(Thanks, Vinegar Syndrome Films!)
I’ve sat through no fewer than four films featuring witches and demons as a central theme over the past week and not all of them were good times, no siree, ma’am. Granted, 1971’s slow-moving sort of creepy Death By Invitation isn’t the best of the bunch and for modern horror fans with short attention spans or those looking for non-stop scares and CG blood gushing everywhere (blech!) this one may be Death By A Thousand Cuts.
That said, while it’s going to be more bore than gore to the younger ADD set, those who like slow-burning slightly cryptic fires should check this one out if only for Shelby Leverington, the sassy young thing playing the lead. Director David Friedman drags out this revenge tale that may only interest those who appreciate thinking a bit as they watch a film that pretty much sets up its entire plot during the opening moments and slowly gets to the point as it crawls along to the finish line…
Leverington plays Lise, who seems to be either descended from a witch killed at the beginning of the film a few centuries back in Salem or a reincarnated version of that witch (the film has some vagueness to it that’s both compelling and frustrating) out to kill a family full of descendents of the murderers. As she goes about her nasty business of methodically wiping out a these folks (who aren’t very nice to begin with), the film sort of picks up a slow boil that peters out a few times thanks to a wee bit too many dragged out scenes and what I like to call the “James Bond Moment” where her revenge plans are temporarily put aside for a stupid sex scene that turns her from instrument of vengeance to a sighing stereotypical mess.
Now, this doesn’t last long (well, I guess in terms of the rest of the movie’s somewhat listless pacing), but it’s annoying to see Lise go all Pussy Galore on a guy whose macho jerk character you kind of hope gets it sooner than later. She’s already bumped off a chunk of people (that dinner sequence is pretty funky in who gets it and how) and he should be another EASY one for the chop-chop. But nope… he seduces her (and isn’t gentle about it) and afterwards, the film picks up like not much has happened. Then again, I guess Friedman had to do something “spicy”, as the film is pretty dark in palette and often deathly dull between murders. As most of the film is shot indoors, the Staten Island locations aren’t used all that well, but locals should be able to point out some spots. The director using the same actors to portray people in the past and present was a good idea as it adds a bit of continuity and shows Lise just isn’t some crazy lady offing random strangers.
I can’t say I “hated” this one at all and I don’t want to tell you to avoid it if you haven’t seen it yet. Leverington is more than fine as Lise, underplaying her part until she delivers her creepy and lengthy story/speech about what happened in the past before she draws blood on some of her victims. I kind of wonder if film buff/director Quentin Tarantino was inspired by Lise’s ramblings when he wrote Pulp Fiction, as Samuel L. Jackson’s biblical rant shares similar aspects. Anyway, men are drawn to Lise’s unique (as in normal) beauty and doomed once she has them in her clutches. But as noted above, this witch doesn’t discriminate if someone is in her way and she needs to get the job done. Interestingly enough, I finally saw The Lords of Salem this week and found some minor elements both films share. I’ll get to that in my RFOTW on Rob Zombie’s more unsettling work in a bit, as I’m still processing what I saw and may need to go through the film again before I start writing it up.
As for where to see this flick, TCM ran it a few weeks back (where I caught it by chance), or you can grab it as part of a double feature pack from the fine folks at Vinegar Syndrome for a nice low price. Of course, some of you will opt for the freebie version (well, not SO free, as you need to be paying for cable to see this, right?), but if you like weird and chuggy little flicks and don’t mind a bit of blood spilled and some head scratching that’s bound to happen if you don’t pause this one when taking a restroom break, your Invitation is ready. Just keep the lights up and the doors locked…