We all know the impact that John Carpenter's Halloween had upon filmmakers (particularly genre directors) in the late 70s and 80s. The slasher film dominated the horror box office in the 80s, and the postmodern horror boom of the mid to late 90s, as irritating as it sometimes was, generally developed as fans of these films came of age. In the last few years revisionist slasher films, as well as a near constant slate of remakes, have kept the stalk and slash genre clearly in the public's consciousness. Even smaller efforts like Hatchet and Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon have managed to find small but devoted cult audiences, and it stands to reason that ultra low budget filmmakers would continue to return to a genre that has spawned both continual success and has proven to be kind to smaller budgets. Invitiation's twist on the genre is that there really is no twist – the film follows the slasher formula to a tee – which ends up being both its greatest strength and biggest weakness.
Embracing many of the cliches established in Friday The 13th and (many) others, Invitation centres upon a group of friends who witnessed a childhood accident – the death of an unpopular kid via truck during a game of baseball – coming together after a number of years apart to spend a few days in a spooky cabin in the woods. Do they start to get picked off one by one? You bet they do! Do they all have flat, easy to categorize personalities? Uh-huh. There's the guilty good guy with the newly pregnant girlfriend, the goofy jackass, the hunky musician, the eye candy, and the bitch – though to director/writer Jeff Burton's credit there is some effort to give a few of the characters slightly more depth.
The ending takes things in a supernatural, and not very satisfying, direction. While the Ten Little Indians style of most slasher films almost inevitably leads to a disappointing reveal, here they just seem to give up in favor of some colorful imagery which brings to mind Italian horror – particularly Fulci's The Beyond – more than the slashers referenced by the rest of the film. On the bright side, there are a few interesting deaths, though gore is kept to a minimum, and unlike most of the efforts in this collection the director was able to convince a few members of his cast to get topless. You take what you can get in situations like this. Genre legitimacy is also helped by a small role for Bill Vincent , who worked as a fake Shemp on a couple of the Evil Dead films (and co-wrote Burton's later film The Final Curtain). That this was lensed in Michigan should not be a surprise.
Acting is actually quite solid across the board, particularly for a low budget effort like this, though nobody really distinguishes themselves. Where the film really falters is in its direction. It's not that Burton doesn't have any skill - he obviously knows a few tricks - but he seems to be compelled to throw them into every scene whether they are appropriate or not. This becomes particularly egregious in the final twenty minutes, as the supernatural elements are more pronounced and out come the colored filters and camera effects. I actually generally appreciate these visual pyrotechnics, since most of the efforts in this collection are so visually bland, but here it's quite distracting.
The film was shot on video, but the quality is quite good compared to similar entries on the DVD set - though you should take into account that the previous film I watched was Hip Hop Locos. There are a couple of digital glitches throughout, but despite a plethora of night scenes there isn't a lot of noise in the image. Jeff Burton did the music for the film, but I honestly don't recall it besides the main theme which - shockingly - brings to mind Halloween.
No special features at all. Not even chapters. We're through the looking glass here, people.
It's hard to give Invitation too much grief It's not scary in the least, but it's competently made and would fit in perfectly with some of the lesser 80s slasher films it tries to emulates. Burton has potential as a genre filmmaker as long as he can reign in some of his flashier impulses, and he obviously knows how to work on a low budget. He's put together an attractive cast, decent special effects, and enough creepy moments to warrant a rental. Average, though exceptional compared to its immediate competition.