Just when you think you’re on a roll, you get stuck with an Initiation.
Occasionally, you get stuck with a guessable “twist” film like this, but never have I seen one so misguided and confused. It’s okay, Initiation, I’m sure someone likes you. The 1984 film was directed by Larry Stewart and written by Charles Pratt Jr, a man whose credits is almost entirely made up of soap operas. So… I guess that explains it?
Kelly (the usually lovely Daphne Zuniga) is haunted by a reoccurring nightmare. She wakes as a small girl during a thunderstorm. Walks to her parents bedroom where she sees her mom with her dad in bed. An another unknown man bursts angrily into the room. The man is then set on fire when he falls near the fireplace in the room.
But there’s more to Kelly than nightmares. She’s in a sorority! Delta Rho Chi is Kelly’s way of fitting in with her fellow peers, but she mostly is ridiculed by the head sorority sister, Megan. Though she does have solace with her fellow three initiates, who will have to join Kelly on prank night when they have to break into her father’s department store and steal the uniform of a security guard.
Since prank night is nearly a week away for Kelly and her gang, let’s fill the movie with some stuff!
Three hundred miles away is a sanitarium. One of the groundskeepers is a man covered in burns. He has given one of the patients some flowers. You don’t see this patients face, but she’s obviously young with brown hair. She and the groundskeeper seem to have a connection. Hmmm… I don’t think there could possibly be a twist here involving twins and a secret father at all.
Back in Kelly’s little town, her mother (Vera Miles) and her father (Chu Gulager – “Well, it ain’t working now Frank!”) receive a phone call from the sanitarium that many of the patients have escaped. Why does this seemingly random couple get a phone call from an asylum three hundred miles away? Well, it certainly wouldn’t be because Kelly’s not confused at all about who her real father is and what happened in her nightmare which couldn’t possibly be a memory.
At school, Kelly decides to do her psych paper about dreams and nightmares (go figure). When she tells her TA Peter this, he gets rather angry as he thinks she trying to sweeten him up or something because HE’S writing about dreams for his degree.
But since this is Daphne Zuniga we’re talking about here, Peter warms up to his student. She explains to him about her nightmare, which had started occurring ever since she was nine and fell from a treehouse and had amnesia. This is charming (I guess) and Peter invites her along to his “dream lab” of sorts – a place where he asks Kelly is she wants her dreams monitored. She freaks and leaves.
But she eventually relents and is tested by Peter and his rather Barb-like colleague, Heidi. Luckily Heidi has the nightmare otherwise it would be a rather tedious film of watching someone have their brain watched while sleeping… After the test, the pair tell Kelly that she had brainwaves that showed she was sleeping, but the rest of her body was in a nightmare. Heidi’s theory is that Kelly has psychic phenomenon.
Kelly goes back home one night where she overhears her father sweet-talking to someone on the phone. She seems upset, but runs upstairs to her bedroom. Shame she didn’t say good-bye as poor Dad is trowelled to death like the nurse from the sanitarium.
Since no one seems to notice or care that Chu freaking Gulager is dead, Kelly heads off to the sorority party! And it’s 1… 2… 3 – OBLIGATORY 80’S PARTY SCENE! The theme of this party is suppressed desires, which mostly means people arrive as… rock stars (?) and one frat boy goes as a giant penis. Kelly makes out with Peter and… that’s literally it.
Next Kelly is getting dreams monitored again. But angry mama arrives to call things off. But Peter can’t wake Kelly up. He keeps shouting her name, Kelly Fairchild. She only awakes from the hypnosis when her mother tells Peter to call her Kelly Randall. As the Chamberlain would say – HmmmmMMMMmmm.
Peter does learn one thing from the session: that Kelly is not having a dream – she’s reliving a memory.
But enough unraveling of the past! Time to get back to prank night! Remember that?
Kelly has stolen the keys from her dead father (granted she doesn’t know he’s dead yet) and lets herself into the building. Meanwhile, the initiates are getting ready to leave for the shopping centre when one of them, Beth, just ups and quits. There’s no point as to why she does this. I’m not even sure who Beth is. But she gives her little speech about how sororities should be using their time to help others instead and she just marches away.
What the ladies don’t know is that the poor night watchman has got the ax. His body is stored somewhere awaiting to be discovered later for a scare. Kelly reassures the sorority girls when they arrive that things will be okay and they head in. Queen Bitch Megan immediately locks them in and gathers up some frat boys from the party and sets them to their orders: scare the girls.
The three initiates, meanwhile, have decided not to strip the night watchman and instead just steal a uniform. The plan seems simple enough, plus this opens up plenty of time for zany antics, like Alison (future soap opera star Hunter Tylo) stealing skates from the shop! Whoo-ee! Fun times!
At this point, the movie mostly goes full-slasher film. Only really boring with uneventful and often off-screen deaths. Megan and her boyfriend get killed somewhere, leaving the three initiates and two frat boys left.
When the two groups finally converge, they decide to get drunk and have a party together. This leaves a most opportune time for both Alison to say the film’s tagline and sentence everyone to their doom: “be young, stay young, die young!” Rather dumb words to live by, but whatever.
Heidi, being the real champ of the film, runs to Peter with an article she found. It reveals that Kelly’s mom had originally been married to a different man, a Randall, who had suffered burns in a fire before his wife left him for a different man. Randall had become a groundskeeper at a local asylum and was missing. So he must be the killer! Only is there perhaps more twists to come? Perhaps!
But the film mostly spirals even further into pointlessness. Initiate Marcia (Marilyn Kagan) admits at the dinner that she wasn’t a virgin, a fact that many people mocked her for. She then proceeds to tell everyone that she was raped and she had never told anyone before. Seems totally like something a sexual assault victim would do. I’m totally buying it. It’s even more believable that after she has an emotional reveal that she would go off an bonk an irritating frat boy in a mall display bed.
Thankfully things start drawing to a close when all the kids are picked off besides Kelly. Peter gets keys to the mall from Kelly’s mom who finally says that her second husband is dead. Kelly is chased by a man whom falls off the rooftop, finds out she has a twin who tried to kill their real dad and the twin stabs Peter!
All in a day’s work, kids. But at least Vera is around to shoot a bitch and look totally bad-ass doing so.
The Initiation is a shockingly dull film. It never decided if it wants to be a straight-forward slasher or a twisted-thriller made of characters I’m supposed to care about. So the film doesn’t really achieve being either. Sorority Babes and the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama is a much better option for the former (humour, mall-setting) or Chopping Mall is the best for any mall-realted movie. Literally any other sorority-set horror movie will bring you more suspense and thrills. I mean, the scene towards the beginning with the girls carrying candles is alone is spookier than the rest of the film.
And I wanted so badly to like this. I mean Vera Miles? You could film her reading a phone book and she could make it suspenseful! But I guess not. Just throw her in the background and forget that she’s one of the best actresses of her time. And Clu Gulager as well while you’re at it! Does Zuniga have lots of personality and charm? Eh, forget it. Instead, why not focus on these random three boys that seem to all be spawned from the same personality of lame and horny?
The Initiation picks neither team to play for and really ends up losing.