Jumping into the slasher genre can be a bit intimidating. It’s the film equivalent of jazz music. Where do you start? My advice is to drown in it and hope your bloated corpse comes back up a well-versed slasher expert. It’s easy to forget, in an age where we have an overwhelming amount of information available to us, how much of an advantage a new horror fan has. They can Google a movie and immediately have a laundry list of films that are similar. Those of us born before the late 80s remember having to do the daily grind: going to conventions, swapping VHS tapes with fellow horror enthusiasts, staying up late to watch some form of slash trash on Cinemax, Showtime or HBO and, my personal favorite, getting lost in the gallery of box art that was the horror section of your local video store. Which leads me to my earlier point; considering how many slashers were produced in the boom of the 1980s alone, even as a diehard fan, I actually had never seen THE INITIATION until very recently. Now, with Arrow Video’s current Blu-ray release, they resurrect another cult horror under pristine conditions and can help it finally meet a larger audience.
There was an abundance of college themed slashers in the early 80s: THE DORMTHAT DRIPPED BLOOD, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW, HELL NIGHT, FINAL EXAM – the list goes on and on. In THE INITIATION, Kelly Fairchild (Daphne Zuniga of SPACEBALLS and “Melrose Place”) is a privileged and demure fraternity pledge who is haunted by a reoccurring nightmare: she witnesses her parents having sex, stabs Dad in the leg and then he proceeds to set an intruder on fire. After deciding to do a term paper on the psychology of dreams, Kelly is taken under the wing of a graduate assistant and a girl who looks strikingly like Barb from “Stranger Things” as their test subject. Their intention – to remove the veil of her subconscious and find the true meaning behind her nightmare. Meanwhile, at a nearby asylum, a faceless patient escapes, which alarms Kelly’s parents (Clu Gulager of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and Vera Miles of PSYCHO). We get the impression that said parent has their sights set on Kelly. Aside from all this, in order to become sorority officials, Kelly and three other pledges must break into the towering shopping center that her father owns and steal the security guard’s clothes – in a nutshell, Kelly has problems.
I don’t know what I think of Daphne Zuniga. I can’t say I’ve ever been much of a fan of her. Maybe that’s why I haven’t seen THE INITIATION earlier. This film being her first starring role, I have to say, she definitely put her all into it and made me forget about my issues with her acting abilities. Actually the cast, as a whole, is actually quite good for a slasher movie, especially Marilyn Kagan as Marcia, a “virgin” coed and friend of Kelly’s that has a sort of dorky charm and nearly steals the film from her. There’s a pivotal scene where Marcia breaks down and tells her story relating to why she’s actually not a virgin that has an emotional potency you don’t often find in these early slashers. However, the same thing that sets it apart also becomes its biggest weakness because, despite a fair amount of bloodshed towards the end of the film, THE INITIATION is a tad mild for a horror film and ends up feeling like a slightly elevated TV movie. By the end, I found myself wanting to watch the far superior HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, which not only makes far better use of its twist, but also has a table of dead people rotting around a birthday cake. Oh, and Melissa Sue Anderson from LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. Sorry Zuniga, I’ve warmed up to you but you’re no Mary Ingalls.
Arrow Video is the reigning champion in turning cult horror films into exceptional Blu-ray releases. THE INITIATION has never looked this good and fans will surely take pleasure in the care that has gone into its transfer. There’s three interviews here: one with Joy Jones (the girl who looks like Barb from “Stranger Things”), Christopher Bradley and scribe Charles Pratt Jr. For my money though, the real bonus is the audio commentary track by The Hysteria Continues because I always enjoy hearing fellow horror nerds discuss movies. So if you haven’t seen THE INITIATION yet and want to fall into the K-hole that is the slasher genre, Arrow’s got you covered.