Saturday, January 4, 2014

Initiation, The (1984)

Directed by:
Larry Stewart

It started with fifteen and now it's down to just four. Who said being a sorority pledge was easy? It's definitely not when you're a sorority pledge in a horror flick. First you have to get naked and then you have to die. Sorry ladies, but those are the rules. At the mercy of mean pledge leader Megan (Frances Peterson), the latest crop of new inductees at the Delta Rho Chi house has been narrowed down to just a few. There's virtuous nice girl Marcia (Marilyn Kagan), slutty Alison ("Deborah Morehart" aka future soap opera star Hunter Tylo), reluctant Beth (Paula Knowles) and the troubled Kelly (Daphne Zuniga). Kelly has been having a recurring nightmare featuring a little girl walking in on her parents having sex and then stabbing her dad before another man barges and is accidentally caught on fire. 300 miles away, we pay a visit to the Fireside Sanitarium; a place full of cliché horror movie nutcase behavior. Moving down our checklist, we can mark off "Woman staring at a turned-off TV screen," "Woman pretending to knit" "Man who drools and licks the walls" "Woman sucking thumb and staring at a pencil," "Woman whose face we never see because she figures into the plot" and of course that old stand-by "Guy in football helmet hitting himself on the head with a ping pong paddle over and over again." A man (Robert Dowdell) with serious fire damage to his face and body lurks around outside clutching a three-pronged garden claw. He sneaks in later that night to let all of the patients out. Someone murders the bitchy Nurse Ratched wanna-be and steals her car.

Because of her nightmares, graduate student / psychology professor Peter Adams (James Read), who's working on his "doctorate in parapsychology," begins hooking Kelly up to machinery and trying to analyze her "classic Freudian dream." He and his research assistant (Joy Jones) soon come to the conclusion that this isn't a nightmare, but a flashback. It seems Kelly's wealthy parents; Frances (Vera Miles) and Dwight (Clu Gulager) Fairchild, have been hiding a few things from their daughter. Dad doesn't get to relay much info because he's stabbed and decapitated with a machete when he tries to sneak off to see his mistress. Mom, however, doesn't want her daughter being examined or for her to see Peter any more for fear that the secret will be revealed. Either way, whoever escaped from the nuthouse is lurking around and ready to spill some blood... and just in time for the big sorority initiation. Their final challenge is to break into Kelly's father's department store (which is actually more like a multi-level office building) and somehow get their hands on the night watchman's uniform. But that's OK. As Alison points out, he's rumored to be "a real stud hung like a mule or something." Too bad he's pronged to death before they get to find out for sure.

Kelly, Marcia and Alison are all locked in the store, Megan and three frat guys sneak inside in an attempt to scare them and the killer shows up to do them all in. There's death by axe to the head, arrow, slit throat and a garden variety stabbing. One girl confesses being raped by her violin teacher when she was 12 years old and then trades one traumatic sexual experience for another when the first guy she willingly gives herself to is shot dead with a harpoon gun immediately afterward. The melted-faced groundskeeper shows up, as does another surprise guest. After his assistant hits the library to do some research, Peter rushes to the Fairchild home to alert Frances and then to the mall in an effort to save Kelly.

The Initiation is yet another interchangeable, forgettable slasher flick from the early 80s. Production values, score and photography are all OK, and there's enough blood, death and nudity for one of these things, but the storyline is far too predictable and whatever twists it has to offer up are poorly telegraphed in advance. Even the attempt for a last-minute shock is pretty easy to figure out. The acting is all over-the-place; ranging from OK (Miles, Gulager, Read) to flat out terrible (most of the younger cast). Though clearly still in need of some experience before the cameras, star Zuniga is pretty and appealing enough. She seemed poised for stardom after snagging lead roles in the popular teen comedy The Sure Thing (1986) and the successful Star Wars spoof Spaceballs (1987) right after this, but the string of poor / mediocre films - Last Rites (1988), The Fly II (1989), Gross Anatomy (1989) - that followed doomed her to TV work thereafter. She's probably now best known for her role on the nighttime soap Melrose Place.

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