Original Air Date: May 24, 1984
While I’ve always felt Invitation to Hell was the least of Wes Craven’s first three TV movies (he directed four telefilms in all, along with some episodic television), it’s still an interesting and fantastical (well, preposterously fantastical) look at the excessiveness of the 1980s. It also plays heavily on the destruction of the family from outside forces – this force being a gorgeous Susan Lucci as a female Satan! We call that a win.
Robert Urich is Matt Winslow, a hard working family man who swaps Midwest winters for the temperate rolling hills of a suburban community in Southern California. He gets a job with a place mostly referred to as “The Company” and his life goes upscale fast. In fact, the Winslow house is brimming with gadgets and new, expensive things. But, despite the posh surroundings, the family (mostly Matt’s wife, Pat, played by the lovely Joanna Cassidy) long to find entrance into “The Club,” or rather, the more aptly titled, Steaming Springs, which is the playground of the In Crowd. It’s also a gateway to hell, but I mean, other than that, this is everything they’ve ever wanted (again, you know, minus hell). Cars, big houses, a feeling of stability, and the loss of their soul. Oh wait. That last part wasn’t supposed to be part of the bargain.
At work, Matt is developing a fairly ludicrous “space” suit that will allow someone to get close to the core of the earth, which works out nicely since, you know, hell is down below, ya dig? But it’s mostly a plot point and a way to concoct a rather outrageous and aesthetically oh-so-80s version of a trip to Hades.
The meat of the story revolves around excess, consumerism, the desire for acceptance and a deep need to project the right image. Some of the dialogue is surprisingly clever and telling, and Urich is great as the fraught family man who seems to be the only one who can see through Jessica Jones’ (Lucci) otherworldly and sinister charm. Invitation was Lucci’s prime time telefeature debut and in an interview to promote the movie Lucci stated that she felt the film had a “realistic” vibe. This is a statement I’ve always struggled with because, let’s face it… Invitation to Hell is absurd. And I don’t mean cheeky and over the top… I mean the story is ridiculous, That’s not an insult, but you do have to stretch your suspension of disbelief quite a bit to get into the weird premise.
However, as already mentioned, the underlying themes are fascinating and definitely comment on the unabashed yuppie-ness of the decade, while also mingling the high concept with a strong sense of nostalgia for the 1950s (also an eighties trope). So, in short, the viewer has to walk an extremely fine line with Invitation, as it uneasily mixes allegory with melodramatic family dynamics, but it does feature a stunning Susan Lucci in lots of great outfits. And, the gorgeous and much missed Robert Urich is there to help you through some of the flaws.
While I still feel this my least favorite of the “Craven Three,” I’ve watched Invitation more than Chiller or Summer of Fear (in fact, I think I’ve watched this movie three times since 2015 started!). I’m really drawn to the look of it, Urich’s likable persona and the way it creates an insane universe where Lucci is a sexy Beelzebub and Soleil Moon Frye is a possessed demon child. Seriously, what’s not to love?
Invitation to Hell is on DVD (and for cheap!)
And here's an image gallery of some Lucci awesomeness: