"She lives in this building? I know a lot of weird chicks live in this building."
You know that feeling you get when you see the latest high octane action thriller from Thailand where it's a fist and foot festival of furious kinetic action? DEATH BY INVITATION is not like that. At all. It's the exact opposite. But I'm not settled to call it boring or dull by any stretch, even if you find yourself stretching your legs a bit during the feature.. A slow burn horror film that isn't afraid to slowly crawl through your eyes, into your brain and down your spine... it's a great little oddity that has a fantastic payoff.
"When the village needed food, the women would go out and hunt for it... the men on the other hand...were allowed to grease the women's bodies. But they were never allowed off their knees."
After we witness a young woman being executed for the crime of Witchcraft (in a small Dutch village that looks a lot like New York) in what is obviously the distant past when the Dutch wore inexplicable oatmeal masks on persecution occasions it's ZIP forward to meet the obvious descendants of the Vroot family. They are DOOMED by a DOOM CURSE dropped by the beautiful young witch. And it all comes true. After young Roger is lured into a DOOM TRAP by Lise (Shelby Leverington) in her funky NYC apartment the rest of the family start dropping. We have decapitation. We have little girl tumblingdownthestairs-itis and even some bizarre seduction scenes of youthful arm wrestling! It's a virtual inaction fest for most of the time, but the strange characters and motivations, randomly long visits through a secretary pool and one of my new favorite made up folk tales push the viewer along until it's time to reveal what is behind an odd trail of blood in the closet. Oh, and lets not forget Jake. Norman Parker has the chance to play one funky character that goes from seemingly OK if not a little inappropriate guy to straight up date rapey semi-protagonist (!) as th family secrets spill out and the vengeance of the witch is unleashed.
"You see, Peter Vroot, EVIL REGENERATES ITSELF!"
DEATH BY INVITATION isn't really long on plot, but creates an atmosphere of DOOM (yep, all caps) that never lets up right from the first frame. Maybe it's the mix of mundane details and droning music that pounds on with a certainty that bad things will happen, even when it starts to drift into playful wind instruments mournfully bouncing on the soundtrack as THE END appears. Maybe it's the had to be improvised bits with the cab driver who warns the youthful Roger. Or perhaps it is Leverington's relentlessly dour yet seductive manner, which breaks down in the end to really seal off a great performance.
Or maybe it was just a great example of a moody independent feature that replaces budget with a willingness to linger on performances and details to make it's one real shock scene work. Yeah, I think that is it.
If you like your clothing groovy, your bars with a suburban roulette 70s funk or just want to kick back and relax with a film that somehow goes from what should be boring into what felt like a weird movie you think you might have seen 30 years ago even though you are watching it right now...I can't recommend it enough!
DEATH BY INVITATION is available on DVD with DUNGEON OF HARROW (my review HERE) from Vinegar Syndrome and it looks amazingly sharp, giving the settings a nice clean look that shows off that the cinematography looks far better than it's budget would suggest. It is ALSO available on TCM, so check your listings! The TCM site has one review up for the movie that is pretty much the opposite of my opinion, so take that into consideration. Ranting that a movie is "sicko sicko" and my opposing enjoyment to that opinion does make me smile a bit... I take it this reviewer has a pretty low tolerance for trashy cinema.
Belly up to the bar (doesn't old Peter Vroot look like he is pondering the further usefulness of a rotary phone) and take a load off with this mellow horror flick sometime. Maybe while it's raining... EVIL REGENERATES ITSELF!!