Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Initiation (1984)

Reviewed By: Billy

I will always have a soft spot for The Initiation; for me, it’s a “sleepover slasher” – one of those VHS rentals that parents pick out for a Friday night when they want to shut up a house full of kids. I was probably in 5th grade, staying over at my friend Cory’s place, and his parents pulled out the movie and swore nobody ever correctly guessed who the killer was. Well…they had no idea that my parents had practically force-fed my brother and me mysteries and slashers, and within twenty minutes I’d correctly announced the ending to The Initiation, thus ruining it for the other first-timers and totally annoying Cory’s parents with my complete and total arrogance. It is, looking back, the only time I’ve ever felt intelligent in my life. How could I not love this movie?

These days, I love it because it combines two of my favorite slasher sub-genres: the Greek slasher and the sophisticated slasher. The Greek slasher, of course, takes place on an ultra-unrealistic college campus where sorority girls shower together and frat boys dream up hell-week tortures including picking up cherries with their ass cheeks. The sophisticated slasher, meanwhile, always had pretensions of being something classier than a mere horror movie, which meant we often got Hollywood has-beens as rich people suffering indignities while strolling around with a sifter of brandy. The Initiation fits nicely within both categories, featuring pledges attending a “come dressed as your favorite sexually-repressed desire” party (to which, by the way, one frat guy comes dressed as a giant penis…what do we think that means?) while also giving us Psycho-alum Vera Miles as a wealthy drunkard whose husband gets a gardening tool through the neck.

So…The Initiation opens with a crazy dream sequence in which a little girl stumbles upon her parents having sex (the mother being Vera Miles, who has the face of a 55-year-old and a body double who’s apparently 24), stabs her father in the leg, and watches as some random guy catches fire. Suddenly the little girl wakes up…and she’s Daphne Zuniga (of “Melrose Place” and loads of made-for-cable treasures…), who is one of four pledges at Delta Ro Chi about to enter hell week. Wait a minute...four pledges? That’s a pretty selective sorority…or maybe they’re just really unpopular. Anyway, as we all learned from Linda Blair’s Hell Night (which also featured only four pledges – man, these Greek houses must become extinct after about five years), hell week means at some point they will have to spend a night locked in some kind of creepy, atmospheric building while the older, bitchy sorority president tries to scare them. In this case, the girls are ordered to spend the night in Daphne’s dad’s department store to steal the night security guard’s uniform.

Meanwhile, we get the best mental hospital sequence since Curtains had Samantha Eggar being tickled in the hallway by her fellow loonies; here, the crazies bang on wire fences and finally escape, only to play ring-around-the rosies in the parking lot and stab a mean red-headed nurse with a gardening fork. One of the patients is heading straight for the Delta Ro Chi house…could this have something to do with Daphne’s nightmares? You bet your hell week!

Oh, and note that the generically named “Fireside Sanitarium” (hope they don’t house any pyromaniacs there) looks like a tent you’d find at a hastily-planned Medieval Fair.

The cast here is a big draw. I’ve been a Daphne Zuniga fan since seeing this movie; she’s cute in a Kelly Kapowski kind of way, and – in a huge departure for this genre – actually looks like she could be the popular girl in a sorority (yes, I’m talking to you Linda…and Jamie Lee…). Deborah Morehart, now better known as soap star Hunter Tylo, is enjoyable as slutty pledge Allison, who gets naked several times and end up sailing through the department store halls in roller skates. James Read (who years later played the dad in “Charmed”) is grad student Peter, who is researching dreams and determined to figure out why Kelly is so f-ed up…and yes…this means we get those great 80s scenes where Kelly is hooked up via wires and suction cups to all kinds of machines that look like stereos while she tosses and turns screaming “Mommy!”

Speaking of Mommy…Vera Miles manages to come away mostly un-embarrassed (except for the whole body-double thing). Vera’s presence here is probably supposed to be a clue to the psychological nature of the story; there are a few references to Psycho, including an abundance of mirrors and showers (though Hitchcock's showers and mirrors never featured gratuitous female frontal). But Freudian symbols aside, this is pure 80s horror…and as if to assure us that this is indeed 1984, the producers are kind enough to give us this poster on one sorority girl’s wall:

Anyway, eventually the girls (and a few guys) end up in the deserted department store. These scenes are great, mainly because the store looks suspiciously like a government office building with a few mannequins thrown in. The kids do everything you’d expect them to do in a deserted store…they dress up, they have sex, and they never once seem concerned that the security guard is missing or that one-by-one, they’re disappearing, too. Why are people so irresponsible? If my brother didn’t call me once every 10 minutes, I’d pretty much start assuming he’d been killed. Anyway, the murders aren’t particularly innovative – almost everyone is killed with that gardening tool – but this isn’t Friday the 13th after all. The focus here isn’t on how people are dying, it’s on who is doing the killing.

And to that end…normally in reviews we here at Tower Farm have no problem giving away the ending because, let’s face it, we’re not really looking for shock endings in sleazy horror…we’re looking for gore and nudity. But in this case, I’m going to keep it quiet. Even though I figured it out as a fifth grader…you might not…and if you are truly surprised by the ending, then it’s a great opportunity for me to feel smart all over again.

FOUR FINGERS…plus one sexually-repressed penis!


  1. ::hides giant penis costume in the closet before Jer and Billy see it::

    I like the Initiation, it isnt my fav Greek slasher by any means but it is a solid entry and offers some slashtastic kills. Much better than the double bill on the Anchor Bay disc, Mountaintop Motel Massacre!

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  3. I too was pleasantly surprised by this seemingly generic slasher - it's a bit of a canned effort, but still quite watchable, and the finale is just so hokey that it works. I have this on a double feature disc w/ "MOUNTAINTOP MOTEL MASSACRE". Good times.

  4. Yes, guys, I bought the Anchor Bay release, too -- I tried to watch "Mountaintop..." and couldn't even get through it. Still, the double-disc was worth it for this one. I agree -- the finale is completely ridiculous and totally enjoyable!

  5. Heyyyyyy, now - "MOUNTAINTOP..." isn't THAT bad.

  6. I'll say it:Initiation is one of my favorite horror films of all time.Clu fucking Gulager. Engaging Final Girl with issues Zuniga. Marilyn Kagan's trauma speech. Cavernous 80s mall. Gratuitous stabbings,and forkings. Bitchy sorority soches and empty-headed frat goons. Fetish parties.Daphne's hissing,sweatshirt-clad alter ego.Heidi.

    Think I'll go watch it now.