Here we are at the 4th meeting of the Final Girl Film Club. I have a feeling this will be a very, very lonely meeting, and it’s all Netflix’s fault. OK, it’s MY fault for not reading the ENTIRE Netflix entry for the club selection, The Initiation (1983). I realize that offering up a film that’s essentially unavailable at most rental outfits is akin to taking back an engagement ring- it’s equally as soul-crushing, to be sure- but what can I say? Jesse Ventura ain’t got time to bleed and I ain’t got time to read. A word of warning if you couldn't catch the flick this time 'round: this post will most likely be all ten kinds of spoileriffic, so if you care about that sort of thing…don’t let the door hit ya!
A young girl walks in on her parents making The Beast With Two Backs. As can be expected, the girl pulls a knife and stabs her father in the leg. Suddenly, a strange man in a suit bursts in the door. There’s a tussle; the girl’s father pours some liquid over the stranger, the stranger falls down by the lit fireplace, the stranger catches fire. The girl screams—
--and it’s all one of Kelly’s (Daphne Zuniga) nightmares! Phew! It seems the poor girl has been plagued by this same nightmare for some time now…but there are more pressing matters at hand. It’s Hell Week at Delta Rho Chi sorority, wherein the nubile pledges must perform feats of derring-do and obey their elders if they hope to become full-fledged sisters. Everyone all together now, get monotonous!
The crazy prank demanded by the bitchy sorority leader Megan (Frances Peterson) is classic 80s shenanigans, baby: the pledges are to break into the mall owned by Kelly’s father and steal the hunky security guard’s uniform…”Right down to his skivvies!”
Don’t get too excited though; there’s still a few days yet until Prank Night. In the meantime, Kelly’s nightmares are getting worse. She visits “The Dream Factory”, the domain of graduate student Peter (James Read) and his glamorous assistant Heidi (Joy Jones), whom I found oddly…fascinating. Don’t YOU find Heidi oddly fascinating?
Peter and Heidi hook Kelly up to all manner of machines to get her REM readings and the such. Upon waking, Kelly recounts her nightmare in great detail, to which Peter replies, “That’s beautiful. You’ve got all the classic symbols there: mom, dad, fire…a strange man…” Wow, Peter really knows his shit! Good luck with that thesis, Peter- not that you’ll need it. The resourceful Heidi interprets things a little more scientifically, however, and surmises that Kelly’s not experiencing nightmares…she’s experiencing hidden memories. See, Kelly can’t remember much of her childhood…she’s got amnesia that conveniently blocks her memories prior to age nine. Heidi is very excited by this discovery!
Have you fallen under Heidi's spell yet? I bet you have.
Anyway, Kelly’s parents (Vera Miles and Clu Gulagher) are NOT excited about the Dream Factory and forbid her from continuing the therapy, to which Kelly basically replies “Up yours, I’ll do what I want!” Sheesh, parents- all uptight and whatnot. And hey, why are they so concerned with a breakout at a mental hospital that’s 300 miles away? Hmm. Who knows. It doesn't really matter; soon enough Dad finds himself meeting the business end of a gardening fork- yowee!
But why dwell on such unpleasantries? It’s time for that 80s cinematic staple, the Party Which Serves No Purpose! Yes, it's off to a frat party wherein a band plays- one so perfect for the job that the keyboardist pogos and plays with one hand, mind you- and everyone is dressed as their “favorite suppressed desires”. Everyone gets their Freud on and we’re treated to someone in bad KISS makeup, someone in a giant penis costume, and Daphne Zuniga in a leather miniskirt and studded collar. Speaking of Freud, let’s pause to take another look at the poster art for The Initiation, shall we? Is it just me, or do you also get a…deeper meaning here?
Now THAT’S Jungtastic!
OK, FINALLY it’s time for Prank Night. Kelly and her fellow pledges Marcia (Marilyn Kagan) and Alison (Hunter Tylo) get into the mall with no problem 'cause Kelly stole the keys from her dad. Megan promises to let them out when they’ve scored the uniform and locks the door behind them. As the pledges go off to do their thing, however, Megan and three doofy frat guys head inside as well. Their goal? Something I’ve never before seen in a horror flick- they’re gonna scare the pledges! By “I've never before seen”, of course, I mean “I've seen 50,000,000 times”.
What no one knows is that a shadowy, garden fork-wielding figure has ALSO snuck into the mall…probably NOT with the intent of getting an early start on Macy’s Super Door Busters Sale. First on the chopping block is the hunky security guard, who dutifully checks out a strange noise. Man, I don’t know who this guy is, nor does he have any lines, but he really gives his all for his big death scene. That’s called screaming with gusto, or Le Scream-Scream, as the French like to say.
Now that we’re at the mall, The Initiation kicks it into high gear. Hunter Tylo puts on roller skates, the shadowy figure dispatches teens with your usual assortment of slasher weapons (including a hatchet and a bow and arrow), and there’s some spooky stalking sequences.
Meanwhile, back at The Dream Factory, super sleuth Heidi has pieced together Kelly’s past through the power of microfiche: when Kelly was young, she walked in on her mom and dad having sex…only it wasn’t really her dad! The man in the suit was Kelly’s dad, and after he got char-broiled he was shipped off to…a mental hospital! He recently escaped the hospital, however, and Heidi is sure that Kelly’s in mortal danger. Peter fires up The Dream Factory Mobile and heads off to save Kelly.
Heidi is totally right- Kelly IS in mortal danger! Bodies are being discovered and Daphne Zuniga acts totally scared.
She’s chased up to the roof by the shadowy figure who turns out to be…her burn-scarred original dad! Oh noes! Have no fear, though, because Kelly is totes resourceful and conks him on head with a pipe. Burn-Scarred Original Dad falls to the ground and lands with a thud. Before you can say “Wow, that was intense!”, however, Kelly heads back into the mall to find…her EVIL TWIN SISTER stabbing Peter and staring back at her! Oh. My. God.
Then Daphne Zuniga has the best I just saw my evil twin sister that I didn’t even know I had totally stab my new boyfriend right in front of me! reaction EVER.
The twins square off and…maybe one of them lives. I’m not going to tell you the outcome, precisely, but let’s just say that The Initiation ends with a freeze-frame and a saxophone. “Good night, sister darling!”
OK, The Inititation is really nothing more than an average mid-80s slasher flick; there’s gratuitous nudity to be sure, but the gore pretty much amounts to copious amounts of...shall we say Karo-esque blood. The storyline is at times hokey (despite your Heidi-ness, I’m looking at YOU, Dream Factory) and hackneyed- how many times have we seen the Evil Twin scenario? I’m not complaining- I love me some evil twins- but it’s not exactly new ground being tread here.
For what it is, however, The Initiation certainly excels and I kind of adored it. It’s got a sort of…quiet enthusiasm about the subject matter that sets it apart from its contemporaries. The acting is much better than the typical genre fare- particularly from Vera Miles (who seems to forget she’s in a low-budget slasher flick and does a great job) and Daphne Zuniga. The title sequence claims, with a big “Introducing…”, that this is Ms Zuniga’s first on-screen role. We here at Final Girl know that her REAL debut came a year or so earlier in Pranks (aka The Dorm that Dripped Blood); truth be told, however, I’d probably want Pranks off my resume as well.
Another advantage The Initiation has over the competition comes courtesy of Charles Pratt’s screenplay: there’s actually some characterization going on here. Particularly of note is a story told by Marcia; when she’s teased about being a virgin one too many times, she reveals that she’s not, in fact, a virgin- she was sexually assaulted by her violin teacher when she was 12 and she’s never told anyone, not even her mother. It’s an odd moment in a slasher flick, to be sure, but when Marcia falls victim we’re maybe just a little bit sad about it. Audience investment heightens the effects of any movie, and it’s especially true of horror films.
Charles Pratt, of course, would go on to meet up with Daphne Zuniga again a few years later on a little project called Melrose Place. You may also recall that one Hunter Tylo was fired from Melrose Place prior to filming for…well, basically for getting pregnant. See? The world- even the realm of slasher flicks- is just one big Aaron Spelling-flavored Moebius Strip. And honestly, wouldn’t we all like the world a little more if there really WERE two Daphne Zunigas? Yeah, even if one was evil- that’s a chance I’d be willing to take. I give it 7 out of 10 I’m sorry, I’m sure “Aaron Spelling-flavored” probably ruined your appetites.
Mermaid Heather managed to catch this Club entry; click the link to read her thoughts. If anyone else saw it, leave a link in the comments and I'll add it here. Next time I'll get something easier to get a hold of, I promise.
Dreamrot saw it too!