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The Initiation

slashersearch14tn_initiationTHE INITIATION is yet another sorority-themed slasher movie (see also HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW, SORORITY ROW, SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE I and II, KILLER PARTY, BLACK CHRISTMAS, BLACK XMAS), but it’s toward the high end of that list as far as quality. “Introducing Daphne Zuniga” as Kelly (although she had already been in THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD), one of a group of new pledges beginning their Hell Week at a college in Dallas or Fort Worth while somebody possibly connected to her is going around stabbing people, mostly with a 3-pronged gardening tool.

It’s got a little bit of HALLOWEEN and a little bit of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. The HALLOWEEN is in the section that takes place in an insane asylum where the inmates all get loose at night and mob a nurse’s car. She gets stabbed, but we don’t see who did it, and none of these witnesses are gonna be able to explain it. They just giggle uncontrollably, suck their thumbs or flick their tongues like lizards.

In order to make it not too much like HALLOWEEN’s asylum escape sequence they actually model it more after ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, both in the setup of the facility and the use of a Nurse Ratched type as the victim and possible inspiration for the murder spree.

The NIGHTMARE part comes in when Kelly wants to do her paper on dreams and nightmares. She hooks up with the Nathan Fillion-esque teacher’s assistant Peter (James Read), who’s doing his doctoral thesis on dream studies and, like in ELM STREET 1 and 3 does sleep experiments with EKGs or whatever hooked up and studying REMs and whatnot.

Kelly explains to him that she has a personal reason to want to study dreams. She’s had a reoccurring nightmare since she was a kid involving her parents, a strange man, mirrors, stabbing and fire. The movie actually starts with her nightmare. The soft focus tells us it’s a dream, the disorienting editing really sells it, but it’s easy to guess that it’s something she actually witnessed in her childhood (especially later when she explains that she once fell out of a treehouse and lost all memory of her earlier life). Imagine having this as one of your vague childhood memories:

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So as a man burns alive and her mother carries her out of the room she jolts awake, only to see ten women in nighties holding candles and occultishly chanting above her. These sorority traditions are a freaky way of life. It makes for a real strong opening.

mp_initiationKelly’s parents are played by Vera Miles (PSYCHO) and Clu Gulager (RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD), they’re rich and own a department store called The Fairchild Building. Or at least they refer to it as a department store when they tell Kelly that to get into the sorority she has to get the keys to the building and they have to sneak in at night and steal the night watchman’s uniform. When we actually see it though it’s a huge, upscale mall with an open center and about 10 stories wrapping around it.

It seems like kind of a cool job to be the one guy alone in there at night. But also kinda creepy. Of course, this ends up being the location for the last act as the pledges sneak around trying to get the uniform, a sister and some boys try to scare them, and the unseen killer starts shooting arrows at them and stuff.

The gore is somewhat mild. One missed opportunity: a bowling ball suddenly comes rolling at them in a mall hallway, but it turns out to be the boys trying to scare them. It would be great if the killer pelted them with bowling balls. There’s not alot of stuff you haven’t seen, and there’s your usual “Come on guys, you can come out now, it’s not funny” type of cliches. But it’s not one of these amateurish regional movies. It’s well made, pretty well acted, has a good feel to it.

One unfortunate problem I had has to do with a major plot twist. I’ll try not to give it away, but it has to do with the nightmare scene. Kelly has interpreted it a certain way her whole life, and later finds out something different. The trouble is that watching it right up front you assume (or at least I assumed) the correct thing about what was going on, so it’s not a surprise when she finally catches up later.

Director Larry Stewart was not a newcomer trying to use a popular and low budget form to break in like many of the horror directors. This is his only theatrical movie, but it came after a long career in TV. As an actor he co-starred in the famous serial Captain Video, Master of the Stratosphere and later showed up on The A-Team and even as an employee of the Blue Moon Detective Agency on Moonlighting. He parlayed his acting career into being a casting director for the original Twilight Zone and then directing episodes of TV shows from Thrill Seekers to Hunter. It might be relevant that he directed some shows starring women: The Bionic Woman, Police Woman, Charlie’s Angels. It’s also the only theatrical credit for writer Charles Pratt Jr. Ironically there’s a line making fun of soap operas, but he went on to write for The Colbys, Santa Barbara, General Hospital and All My Children.

Most importantly the leads are all pretty good, likable, not too stupid, and that goes a long way. I especially like Beth (Paula Knowles), the cool friend who decides she’s had enough sorority bullshit and quits instead of going and getting killed. I was surprised to see that THE INITIATION is her only credit. Good job on your one movie, lady.

Another character I like is Peter’s nerdy research assistant, kind of a comic relief character, but smarter than everybody else. She figures out the whole mystery while researching it off screen, and explains it all to Peter. Then he leaves her behind when he goes to try to save the day. No respect, I tell ya.

In the interest of intellectual honesty I have to admit that this one gives some possible ammo to the “virgins can’t get killed” idea that I questioned in SCREAM and BEHIND THE MASK. The character Marcia (Marilyn Kagan) keeps talking about being a virgin, and immediately after having her first consensual sex gets attacked. (SPOILER) She almost gets away, too, but eventually gets it.

But anyway, check out the cool Tom Selleck poster.

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(note: this is arguably Christmas horror too, since there is a Christmas display in the mall. Other than that though there’s no mention of it, so there’s not alot of holiday atmosphere if you want to watch it at that time of year.)

 

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Monday, October 20th, 2014 at 12:03 pm and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

5 Responses to “The Initiation”

  1. grimgrinningchris

    October 20th, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    The medium, two person popcorn and soda combo at the new independent theater that just opened here (where I just saw Army Of Darkness in the big screen for the first time in 21 years) is called The Tom Selleck.
    They should show this movie and I should get that combo.

  2. *SPOILERS* Well, this one’s on Netflix Instant so I decided to watch it real quick before reading Vern’s review – it’s not very good but I do have to admit being fooled by twist #1 (the business involving the dad) possibly because I wasn’t paying too much attention, but hoo boy – twist #2 (the killer’s identity) has to be the most random twist ever. There’s no foreshadowing or even any kind of reason for it, thematic or otherwise -it just comes from out of nowhere (most likely another draft of the script)

    The only thing making this worth a look is the fact that Zuniga says her lines almost exactly like Zooey Deschanel several times in the movie, and Hunter Tylo is pretty good-looking here, even though she looks absolutely nothing like Hunter Tylo.

  3. I will point out again that pretty much everything Randy says in “Scream” and “Scream 2” is wrong, including the “virgin” thing. Just because a load of people who know nothing about horror movies have accepted him as some sort of an icon, doesn’t necessarily mean we have to. In fact, the only definitive statement about movies I think he gets right is the thing about Jamie Lee Curtis’ character being a virgin in “Halloween”; and that pretty much ignores that her “surrogate mother” arc, which is the whole point of the character. Other than that, he’s completely wrong: the boyfriend isn’t the killer in “Prom Night”, the line isn’t “Stay away from her you bitch”, etc. Oh, and he’s right about “Trading Places” (and yes, I’m a little ashamed that I know that.) Maybe it’s because both actors’ names are Jamie?

    Anyways, I will probably check out “The Initiation” if I come across it – sounds interesting enough to be worth a look. Good review Vern.

  4. “the only definitive statement about movies I think he gets right is the thing about Jamie Lee Curtis’ character being a virgin in “Halloween””

    Even here, Carpenter and/or Curtis said several times that there are absolutely no hints in the movie of her being a virgin at all. It’s just that she is more responsible than her friends, who think with their genitals. Which is also the reason why she survives: She isn’t distracted by her hormons! It’s not “Sex = dead”, it’s “not paying attention = dead”. Who knows? Maybe she had her fair share of one night stands at parties, but that night she was babysitting and she was doing it right.

  5. CJ – I take your point, but Curtis’ portrayal isn’t so much “responsible” as “anti-social shut-in”. At the start of the film especially, she’s acutely self-conscious and scared of what might happen in social situations, and it’s that – rather than any sense of responsibility – that leads her to act as she does. Which I could absolutely empathise with at that age, by the way. So I think maybe there’s a little historical revisionism going on there.

    Or to put it another way, if it’s not “Sex = dead”, it’s “not paying attention because you’re having sex = dead”… I’m not sure that’s any better!

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