When I was offered a promo DVD of Invitation to Hell and The Last Night I was intrigued: Two British horror films I had never even heard of? While I would not claim to be an absolute completist as far as the form is concerned, nor to have the degree of knowledge of Darrell Buxton, whose excellent Pass The Marmalade site seeks to document every horror film ever made in Britain, I have seen my fair share of obscure stuff over the years.
Well, as it turns out, the two films contained on the DVD are obscure on account of the simple fact that they are not very good. While I don’t want to be too harsh, inasmuch as it is often something of an achievement to even make a film, the need to inform the potential consumer emerges as paramount.
The thing that swayed my decision was the age and nature of the films. It’s not just their obvious lack of budget, but also that they were made in 1983 and are too long to be short film calling cards and too short to be independently made features: We are emphatically not talking about Sam Raimi’s Within the Woods as show-reel and enabler for The Evil Dead.
Rather, what have are two of the type of film which emerged in the UK in the wake of the home video boom of the early 1980s and which then just as quickly disappeared with the passing of the Video Recordings Act and the requirement for all videos to carry a BBFC certificate.
The hunger for product circa 1981-84 meant just about anything could be put onto home video and return a profit. Away from big name releases, at the time few and far between because the major studios regarded video as a threat rather than an opportunity, the consumer was often renting a pig in a poke. And, indeed, checking on the UK pre-cert website’s database, we find that the two films were in fact released by fly-by-night outfit Scorpio Video.
Then, with the post-VRA need to pay a certification fee of a few hundred pounds for a work that might well need cuts before it could be granted a certificate, and which may only have barely made back its certification fee, if that, made such releases uneconomical.
As films which lack not only ability but also ambition - there is no sense of whichever film came second building on whichever came first - it should be little surprise that their scenarios are so derivative.
Invitation to Hell is part Virgin Witch, part The Evil Dead, as a virginal female student is invited to a fancy dress party in a haunted house now owned by some friends; taken to a coven; is drugged; wakes up with mysterious marks upon her body Rosemary’s Baby style, and is then told by her apologetic friends that she’s to be sacrificed to Satan.
The Last Night is part Theatre of Death, part The Flesh and Blood Show, part (Soavi’s) Stage Fright, as the last performance of a convoluted murder-mystery play by a provincial amateur theatre company is visited by a couple of escaped killers.
The resultant self-referential aspect, that we’re watching a bad play within a bad film, is aesthetically disastrous, as we’re treated to one-note performances that have the same lack of convinction in both the ‘fiction’ and the ‘reality’. Moreover, we also see that director Michael J. Murphy has little grasp of either theatrical or cinematic technique.
It’s telling here that Scorpio Video’s other release at this time was notorious New York trash film and off-off Broadway director Andy Milligan's Blood Rites. For, remarkable as it may seem, Murphy actually makes Milligan look accomplished by comparison.
Note should be made of the quality of the transfers, or lack thereof: I have downloaded AVI’s of Greek and Finnish pre-cert videos that look better than the transfers here.
In sum, I can think of few situations in which you would want to shell out on Invitation to Hell and The Last Night. One is that you are a British horror completist with a fondness for pre-cert marginalia. Another is that you are an aspiring film-maker and want something to remind you of what not to do. Another is for bad film bragging rights over those who've 'only' seen a Don't Open till Christmas or Death Shock.