DEATH BY INVITATION (director/writer: Ken Friedman; cinematographer: Alex Hirschfield; editor: Steve Henry; music: Sonny Kohl; cast: Aaron Phillips (Peter Vroot), Shelby Leverington (Lise), Denver John Collins (Roger), Norman Paige (Jake), Rhonda Russell (Coral), Sarnell Ogus (Naomi Vroot), Lesley Knight (Elly Vroot), Sylvia Pressler (Sara Vroot); running time: 81; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Mitchell Block; Paragon Films; 1971)
“It never gets to any point.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A slow-moving low-budget ancestral revenge horror pic directed for shock value but not in a graphically violent way by Ken Friedman (“Made in U.S.A“), that’s set in Staten Island, New York. It is desperately trying to say something about obsessed sexual purists through the ages, and makes some ill-conceived comparison of a smug wealthy realtor patriarch to the biblical Job. Trouble is it never gets to any point and leaves us to endure, no matter how weirdly, the familiar horror pic tale of the vengeful witch and a twisted metaphorical cannibal orgy tribal tale that after told a number of times comes up indigestible.
The storyline is about a so-called witch burned at the stake in some Dutch village in 1671, who returns 300 years later to Staten Island to seek revenge upon the ancestors of her executioners. Don’t ask why she took so long to return!
Peter Vroot (Aaron Phillips) is the boorish, biblical spewing, stern patriarch, who was the one who got the witch done in by his accusation. Lise (Shelby Leverington) is the close sophisticated friend of Peter’s wife Naomi (Sarnell Ogus), who barges into the family seaside estate when they are dining. The posh Lise is a reincarnation of the witch burned at the stake and is on a revenge mission against the Vroot family. Lise lives in the city, in a Victorian mansion, where she lures with hints of sex Vroot’s oldest teenage son Roger (Denver John Collins) and after telling him an ancient southern tribal tale about women hunters who subjugated and ate their men, does Roger in by lopping off his head. His dismembered body is not found, as his disappearance flips out the family. The witch also kills the youngest daughter by having her take a spill down the stairs after witnessing the decapitation of her sister. Not sated, the witch openly flirts with Jake (Norman Paige), the fiancé of the remaining daughter Coral (Rhonda Russell). Jake is invited to Lise’s apartment and gets the witch hot with a passionate kiss, which prevents his murder. How things finally get resolved left me feeling the sleaze.
The drive-in horror pic, with little commercial success on its limited release, survives because Shelby Leverington gives the eerie pic a boost with her fine sicko performance.
REVIEWED ON 12/20/2013 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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