|The Initiation (1984)
|Charles Pratt Jr.
|Daphne Zuniga, Vera Miles, James Read, Clu Gulager, Marilyn Kagan, Robert Dowdell, Hunter Tylo (as Deborah Morehart), Frances Peterson and Patti Heider
“Mother…Father…Mirrors…” – Peter Adams
Kelly Fairchild (Zuniga) is a college student and a pledge at the Delta Ro Kai sorority which is soon commencing Hell Week. Since she was a young child Kelly’s been suffering from a nightmare involving her parents making love while a man sneaks up on them only to become engulfed in flames when her father pushes him into a fireplace. Her parents, Frances (Miles) and Dwight (Gulager), are affluent people who care dearly for their daughter but they are obviously keeping some dark secret from her. Kelly reaches out to teacher’s assistant Peter Adams (Read) who attempts to help her decipher her dreams with hypnosis much to the chagrin of her mother.
But someone who’s been locked up in a sanatorium has broken loose and is stalking Kelly and killing off people close to her. And during a final prank in Hell Week where pledges have to break into a shopping mall at night will leave Kelly and a lot of her friends at the mercy of a vicious killer.
I really, really like this film. Coming at the tail end of the slasher film’s popularity and subsequent inevitable foray into self-parody; “The Initiation” is a thriller/slasher that’s very competent in every department and takes itself seriously. It has a terrific cast of old pros and good up-and-comers, a neat mystery that’s very well played out and solid set-pieces that are both well staged and executed with flair.
There are a couple of fairly graphic killings early on but the film is somewhat leisurely paced until arriving at the hour mark when it goes in full slasher mode inside a deserted shopping mall at night. The final thirty minutes or so are really well done in terms of bloody set-pieces and sustained suspense in creepy surroundings. The handling of the mystery is impressive too. While it doesn’t stand up to complete scrutiny it’s a very well constructed plot that doesn’t insult the viewer’s intelligence and makes for some nightmarish imagery along the way. During the course of the film the viewer is given a fair amount of visual clues to piece together and it’s use of a certain household object is fairly excessive; although I was none the wiser the first time around. Subsequent viewings prompt a different kind of watch and it’s no less entertaining deconstructing how the mystery is presented.
While the supplements on the Blu-ray disc state repeatedly that “The Initiation” was basically a rush job when director Stewart took over from Peter Crane (who was fired a few days into the shoot and gets no credit for his input) the film doesn’t look rushed and it’s even fairly stylish on occasion. Once inside the mall the atmosphere is full of dread and the setting makes for some very good and scary scenes. The murder sequences are well handled, pretty gory and very brutal. Make-up effects are good and the killer’s use of multiple weapons is very much in tone with the slasher films of the period.
The cast is really well assembled. Miles and Gulager are good in their roles; Miles especially as she really gives a performance that’s very broad and convincing. Zuniga is really appealing and shows good range as these leading roles in slashers are fairly demanding and call for a multitude of displays from actors. Read is very likeable and his Peter Adams is a fairly well rounded character that shows some spirit and actually makes some decent deductions and decisions along the way. The rest serve as slaughter fodder but they’re an appealing bunch played by enthusiastic actors. The script even pauses for a moment late in the game for a pretty shocking revelation when a character makes an impromptu confession of having been a victim a sexual abuse as a minor. This one scene has actually received some heavy criticism as being very out of place for a movie of this sort but I find it actually has merit and these secondary characters in “The Initiation” are fairly well realised. There’s no cheering when they’re disposed of, that’s for sure.
I feel “The Initiation” should be a bit higher in the pecking order when it comes to quality slashers while at the same time I do not consider it a neglected masterpiece. I do think the mystery, while no “Chinatown” (1974) or “The Crying Game” (1992), is well constructed and caps the film off in a grand way. It’s energetically played by a game cast, is well paced, very competently made, gory and suspenseful and all these elements make for a very decent film. One that’s very re-watchable by the way.