Thursday, August 23, 2018

"Ticket to Heaven": 1981 drama about a young man caught in a cult is still hard to watch




I should have seen “Ticket to Heaven” (directed by Ralph L. Thomas) and based on Josh Freed’s book “Moonwebs” back in 1981 when I was living in Dallas, but I don’t see record of it. It gets mentioned by “Brotherly Love”, a recent gay film.

You can tell from the title, this is about a religious cult, capture, kidnapping back, and deprogramming. David Kappel (Nick Mancuso), a school teacher, has a romantic breakup at home in Toronto and then attends a motivational event. Lured to San Francisco, he soon finds himself in a religious cult in the California valley.

He is surrounded by singing and chanting, and is never allowed to be alone. He is also deprived of protein and sleep, and is soon put to work raising money by selling flowers in the streets of San Francisco.  The indoctrination scenes are quite difficult to watch. On two occasions, he forces himself to vomit to adhere to the group's dietary and self-deprivation rules. 

The family and even employer plot his kidnapping, risking arrest and prison.  The actual kidnapping scene seems like a parody of a Hitchcock film. The deprogrammer (R.H. Thomson) is quite charismatic himself. 

  
The film is currently available free on YouTube, with reduced aspect from television. The only DVD’s are from third parties and are quite expensive. (Why isn't it in MGM's dvd library?) 
   
Roger Ebert was quite fond of its film, which was distributed by United Artists, a subsidiary of MGM at the time (after production by Canadian television).  Again, I remember the review but not seeing it.

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