Director: Larry Stewart & Peter Crane
Year of release: 1984
Country of origin: USA
Running time: 97 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: Both
Tagline: "They pledge themselves to be young, stay young...and die young" and "The night new blood is pledged".
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: Kicking off with a dream sequence of teenage girl Kelly we witness Kelly’s younger self seemingly attacking her own father with a knife after finding him in an intimate position in bed with her mother. The attack is interrupted by a second man whom with his intrusion finds himself promptly set on fire by the frisky first guy.
Waking from this bemusing situation we find that Kelly has a lot on her plate in the real world as well. She along with several friends are pledges to the Delta Rho Chi sorority and are about to face their initiation which if completed will see them become full members. Kelly and her fellow pledges are instructed to break into a large department store type building which more closely resembles a shopping mall. Once inside they’re tasked with stripping the uniform from the night watchman before returning with the clothes as trophies.
The job at hand of disrobing the watchman soon falls by the wayside when the young ladies find themselves locked within the complex with a psychotic killer, an individual perhaps linked to Kelly’s recurring dreams.
Good points: *The sets are a real highpoint in this one from the lunatic asylum near the beginning to the mall seen later where most of the action scenes take place.
The asylum is full of creepy customers including one disconcerting guy who keeps thrusting his tongue in and out like a snake. These early scenes ratchet up a bit of tension as well as projecting an air of menace onto the villain who we know was among these loonies.
Soon after the house where Kelly’s wealthy parents live is another impressive bit of background scenery and it makes it immediately evident that Kelly is of wealthy stock.
The Fairchild Building where the second and most memorable part of the film takes place is great and makes for a really fun location for the usual cat and mouse and stalk and slash scenes we’ve come to expect. It’s mentioned as being a department store but its not really at all like say the furniture store seen in Hide and Go Shriek but actually a full on shopping mall. In the Blu-Ray extras it’s said to be a wholesale market so that’s the official word. Whatever you want to call it as the more famous Dawn of the Dead proved a shopping mall is a excellent place for a horror movie. As with that film the mall elevates things here as well and it’s a surprise really that we haven’t seen more mall set slashers since. There’s only a few others I can think of with this being one of the more recognisable examples.
*The writing is of a higher standard here than in many of its contemporaries with what initially seems a very basic plot developing a couple of extra layers as things progress. Writing wise this has more in common with a slightly more high-brow slasher like say Happy Birthday To Me which this has echoes of as opposed to the more simplistic kids in the woods or what have you of others. The ending in particular is quite a surprise and wasn’t at all the conclusion I was expecting. It’s all properly explained though with things making sense which brings the film to a close on a more than satisfactory note.
*The cast is very good from beginning to end with everyone doing a stellar job. Daphne Zuniga does well with everything she’s given to do in the key role of final girl. She’s helped along by a mix of eye candy types, comedy characters (thankfully not too annoying) as well as business veterans adding name value in Clu Gulager and Psycho’s Vera Miles. Providing interesting information once again the Blu-Ray extras mention Miles only agreed to the project after being impressed with the young director initially earmarked for the hotseat. To her probable dismay he was later fired to be replaced by Larry Stewart. Thankfully Miles stuck around anyway to put in a memorable performance as Kelly’s batty Mother.
Bad Points: *As far as it goes for me this is a film with few real negatives to speak of. The only big thing really is that there’s no mask with things instead going down the more Giallo style route of just the killers hands being seen right up until the final scenes. I know I’ve said it time and time again but I always prefer it when the killer is hidden behind a mask and costume combination. It usually isn’t as fun for me when this is absent. That said though with The Initiation there is at least some facial disfigurement relating to burns on display as well as a neat reveal for the killer at the end which goes someway to make up for just the hands being shown prior.
*Some of the murders could have been better as in some cases they’re completely off camera and with those which are properly shown the special effects aren’t anything to get excited about. I’m sure the finances played a part but I’ve seen many very low budget pictures that do well with special effects with the kills sometimes being a standout feature. More emphasis is placed on the story and mystery aspects here which is good on one hand but it would’ve been nice if the more visceral side had of received more attention as well. One or two really memorable show piece kills would have elevated this to a spot among the very best eighties slashers in my book but instead I think it just falls short of that despite being very good. The deaths aren’t bad though by any stretch, it’s merely an area that left room for improvement.
Verdict: A well written, fun movie with a memorable mall type setting in the second half, The Initiation has a lot going for it and probably doesn’t always receive the affection and attention it deserves. It has a very similar vibe to it to Happy Birthday to Me which I also really liked and which is the more high profile of the two films. I’d say this is the better of the two though as the script is tighter and easier to follow. It would have been close to perfection with a proper killer guise and a bit more effort made with the blood and gore but even as is it’s still one of the stronger eighties stand alone slasher films for me. Gotta love that striking cover art as well!
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1)Nurse: Stabbed in car with handheld garden fork.
2)Dwight: Stabbed in neck with garden fork. Then beheaded with machete though this is only seen in shadow/silhouette.
3)Night watchman: Stabbed in the chest with garden fork.
4)Andy: Struck in the forehead with hatchet.
5)Megan: Shot through the torso with bow and arrow.
6)Chad: Found in toilet with throat cut.
7)Alison: Stabbed repeatedly with knife.
8)Ralph: Impaled through the back with harpoon.
9)Marcia: Dragged out of shot into life to be killed off camera.
10)Kelly’s sister: Shot by Frances with handgun.