31 Screams in October, Vol. 3, #6: The Initiation (1984)

Posted: October 6, 2016 in Movie Review
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6. The Initiation (1984)

Director: Larry Stewart

Starring: Daphne Zuniga, Vera Miles, Clu Gulager, James Read, Marilyn Kagan, Deborah Morehart

To truly enjoy movies like this, it helps if you’ve already been initiated into the slasher fan club. As I have familiarized myself with the slasher genre over the years, there are still the occasional titles which I just haven’t gotten around to yet, and still more lesser-known slashers which have slipped my radar completely. A man’s work is never complete. 1984’s “The Initiation” was one of those which I’d never even heard of until about a year or so ago when I picked up on it while browsing on Netflix. Even stranger given that I’m familiar with several of the main cast members.

College student Kelly Fairchild (Daphne Zuniga) is plagued by a recurring nightmare, one which depicts the burning of a stranger who appeared to be attacking her parents (Vera Miles and Clu Gulager) inside her former childhood home. Kelly is at this time being initiated into a sorority. All thanks to a boy, the lead sorority sister has it in for poor Kelly, and decrees that the initiation will be to break into Kelly’s father’s multi-level department store and steal the security guard’s uniform. Yes, Kelly thinks this idea sounds as stupid as we think it is, but she’s willing to go along with it. So shall we all.

Before all of this is to take place, there’s an incident at the sanitarium involving a few loose inmates and one dead nurse. One of the inmates escapes. Not that the movie is trying to ape “Halloween” in any way. The next day, Kelly meets up with Peter (James Read), a graduate assistant in her psychology class, and together they try and unlock the mystery surrounding Kelly’s dreams. Kelly’s mother, whose stressful day began with a phone call detailing the problems at the sanitarium, disapproves to the point of being overprotective. Later that night, her husband is quietly decapitated outside their house by the escaped mental patient.

Unaware that anything is amiss, Kelly goes to the department store with friends/fellow pledges Marcia (Marilyn Kagan) and Alison (Deborah Moreheart, a.k.a. Hunter Tylo of “The Bold and the Beautiful” fame). They are given an hour to complete their assignment, but Kelly saves time by swiping one of the spare uniforms. There are a few things which Kelly and her friends were not as yet aware of: 1) The queen bitch who hates Kelly has locked them in, 2) She intends to send in some of her guy friends to “scare” them, and 3) The mental patient has followed them to the department store and has made their way inside!

Back at the university, a bit of investigating leads Peter to solving the riddle of Kelly’s nightmares. As the audience may have guessed by now, her dream is actually a repressed memory. The burning man in her dream is no stranger, but is in fact Kelly’s actual biological father. Better still, it turns out that her father, Jason Randall, is both an inmate at the sanitarium as well as its groundskeeper. He’s still missing.

After some initial confusion, including multiple occasions where Kelly’s friends claim to have seen her in places she can’t have been, the girls all get together inside the department store and have fun. Some even pair off with the boys to get to know each other better. But once the carnage begins, they’ll all be running, screaming, and bleeding to death. The worst is saved for poor Alison, whom the killer catches hiding behind the security desk. Based on what he has learned, Peter has driven straight to Kelly’s house, instead finding her drunk mother, whom he convinces to come with him to the department store.

At the store, the only survivor left is Kelly who is confronted by Jason Randall. A chase ensues, culminating on the roof of the building. Kelly gets the drop on Jason, whom she pushes over the edge. Inside, Peter arrives and finds Kelly whom he embraces. Peter is surprised by a non-lethal stab to the gut. The late arrival of Kelly reveals the movie’s big twist (which most will likely have guessed already), that Kelly has an evil twin sister.  Just as Kelly is about to be murdered, she is saved at the last minute by her mother, who shoots Kelly’s sister in the back.

If you haven’t tired of the formula yet, this one may still appeal to you, as it does to me. Otherwise, one can find enjoyment in “The Initiation” by spotting the famous faces. For me, this would have been satisfied by Daphne Zuniga’s presence alone. Having enjoyed the Mel Brooks comedy “Spaceballs” (arguably her most widely-recognized role) for years as one of my favorite movies, I jumped at the chance to see Zuniga in a slasher film.  As Kelly, she’s a fine lead, but as the evil twin she’s way too over-the-top.

Aside from the been there, done that nature of a slasher, “The Initiation” still has an effective atmosphere. The department store looks great. As terrific a location as the shopping mall in “Dawn of the Dead.” Also, as this was still the early 1980s, the clothing styles, the music and the carefree sensibilities are all what you want in a movie like this. All in all, while “The Initiation” is hardly an innovator, it’s still entertaining enough to recommend adding it to your regular October horror rotation.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Do we know where the evil twin has been prior to showing up at the dept. store? Is she normally too nuts to walk around loose or does she live in the Fairchild home? DDoes the creepy groundskeeper/biological dad actually have burn scars allover his body from a real event that sent him over the edge back in the day? Does this movie have a sequel?

    • 1) The twin escaped from the same nuthouse as Daddy. Put there by her mother (Vera Miles). 2) Yes, Jason Randall has visible burn scars, though not in a Freddy Krueger sort of way. 3) No, “The Initiation” was not granted a sequel.

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