Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Death by Invitation (1971)



You might think that making a low-budget horror movie with a simplistic plot—a woman seeks revenge on the descendents of the people who executed her ancestor on charges of witchcraft during colonial times—wouldn’t be all that hard. Establish the backstory, introduce the contemporary characters, and let the bloody fun begin. Implied in that formula, however, is a basic competence with filmmaking technique and storytelling, something first-time writer-director Ken Friedman was not able to provide for Death by Invitation. Even though it’s only 81 minutes, the picture endless, because Friedman alternates between interminable scenes of people talking about nothing and unexciting murder vignettes intercut with repetitive flashbacks. Yet even with all this chatter and visual exposition, the story still isn’t particularly clear until the final scenes, by which point any hope of generating audience interest (or suspense) has long since faded. Adding to the film’s myriad problems, Death by Invitation is photographed in the cheap style of a ’70s porno, only without the lurid distractions associated with that genre. Death by Invitation is about 90% talk, 9% tease, and—if one is being incredibly generous—1% payoff, in terms of sequences during which the results of the lead character’s murderous activities are revealed. Leading lady Shelby Leverington, who began a long career as a supporting actress after debuting in this movie, has a wholesome prettiness that a skilled director could have exploited for dramatic counterpoint; unfortunately, Friedman proves as clueless about shaping interesting performances as he is about every other aspect of cinematic endeavor. Seriously, if you can’t make something borderline watchable from an occult-themed story about an attractive murderess, do you have any business directing movies? The fact that Friedman has only helmed one other feature, the middling heartland drama Made in U.S.A. (1987), answers that question.

Death by Invitation: SQUARE

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