The Initiation (1984) Content Warning: Bad Language, Bloody Violence, It is a Slasher Film so Boobs, too.

The Initiation (1984)

Directed by Larry Stewart

Starring Vera Miles, Clu Gulager, Daphne Zuniga, James Read

While trying to understand a frightening reoccurring nightmare, a pledge is coaxed into breaking into her father's department store by her sorority sisters, where a deranged killer targets the girls and their boyfriends.

IMDb Rating: 5.7


The Initiation – A Secondary Concern

Kelly Fairchild (Daphne Zuniga) suffers with a recurring, violent nightmare. Dreams of her father burning to death have haunted her since she was nine. Incidentally, she can’t remember anything from before she was nine due to an accident. Yes, oooooh.

The Initiation (1984) - Kath Rella
Sorority life – seems a lot like satanism.

Now in college, Kelly and her friends are aiming to get into a sorority, led by bitchy Megan (Frances Peterson). Not to sound like a cow, but what is the cut off age for being at college in the US? Megan looks like she’s in her thirties. It’s not as ridiculous as Wendy O. Williams in Reform School Girls, but it’s still a bit jarring.

The Initiation (1984) - Kath Rella
Megan (right) looks more like her mum… If she was from Croydon.

That aside, Kelly decides to do her dissertation (or something) on nightmares and dreams. Makes sense. Conveniently, sexy studmuffin Peter Adam (James Read) is not only her TA but happens to be an expert on dreams. You can guess where that’s going.

From College to Bedlam

There’s also a violent psycho uprising at the worst-run and most politically incorrect mental institution in the world. This has Kelly’s parents, Dwight (Clu Gulager) and Frances (Vera Miles) in a bit of a tizz. I wonder if it might be connected to her dream? Hmm. And there are the usual 80s slasher issues of horny teenagers trying to get laid.

The Initiation (1984) - Kath Rella
Is a TA shagging a student not a major ethics breach in the US? I get this is the 80s, but still… He’s also acting in a counselling capacity.

This is all pretty standard so far. First thing, which is entirely unrelated to the film, but am I the only one who thinks young Daphne Zuniga has a passing resemblance to Jennifer Lawrence? It’s not like watching The Night Flier and being convinced that Julie Entwisle is Phoebe Cates but every so often, Daphne does look a bit like Jennifer.

The Initiation (1984) - Kath Rella
I’m not saying she’s identical to J-Law, but you know? Come on.

The Initiation is a reasonable slasher movie. It seems to have adopted the concept of the “American Giallo”. We see a black-gloved killer stalking hapless cannon fodder, there are a few clever little twists and turns, and the ending isn’t quite as clear-cut as you might expect. Indeed, I expected to be writing this in smug mode, having worked out the grand reveal. I was wrong. Well played, screenwriter Charles Pratt Jr.

Fightin’ Round the Mall

The Initiation isn’t free of many of the problems with slasher movies. It’s slow, in places. A lot of dialogue designed to make the adults-playing-teens seem like real teens is frightfully dull. The vast majority of characters are not remotely fleshed out, so you’re not going to care when they get an axe to the skull. With that said, there is a sudden reveal about a particular character which is unsettlingly awkward. More so because of what she does afterwards. Yeah… what?

The Initiation (1984) - Kath Rella
Is this not considered an acceptable form of communication? Maybe that’s why my friend Kelly keeps shouting at me?

I can make the same complaints I would level against other slasher movies. That would be unfair. Pacing issues, characterisation and the rest of it aside, I enjoyed this one. When The Initiation gets going, it’s just the right amount of brutal violence and mystery. There are some clever “build-up” shots of the killer lurking about, which add an uneasy feeling. You’ve got a decent, competent cast for a change. There is a main character that you will likely semi-give a shit about for once. And if you do like gruesome slayings in your horror, there’s plenty in here. The 80s synth soundtrack could have been tempered a little, but never mind.

The Initiation (1984) - Kath Rella
This is an actual scene in The Initiation. I’ll just leave that here.

Conclusion

If you liked movies like The House on Sorority Row (the original one), Happy Birthday to Me, and the other more notable entries in that 80s cycle of slasher mayhem, you will probably dig The Initiation. If, however, you prefer something a little more high-brow then you might want to stay away. For mall-based horror, though, I can safely say it pisses in the face of Eric’s Revenge to thoroughly assert its dominance.

The Initiation (1984) - Kath Rella
Fuck you, Eric. Respect my fucking authoritaaaah!

If you’re in the UK, The Initiation is currently available on Shudder! You can get a free trial too. Winner.

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