Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Off the Shelf: The Initiation (Blu-ray)

by Patrick Bromley
You had me at "Introducing Daphne Zuniga."

Know what I miss about the heyday of the '80s slasher movie? There were so many of them that eventually filmmakers had to start finding ways to shake up the formula and continually introduce weirder and weirder shit. That's not to say that all of these movies were "good," necessarily, but that they managed to be distinctive within a subgenre known for its sameness. For as good as horror is today -- and we are in a really good place for horror -- there is no one corner of the genre that is so prevalent as the slasher once was that it inspires various permutations. We don't get a Sleepaway Camp or a Blood Rage much anymore. The reasons for this are ultimately positive and encouraging -- the current crop of horror films are so vastly different from one another that we avoid this phenomenon -- but it still makes me miss that Golden Age of Crazy we got in the '80s.
Firmly entrenched in said Golden Age is The Initiation, a 1984 slasher directed by Larry Stewart and featuring the big screen debut of Daphne Zuniga in a starring role (she had already appeared in a supporting role in another college-themed horror movie, The Dorm That Dripped Blood, two years prior). She plays Kelly, a college co-ed plagued by horrible nightmares in which she sees her mother (Vera Miles, slumming) in bed with another man (Clu Gulager, slumming far less) and then another man set on fire. She's also in the process of rushing a sorority, which requires her and some other kids to spend the night in a department store as part of the initiation. I have literally never heard any any initiation like this for any sorority, but I wasn't cool in college (or before college or now). Wouldn't you know that a slasher crashes the party and starts killing a bunch of them?

To get into all the ways that The Initiation ends up being crazy would require spoilers, which I won't provide here. Like the similarly nutty Blood Rage (ok, Blood Rage is nuttier...way nuttier), the movie has to reinvent certain slasher tropes to stand out. It is more successful in some ways than others. The whole "teens locked in a mall overnight" is reminiscent of movies like Night of the Comet and Chopping Mall (even though one of those came after) and the kills themselves aren't necessarily more inventive or interesting than your everyday slash-and-stab, but the weird psychological detours the screenplay takes (by Charles Pratt Jr., who has spent most of his career writing and producing both daytime and primetime soap operas) are what give the movie color. The presence of both Vera Miles and Clu Gulager help give the project an air of authenticity -- they are genre royalty, after all -- but both actors contribute what are essentially extended cameos. The movie belongs to the young cast. They, too, are mostly generic, save maybe for future soap star Hunter Tylo, who...makes an impression...and, of course, my girl D. Zunigs, who doesn't quite pop off the screen the way she would a year later in The Sure Thing but who still manages to stand apart from the rest of the actors by projecting a kind of quiet intelligence. She feels like some sort of "other" compared to the horny co-eds surrounding her, which works out perfectly for the story being told.

Arrow's Blu-ray is another in their growing line of first-rate editions for movies of which I can't believe we're getting first-rate editions; it's been given a new 2K scan and a 1080 HD makeover so that it looks, while not brand new, better than it has ever appeared to be sure. There's a commentary track included from the members of The Hysteria Continues podcast (the second I've heard from them, as they're also on the Night Train to Terror commentary; if these home video companies are going to be tapping podcasts to do commentaries, can someone get them in touch with us?) that was recorded over Skype and is somewhat spotty as a result. Also included is the original trailer, a single deleted scene and some brand new interviews with actors Charles Pratt Jr., Christopher Bradley and Joy Jones. Sadly, there is no Zuniga to be found.
As both a fan and a student of '80s slashers, I'm all in on a movie like The Initiation. While not quite the rediscovered gem of, say, The Burning or the aforementioned Blood Rage, it's an entry in the genre that's better than some of its better-known brethren (I'm looking at you, Prom Night) and worthy of being a bigger part of the slasher conversation. I love the titles that Arrow is choosing to restore and I love the treatment they're giving these movies, recognizing that while not conventional classics, these are the kinds of films that mean a lot to some of us. Plus, if you're as much a Zuniga fan as I am, this movie's got more of her than it can handle.

Blu-ray release date: November 8, 2016
97 minutes/1984/R
1.85:1 (1080p)
DTS HD 1.0 Master Audio (English)
Subtitles: English (SDH)

Blu-ray bonus features:
"Sorority Saga" - Interview with writer Charles Pratt, Jr.
"Pledge Night" - Interview with actor Christopher Bradley
"Dream Job" - Interview with actress Joy Jones
Extended Scene
Original Theatrical Trailer
Screenplay and production schedule (BD-ROM)


  1. Randomly, this is one of the very few horror movies I've seen - some college friends screened a cheapo DVD of it one Halloween. The mall in the movie was particularly weird, as it looked like an office complex as much as a shopping one. Anyhow, not the worst flick by a long shot, though the fact this gets a blu-ray release before Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Before Sunrise/Sunset do is... special? Let's go with that. "Special." :P

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