The Initiation 1984 Review
Directed by: Larry Stewart
Starring: Daphne Zuniga, Clu Gulager, Vera Miles
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Although it’s fantastic for avid collectors like me that the slasher genre was so heavily populated during its two lengthy runs in both the early eighties and late nineties, it perhaps made it harder for some titles to achieve the recognition that they deserved. Whilst it’s generally acknowledged that Friday the 13th and the Halloween series were the most memorable genre outings from the overkill period of the eighties, many of their cousins from that time were deserving of further recognition.
The likes of My Bloody Valentine, Happy Birthday to Me, Prom Night, The Prowler and Intruder are often mentioned as the ‘second-tier’ of the category and have achieved cult status and a legacy in their own right. Unfortunately that means movies such as Hell Night, Maniac, Just Before Dawn and Madman have been somewhat unfairly overlooked.
If judged solely on its merits as a motion picture, then The Initiation doesn’t even sit amongst the latter titles that I mentioned above. It does however boast an undeniably alluring sheen, which is impossible to ignore. Sure, it’s cheesy as hell; but it nicely paced, slickly produced, atmospheric and has its share of decent moments. It’s not a view that is shared by everybody, but personally I like the movie and think it’s somewhat under-valued.
Kelly Fairchild is a pledge at her local college and as the new term draws near, she learns that she has to participate in the annual prank-filled Initiation in order to earn the respect of her senior sorority sisters. This year the youngster and three of her friends have been tasked with stealing the uniform of the security guard that patrols the local mall after hours. Fortunately for the youngsters, the shopping centre is owned by Kelly’s father, Dwight, who is somewhat of a local entrepreneur. Unbeknownst to the group, they have picked a time when a recently escaped lunatic is also hiding in the dimly lighted complex and before long the youngsters are being stalked and systematically slaughtered by an unseen assassin.
There are two key reasons why Halloween is widely regarded as the best and the most respectable of all the early eighties genre entries. Firstly, John Carpenter is an extremely talented director and a maestro of suspense generation. Secondly and perhaps most importantly, his movie was made purely with the inspiration to do something different whereas the motivation behind titles like The Initiation was simply to cash in on the stalk and slash craze that had swept the early part of the decade. Things move quickly in cinema and the fact that a quick profit was all that most producers were looking for from the genre meant that film-makers were never given the time to indulge in their cinematic visions.
There’s no hiding the fact that money was the key factor behind the production of TV director Larry Stewart’s one and only motion picture, but in fairness he looks to have been given the space and freedom to create the movie as he had initially intended, which means that we the audience benefit from an entry that never feels rush-released.
Cinematically, The Initiation is a film of two halves and starts rather flatly with nothing to note from Stewart’s pedestrian direction. It’s only when the victims are locked in the mall with the maniac killer that he gets the chance to flex his creative muscle and delivers some taut suspense and engaging set pieces. Stewart has a ball with the spacious locations and cat and mouse suspense during the second half of the runtime and the movie becomes an explosive cocktail of slasher clichés and pacey scenarios.
The cast remain cheesy throughout, but do enough to allow the audience to warm to them. All eyes are on Daphne Zuniga in her first real film role (if you ignore her brief cameo as ‘the girl that gets gruesomely squished by a car’ in The Dorm that Dripped Blood), but she does precious little to separate herself from the rest of the junior hopefuls. It’s the impressive script that really steals the limelight here and very few can honestly admit that they expected the Scooby-Doo twist conclusion.
Yes, it could be argued that the movie is a remake of another successful early eighties slasher, which I can’t mention without ruining the crux of the plot. That’s hardly a bad thing however and The Initiation has just about enough in its locker to succeed on its own merits. Blood hounds may be disappointed with the lack of any extreme gore, but those looking for a fun slice of slasher hokum will get their fill here.
All in all, I liked the Initiation. It is a reminder of all that was good about early-eighties splatter flicks and unlike many of its genre cousins, it also packs a double fisted punch to your ocular senses. The acting is hilariously campy and there’s no real gore to mention, but the good points, such as the impressively strong pacing, just about outweigh the bad.
If you’ve seen all the others and are in dire need for a slasher fix, then you should certainly give this one a go.
Final Girl √√√