A TV movie that aired on NBC in 1984, Invitation to Hell is notable today because it was directed by Wes Craven. “Oh, the Wes Craven of landmark horror films such as A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream?” No! This is the Wes Craven from Vampire in Brookyln or Shocker or that movie where the old lady gets killed by a basketball. But while Invitation to Hell is pretty bad overall, it has enough good moments — wonderfully made-for-TV special effects, utterly baffling line readings and references to 1984 computer technology that sound hilarious today — that it merited a Cliffs Notes version. So here you go, movie nerds, horror fans, Craven completionists and people who just have nine minutes to spare: everything you need to see from Invitation to Hell, including all of Susan Lucci’s shitballs wackadoo outfits.
Things to note:
- Yes, you are correct: The plot does play out like a supernatural blend of two Simpsons episodes: the one where the family moves to Cypress Creek so Homer can work for the villainous Globex Corporation and the one where Marge joins a ritzy country club and figuratively loses her soul.
- And yes, Joanna Cassidy in the role of Patricia looks a bit like Maureen Prescott.
- The cast is a who’s-who of people who did better elsewhere. In addition to Susan Lucci, there’s Brenda’s mom from Six Feet Under, Punky Brewster as the daughter, Bastian from The Neverending Story as the son, Frank Fontana from Murphy Brown as the dad’s friend, Patty “The Bad Seed” McCormack as the friend’s snitty wife and even Anne Marie McEvoy (the one and only Kathy Santoni) as the neighbor girl.
- Blame the dialogue on Richard Rothstein (Universal Soldier, the original Bates Motel), but you can’t say the movie doesn’t have a few nice shots, at least for a TV movie.
- It wasn’t Craven’s only TV movie. He also directed Stranger in Our House in 1978. It starred Linda Blair, which makes her cameo in Scream make a little more sense.
- Is the whole movie a parable about the dangers of moving your family to the San Fernando Valley? Sure, why not?
If my condensed version isn’t enough for you, the full version is currently posted on YouTube. I also found an on-air promo that triggered all kinds of TV nostalgia.
And in case you just don’t have nine minutes to spare — ahem, FANCY — here’s the opening scene and then nearly a minute of Robert Urich’s family kicking the shit out of him.
Pop culture that time forgot, previously:
- A weird little story about Wes Craven and Sharon Stone
- A genuinely odd passage from Robert Bloch’s Psycho II
- The amazing opening credits to Land of the Giants
- That episode of The Brady Bunch where everyone gets shot to death
- The weirdness that is the two halves of the ’80s action series Cover Up