube in my youthful days in Long Beach, California – but I am sure the number is way too many. As far as network television went, there were only three really good channels to choose from: ABC, NBC, and CBS. Being the movie obsessor that I am, I had a hankering for the ‘Movie of the Week’ programming that showcased everything from Hollywood heavyweights [Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind] to made-for-television creepers [Chiller, Summer of Fear].
The last two pictures I named may not ring a bell, but if I told you that they were both directed by Wes Craven that might make you fall over. It is a little known fact that the father of Freddy Krueger has a pretty extensive background in the smaller medium. He has done everything from obscure television movies [Casebusters, Night Visions] to a pair of well-received series’ [Nightmare Cafe, The Twilight Zone].
After making Swamp Thing and A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven directed a horror-thriller starring bitchy Erica Kane of All My Children, Susan Lucci. We begin with a chauffeur driving to a private establishment known as Steaming Springs Country Club. The easily distracted doofus takes his eye of the road [at least he was not texting] to gawk at two bikini babes and runs over the red, jump-suited proprietor [Susan Lucci] of the club. She is down for the count for only a few seconds as she bounces right back up and with the power in her devilish finger, she turns him into a smoking, crispy critter.
Family man and scientist Matt Winslow [Robert Urich] moves to the suburbs after accepting a job building a spacesuit [that will come in handly later] for the Micro-Digitech Corporation that can withstand the extremely high temperatures on Mercury, as well as shoot lasers and flames. His wife [Joanna Cassidy] has the balls in the relationship and asks him to take his technological toys and move them to work so the house does not become a lab. Matt is dealing with a bored housewife who wants “a piece of the pie” and to get away from her stepford wife dilemma.
Without Matt’s approval, his family joins the in-crowd and sell their souls to have the finer things in life. Joined by her daughter Chrissy [Punky Brewster herself, Soleil Moon Frye] and son Robbie [Barret Oliver], they throw on some white bathrobes and enter the hellish spring and merge themselves in the exclusive shield of the club. After the wife gets horny and the kids turn weird, Matt starts doing his homework and finds out that everyone at the spa has accepted an Invitationto Hell.
Small town horror seems to suit Wes Craven just fine as he captures the overindulgence of the 80’s deftly with a story about people who literally sell their souls for success and material gain. The late Robet Urich nails his goody-goody part as the everyman who wants a happy home. Be on the look out for Kevin McCarthy as CEO Mr. Thompson and Michael Berryman as a valet. Director of photography Dean Cundey provides the moody lighting for a cheesy classic that features an out of control piano, big hair, corny dialogue, and purgatory ran by an actress who had a streak of nineteen Emmy nominations and no wins until she finally won in 1999.
Invitation to Hell is available on DVD from Artisan Entertainment and can be ordered here.
I’m just an average man/
With an average life/
I work from nine to five/
Hey, hell, I pay the price/
All I want is to be left alone/
In my average home/
But why do I always feel/
Like I’m in the twilight zone