Monday, 22 August 2016

Death by Invitation

The prologue depicts a young woman, suspected witch, being flayed by a horde of medieval people, themselves in some cases decorated in almost a devilish fashion.  In the present day someone who resembles the woman, possibly her ancestor, infiltrates a family consisting of the killers' descendants, the intention apparently being one of cross-generational vengeance.

A little known film by Ken Friedman from 1971, Death by Invitation is an intriguing study of a psychologically disturbed woman driven to kill by events that may have occurred aeons previous.  I say 'may' because I feel there are elements of ambiguity in all of this - either she is the descendant of a witch that was killed by Catholics (and, indeed, there is a brief hint that the religion has been passed down to the family in the present day), or she is deluded into thinking this is the case by her own paranoia and misandry.  Or perhaps she is the actual witch herself, who has survived for hundreds of years to now finally discover or locate her opportunity to end an extended lifetime of bitterness.
It's a plodding piece, underpinned by an air of feminism that I wouldn't ordinarily have much sympathy for in the post-millennial Western world, however, the concept overall is not without its interest.  Moreover, the lead character - the first known role of actress Shelby Leverington - is fascinatingly sexual and disturbed.  Leverington is quite incredible, both for her mysterious, acute portrayal of Lise, and for her alluring sultry persona.  She may not appeal to all but I found her to be hypnotic throughout, especially during her intense pre-murder delivery of a historical monologue that her character may have been witness to in some way, or have an obsessive belief in - despite this being pure talk it is a captivating and vivid sequence.

Having had very minimal exposure to the public in the past via home video (and possibly a brief theatrical run?) Vinegar Syndrome unearthed this for what could be its final lease of life, a double bill DVD, part of the Drive-in Collection, with Dungeon of Harrow (previously it was doubled with 1979 slasher Savage Water before that ran into trouble and was quickly withdrawn from circulation - a handful of copies are out there but you can guess what people are asking for them).  Death... is presented on DVD at 1.85:1 from a fairly scratchy print, battered, but looking better than it ever has (and, shamefully, possibly ever will).   It comes with an audio commentary from the Hysteria Continues pod-casters.  Unfortunately this does not offer a great deal of useful information about the film, sometimes consisting of the commenters merely passing thoughts about the décor or fashion (yes, people, this was 1971 - the stuff that you're wearing will no doubt also look like a joke in forty years!  Or possibly less).  Justin Kerswell comes off as an intelligent chap, often bringing things back on to track.  Aside from the occasional amusing comment or slice of insight, the commentary is not how I'd like to remember the film.  On the other hand, the sitting-with-one's-mates-watching-a-film type of scenario might appeal to some.  In summary though, this is a good disc to own and one much appreciated from the stellar organisation that is Vinegar Syndrome.

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