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The Initiation (1984)

Arrow Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 11/8/2016

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/1/2016

When we think of the slasher film cycle from the 1980s, several trends come to mind -- masked killers, nubile teens, bloody killings. One common factor which some may have forgotten is that the makers of these movies would try to lure in an older audience by featuring a actor from a different generation. While I'm sure that it strained the budget in some instances, actors like Rod Steiger (American Gothic), Glenn Ford (Happy Birthday to Me), and George Kennedy (Just Before Dawn) appeared in some body-count movies of varying quality. Did that tactic work? That's difficult to say, but it didn't stop other producers from trying as with the 1984 entry The Initiation.

Kelly (Daphne Zuniga) is a college student who has joined some friends in pledging Delta Ro Kai sorority. Kelly, Marcia (Marilyn Kagan), and Alison (Deborah Morehart), endure the attitude of Megan (Frances Peterson), and attempt to get through the initiation activities, not to mention through classes. However, all is not well with Kelly, as she keeps having a recurring nightmare of a man who is on fire. She speaks with her psychology professor, Peter (James Read), about this and he volunteers to study Kelly, but her mother, Frances (Vera Miles), does not like this idea. Meanwhile, Megan has learned that Kelly's family owns a large shopping center and gives the girls the assignment to sneak in and steal the security guard's uniform. But, once they get inside, it soon becomes clear that they are not alone, as a mysterious killer begins to bump off the girls and some boys who have also broken in.

At the time of its release, Vera Miles would have been the "big" name here as she had been in Psycho (and also Psycho II). However, looking back on The Initiation, it's Daphne Zuniga who stands out. While she'd had some minor appearances before this project, The Initiation was her last small role before her break-out appearance in 1985's The Sure Thing. From there, she went on to Spaceballs and TVs Melrose Place. While Zuniga's star didn't really take off some thought that it would, she has worked consistently for decades, making her one of the few actors who starred in a slasher and constructed a successful career.

Other than that little tidbit, The Initiation is a very standard entry into the slasher genre. I'm sure that the movie wanted the sorority piece to be original, but that already been done in the superior The House on Sorority Row the year before. (Actually, Zuniga made her debut in 1982's The Dorm That Dripped Blood, another college-based slasher.) The movie also features a subplot involving a mental institution, which we've seen before. We also get the whole dream study thing, which was very hot at the time. The Initiation really wants to sell us on the second half of the film when the group goes to the "mall". The problem is that this "shopping center" is clearly an office building or perhaps a hotel. The group runs around this huge atrium-dominated structure, which includes a few storefronts. This certainly makes what is already a disjointed movie just seem weird.

But, The Initiation isn't quite done yet, because then we have the ending. The film ends with a twist which is supposed to be a huge bomb, but it's actually a bit confusing. This is followed by the credits rolling, as we get little explanation whatsoever as to exactly what was going on. So, the movie goes from mundane to weird to vague. You can't say that The Initiation doesn't keep trying, but it's "Little slasher movie that could" attitude only gets it so far. There is little suspense here and the gore is minimal. In the end, the movie's saving grace is the cast. Along with Miles and Zuniga, the aforementioned Deborah Morehart was an early stage-name for soap star Hunter Tylo, who gets..."exposed" here. Slasher movie completists will certainly want to check out The Initiation, as would devotees of the actresses listed above. All others will probably find it kind of boring.

The Initiation clearly needed a better realtor on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Arrow Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, but it does show a noticeable amount of grain at times. The colors are OK, but some look a bit dull, in addition to the picture being somewhat dark in places. On the positive side, the level of detail is good and the picture doesn't carry the "flat" look which haunts many movies from the 80s. The Disc carries a Linear PCM mono audio track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 1.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Given the nature of the track, we don't get any dynamic audio effects here, but there is no hissing or popping on the track and the music never drowns out the dialogue.

The Initiation Blu-ray Disc contains a few extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from the members of The Hysteria Continues podcast, who are really into slasher movies. "Sorority Saga" (21 minutes) is an interview with Writer Charles Pratt, Jr., who discusses his work on the film, his career, and the fact that his father was a film producer. We hear from actor Christopher Bradley in "Pledge Night" (19 minutes), who recalls his work on the movie. Actress Joy Jones alos gets a modern-day interview in which she tells her story in "Dream Job" (14 minutes). The Disc offers one EXTENDED SCENE which runs about 1 minute, and is presented with subtitles, as the audio was lost. The final extra is a TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long