Initiation, The (1984)

Starring Vera Miles (Psycho), Clu Gulager (Return of the Living Dead), Daphne Zuniga (The Fly II), James Read, Marilyn Kagan, Hunter Tylo (“The Bold and the Beautiful”), Joy Jones, Trey Stroud, Frances Peterson, Peter Malof, and Patti Heider

Directed by Larry Stewart

***Editor’s note: This review originally appeared on our old site. Enjoy!***

‘Tis a sad, sad thing. It seems the more I revisit these fondly remembered slasher films of the 1980’s, the more I’m forced to question what the hell it was I enjoyed about them in the first place. When I first watched The Initiation, I found it to be a mildly diverting way to spend 97 minutes. Upon viewing the DVD, my reaction was quite different. Very, very different.

Sorority pledge Kelly Fairchild (Zuniga) is a wealthy, attractive young woman whose life seems to be going along swimmingly. She did, however, fall out of a tree-house at age nine and can remember nothing prior to that. She also suffers from a recurring nightmare: as a little girl, she walks in on her parents (Miles and Gulager) making the “beast with two backs” and stabs her father in the leg. A strange man enters the room, fights with the father, and catches on fire. Kelly always awakens from the dream at this point.

Kelly seeks help from Peter (Read), a dream researcher. Along with his assistant, Heidi (Jones), they attempt to unlock the secrets of Kelly’s past. Meanwhile, a break out has occurred at the local mental institute – causing Ma and Pa Fairchild much distress.

For their initiation into the sorority, Kelly, the innocent Marcia (Kagan), and the not-so-innocent Alison (Tylo), must break into the department store owned by Kelly’s father and steal the guard’s uniform. Hoping to scare them, Megan (Peterson), Ralph (Stroud), Andy (Malof), and Chad also sneak into the store. Once all of the characters have been assembled, they are trapped inside and somebody begins brutally picking them off one-by-one.

Let’s save a few key-strokes and cover the positives first. The Initiation has slick production values and boasts some solid performances from the name actors. Although slowly paced in its first half, it does pick up steam once the action shifts to the deserted mall. The violence is entertainingly graphic without being excessive. If you’re into that sort of thing, there is ample female flesh on display. Especially that of a very young and gorgeous Hunter Tylo. I’m sure this isn’t still on her resume.

Now onto the negatives. Be warned; there will be a few spoilers. As if this movie were ever fresh enough to be considered spoiled.

– The acting by Peterson, Malof, and Jones is ass! And not one of those nice shapely asses, either.

– James Read turns in a serviceable performance, and is fairly hot in a “let me grab my Members Only jacket and I’m good to go” sort of way. But his character contributes nothing to the plot. His assistant does all of the sleuthing, and this hero’s idea of saving the day is to take a knife in the gut two seconds after making the scene.

– There’s a Come Dressed as Your Favorite Suppressed Desire Party scene. Complete with ballerina, giant penis, bad KISS imitators, and a house band featuring a keyboardist who plays with one hand and jumps around a lot. Enough said.

– As the girls are about to embark on their prank, one of the pledges decides it’s not a good idea and stays behind. Only instead of just bailing on the plan, this actress has decided she may be in the running for an Oscar and goes completely ape-shit. “You’re fucking insane! This time you’ve gone too far!”, she screams at the ring-leader. Not much for practical jokes are you there, Sister?

– Kelly will often zone out when she gazes into a reflective surface. This quirk is handled inconsistently, but may help explain the hot pink lipstick and blue eye shadow she sports.

– Marilyn Kagan displays some serious acting chops as Marcia. She expertly handles a scene where she explains that she is not a virgin due to the fact that she was sexually molested at a young age by her violin teacher. She then sleeps with Ralph, only to have him catch an arrow in the back immediately afterwards. She herself is then killed. It’s an unnecessarily cruel fate for the only likable character. Anchor Bay adds insult to injury by titling this chapter “The Virgin Sacrifice”. Tacky, guys. Really tacky.

– The only truly disturbing scene is the sight of Vera Miles’s and Clu Gulager’s aged faces used with some very young body doubles during the flashback sequence.


– The “double shock” surprise ending makes absolutely no sense! Everybody in town seems to know about the fabulously wealthy Fairchild family, but nobody knew that Kelly had a freakin’ twin?!? Did the parents have no family or friends that could clue her in? What about all the people they encountered in their first nine years of life? My head hurts just thinking about it.


So basically, this may appear to be one of the cuter pups in the slasher pound, but it definitely hasn’t had all of its shots.

Not a presentation designed to show off your hi-tech equipment, but the video and audio quality are both above average for this sort of movie. The only extra is a trailer from those golden days when they actually featured nudity and gore in the coming attractions. The packing incorporates the original artwork; a bizarrely eerie image of “sorority girl as candle”. But then ruins the effect by superimposing it over a Giant Floating Daphne Head.


2 ½ out of 5

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Jon Condit