Originally published in Bleeding Skull! A 1980s Trash-Horror Odyssey.
Pro tip: If a man wearing a plastic Incredible Hulk mask asks you to come over to his house and watch him lift weights, CALL THE COPS.
UK director Michael J. Murphy is a lifelong practitioner of on-the-cheap filmmaking. He’s also all over the map, directing everything from 1960s sci-fi Super 8 epics to 1990s video documentaries. Invitation To Hell was released in the prime era of England’s “Video Nasties” crusade. It was the first of two 50 minute films (Last Night followed) that Murphy produced for the home video market. Before clutching this film in my hands, I had never heard of it. Wes Craven might have, considering he directed a TV movie with the same title in 1984. Wes Craven’s film is notable because it has Punky Brewster in it. But, it does not have a man getting his heart ripped out while being crucified over photos of naked women with their legs spread.
The man in the Hulk mask moves a log out of the road. A car passes. The car’s driver is Jackie. Jackie has been invited to a costume party in a North Devon farmhouse. Everyone wears plastic monster masks. It’s revealed that the farmhouse is a front for Satan, as he controls the various cult members who live there. Jackie is a virgin. She has been summoned for sacrifice. Jackie spends most of the film being chased while people die. That’s the basic structure, but here’s what you really need to know:
Morris, a mute strongman, removes his Hulk costume after the first ten minutes. This is bullshit. If he wore this costume while killing the cast in gruesome fashion, Invitation would instantly be one of the most cherished films in my collection. That’s what I was hoping for—-a trash-gore slasher with a killer who dresses up like The Hulk. I can’t think of anything I’d want more. Except maybe a movie where the Turkish Spider-Man from 3 Dev Adam has a chainsaw duel with the Hulk killer. But, this movie is neither Turkish nor fully Hulk-ified.
Invitation To Hell feels like a one-act chamber drama that also attempts to actualize someone’s subconscious on film. It’s all over the place. Photography is washed out and unstable, and never fully engages with what needs to be communicated. The camera floats around while experimental synths constantly buzz. If this type of hallucinogenic presentation were attached to a more lucid film, we’d get something like Satan War. And that’s fine. Satan War is another simplistic bedroom horror film that I’d watch anytime. But Invitation To Hell is far more layered in terms of its eccentricities, and therefore, far more easier to appreciate. There’s a homoerotic scene of a guy lifting weights in front of a porn collage while another guy oogles him and throws darts at photos of boobs and vaginas. Two men in blue jumpsuits square off in an unconvincing fistfight that feels like it lasts for two months. A demon with a melting face rips out guts that look like Red Vines. There’s also an attempted sexual assault — for Satan! — and a very downbeat ending. This film is kind of stunning.