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  Ticket to Heaven Cult Movie
Year: 1981
Director: Ralph L. Thomas
Stars: Nick Mancuso, Saul Rubinek, Meg Foster, Kim Cattrall, R.H. Thomson, Jennifer Dale, Guy Boyd, Dixie Seatle, Paul Soles, Harvey Atkin, Robert Joy, Stephen Markle, Timothy Webber, Patrick Brymer, Marcia Diamond, Michael Zelniker, Denise Naples
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: David (Nick Mancuso) is a directionless young man who three months ago had split up with his girlfriend Sarah (Dixie Seatle). He would help out his best friend Larry (Saul Rubinek), who was a stand up comedian dressing as a nun and various fruit and vegetables, through being a plant in the audience with a bicycle wheel prop, and it was Larry who suggested he and Sarah should spend some time apart. David decided he was right, but soon found himself on a bus to California for want of nothing better to do, spending time with a young Christian group. However, their religion took the form of a cult making money for its founders, and soon David was in over his head and effectively brainwashed.

During the early eighties, there must have been a renewed interest in the practices of brainwashing cults such as the Moonies, because not only was there Ticket to Heaven but also the similarly themed Split Image the following year. Ticket was the better of the two, and despite the disclaimer at the end saying it was a work of fiction and none of the characters were based on real people, it paints a very convincing picture of exactly how such organisations can persuade their members to part with their worldly goods - and importantly, their responsibilities - for a life of continous singing and eating vegetable stew.

The film was based on a book called Moonwebs by Josh Freed, adapted by Anne Cameron and director Ralph L. Thomas, and looks and feels like a Canadian production, though not only because someone performs a Leonard Cohen song early on. No, it has that peculiar flatness associated with films from that country, but in a way this works in Ticket to Heaven's favour as it makes it more unnerving that such a banal religious movement should have such a sway over vulnerable people, even those who might not have thought of themselves in such a position.

David is by no means a pushover, just a young man in need of a guiding hand and the cult appears in his life at exactly the right time - for them, that is. For David is put through a punishing regime of sleep deprivation, gruel-like food to starve him of protein (this renders him more malleable, apparently), intrusive confessional sessions and inane games and songs. It may not sound like a Gestapo-style crushing of the spirit, but it does its job and despite David's efforts to get away, making a break for it at one stage, all the tricks wear his personality down and soon he is selling bunches of flowers on the street in the name of his religion.

There's more to the film than that, of course, and soon Larry is concerned about what has happened to his best friend, never more so than when he receives a telephone call from him telling him very little. This is because he is phoning from a call box alongside project leader Ruthie, well played by Kim Cattrall with a relentless cheeriness that's enough to put anyone on edge. Soon Larry does a little digging, and finds out that David is part of this cult, so gathers his friends and family and they decide he needs rescuing. Larry infiltrates the religion by joining them at the same camp David went to, yet crucially they don't win him over. Now he knows what he's up against, Larry can help, but how deep does the programming go? Ticket to Heaven resembles a feature length public information film, as if it were an official warning about these organisations, but on those terms it's effective and revealing. Music by Mickey Erbe and Maribeth Solomon.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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