Grindhouse Classics : “Death By Invitation”

Posted: April 18, 2013 in movies
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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I’ll be the first to admit — the side-swiped version of the poster for writer/director Ken Friedman’s 1971 east coast regional obscurity Death By Invitation that I’ve reproduced above absolutely sucks. You, the reader, certainly deserve better — you deserve a competently-cropped image that shows you the poster in all its —well, less than glory. There’s just one problem : there don’t seem to be any decent pics of it to be found anywhere on the entire internet!

Which, normally, is  a pretty good sign. It means we’re onto something not too many people know about. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that until a few weeks ago, when Vinegar Syndrome issued this flick on DVD paired with Savage Water (which we’ve already reviewed on these virtual “pages”) as part of their “Drive-In Collection” series, there may very well have been no stills or promotional art materials available for this film online at all — and quite possibly no reviews of it, either.

Of course, all that’s changed now, since discerning cult film aficionados are all over this release like flies on shit  — and for good reason. Vinegar Syndrome, as we’ve already come to expect from this aggressive upstart label,  has done a great job here : the widescreen transfer, while understandably grainy at times, looks pretty awesome for the most part, the mono sound is by and large clear and distortion-free, and as with the more —ahem! — “well-known” lead feature on this disc, we’re treated to a fantastic commentary track from the good folks behind everyone’s favorite transatlantic horror podcast, The Hysteria Continues.

So, yeah, the DVD is great. But what about the movie itself?

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I gotta say, all told, that  it’s really not a bad little ancestral-revenge number, even if it’s by and large a wholly unremarkable one —and  weird as it probably sounds at first,that unremarkability (did I just make up a word there?) is actually part of its charm. We start things off  in with hunt-era Salem, where some of those burnings we’ve  all heard so much about are going down, and we quickly leap forward to then-present-day Staten Island, where a mysterious, rather quietly sultry —even, dare I say,  Lynn Lowry-ish — semi-quasi-pseudo-post-debutante named Lise (magnificently brought to life with cool, nonchalant, faux-disinterested, slow-burn menace by Shelby Leverington) is planning on having some people over to her semi-quasi-pseudo-Victorian home. More specifically, she’s planning on having the descendants of the folks who torched her ancestors  over.

Not that they know it, of course — and truth be told, we’re never even sure how she knows it, but I guess that’s neither here nor there. I’ll just make a safe guess that it all came to her in her dreams and leave it at that. The main point is, of course, that they’re all gonna die.

The pacing and atmospherics here are actually highly reminiscent of Wisconsin ultra-low-budget auteur Bill Rebane’s The Demons Of Ludlow, although these proceedings are admittedly a bit bloodier. Essentially Friedman is telling a character-driven story here with some nicely appealing period trappings and some adequately-realized blood n’ guts, but by and large this film is more concerned with lulling you into its world than it is with lowering the boom on you. Personally,  I found myself rather taken in with its dark, if cheap, languidness, and the almost lackadaisical way in which it all unfolds, but if you’re more of the short-attention-span type, it’s probably fair to say you may find it all just a bit uninvolving, if not a downright snoozer.

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Still, when was the last time you saw a horror film that wasn’t afraid to take its time? I kinda miss that, myself, what with  the annoying prevalence of the throw-you-in-at-the-deep-end-and-trust-you-to-figure-it-out-as-it-goes-along “aesthetic” that we’ve grown accustomed to these days. I got the distinct feeling throughout Death By Invitation that this was a movie that was comfortable in its own skin, and you could either meet it at its level or take a fucking hike. Granted, that’s most likely simply due to the fact that Friedman couldn’t afford to make a more “in your face” effort, but nevertheless — I found myself digging the vibe he laid down here.

And hey, lest we all forget — slowness needn’t necessarily equal dullness. Yeah, this is a  flick that isn’t afraid to stop and smell the roses (speaking, of course, strictly metaphorically) on its way to getting where it’s going, but the strength of Leverington’s performance alone is enough to keep you interested — even when the story, from time to time, isn’t. That’s at least worthy of some praise, isn’t it? Even if it’s only of the guarded variety.

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So what the hell, right? You’re not in any hurry. Whatever plans you have can wait 80-some minutes. Siddown. Relax. Take a load off. Spend some time with Death By Invitation. It’s in the same mood you are. It has things to do, people to kill — but it wants to make sure you to enjoy the journey every bit as much as the destination.

Comments
  1. Nice review. Never seen this. Love your page. More or less we’re into the same films (though I may not review these films as much as you do). I’ll probably seek this out at some point.

    Btw my order of Massage Parlor Murders shipped. It’s being shipped DHL, which normally takes forever to arrive. Hopefully by the end of next week it gets here.

  2. This just came on TCM I recorded it. By any chance do you know where or if I could find info on it? The opening scene I know exactly where it was shot. I often pass by it. Rest of the film I assume is within the same area, but it’s either too dark or to tight a shot to really see anything.

    Living on Staten Island I wanna head to locations. Two other horror films shot here were De Palma’s Sisters, which is quite far from me. While not a bad area, but we are close to the ghetto and yeah I ain’t heading there, but where Sisters was shot isn’t great, but not too bad.

    He Knows You’re Alone was shot very close to me and I’ve even walked down the streets it was shot. Got pics of the dance studio and Church. So I’d really love to know more about Death by Invitation. Outside of the opening like I said too dark or too tight a shot.

    I only FF though to see locations I’ll watch it at some point if only cause it was shot here

    • trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

      Oh, man, I’m not sure where the best place to rack down more info on it would be other than to track down some of the links to other sites on the film’s IMDB page. If I were on Staten Island I’d be re-visiting all the shooting locations for “Combat Shock” and all the Andy Milligan films that were shot there!

  3. J.B. Stahl says:

    This is a lot better movie than the recognition it has received. The script and the acting are nothing less than absolutely superb.

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