Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Film Review: THE INITIATION (1984, Larry Stewart)

Stars: 2 of 5.
Running Time: 97 minutes.
Tag-line: "They pledge themselves to be young, stay young... and die young."
Best One-liner: "Sometimes I think that man would forget his head if it wasn't attached."

The best laid plans of mice and men...  I wanted to like this one.  Its reputation is that of a "bottom of the barrel slasher" and while indeed it delivers on that promise, I had hoped for something a little better, especially with classic Hollywood performers Clu Gulager and Vera Miles headlining the thing (spoiler alert– they're barely in it).  

THE INITIATION is essentially many different movies packed into one, none of which are particularly engaging, scary, or fun.  It begins like an Argento movie, with a childhood trauma illustrated by flashback, then melds into witch/coven movie with a group of gals who take their sorority a little too seriously,

but before you know it, it's an insane asylum movie that begins building atmosphere,

and then, as our heroine Daphne Zuniga suffers from recurring nightmares,

And, yes, that is Princess Vespa from SPACEBALLS.

it develops into a medical thriller, like those lab test scenes from NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET or THE EXORCIST, and then suddenly it's just an 80s college party movie,

and that's all well and good, but finally it settles into a mediocre slasher, set after hours at a department store.  So in the end this is a "mall slasher with a twist," but it's not as good as CHOPPING MALL.  It was also the first and only theatrical feature written by Charles Pratt Jr., who then ran screaming in the direction of soap operas (prime time and daytime alike!), working as a head writer on shows like GENERAL HOSPITAL, ALL MY CHILDREN, MELROSE PLACE, and MODELS, INC.  Whew.

A few observations:

#1.  Clu Gulager.  Gulager is one of my all-time favorite actors.  I wrote about him most exhaustively (I think?) in my review of THE KILLERS, but you can also read a fascinating profile of him and his amazing, artistic oddball family here.  Clu is the main reason why I watched this film, but you definitely get the idea that Clu and Vera were on set for maybe three or four days, tops.

Why, indeed?

This was around the period where they started to pigeonhole Clu as a horror actor (See also: NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2, THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, UNINVITED, FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM, HUNTER'S BLOOD, etc.) instead of a TV actor.  Clu doesn't really get the chance to do anything flashy here, though he does rock out some old-man-science-teacher glasses:

and he looks pretty happy cracking out some bubbly:

But the writer soon introduces two new plot threads, painting Clu's character as a philanderer and a possible land developer-villain.  To the audience, this means one of three things: A. his character is being tarnished because he's about to die a deserved death, B. he's slowly developing into the film's big baddie, or C. he'll be the impotent rich guy who accidentally causes widespread destruction, like Richard Attenborough in JURASSIC PARK.  Unfortunately for us Gulager fans, it's A., and by the thirty-three minute mark, he's been dispatched with a garden implement and decapitated.  Goddamit.

Clu does take his death scene for all it's worth.

Little did we know it all was a lead-up for Vera Miles' chuckle/groan-inducing one-liner:

Vera Miles:  "Thankya ladies and germs, I'll be here all week.  Er– I mean, I'll be back for about twenty seconds at the end of the movie."

#2.  I must give special mention to this simultaneously repulsive and low-rent penis costume:

which is probably the most mortifying/identity-obscuring costume since Scout went as Ham in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

Pass the damn ham.

#3.  Unlicensed Wendy Carlos?  In the film's first scene set at the sorority house, I swear we hear an electronic Bach adaptation from Wendy Carlos' SWITCHED-ON BACH series (she also worked on the soundtracks for A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, THE SHINING, and TRON), but there's no mention of her in the end credits.  I only bring it up because it actually establishes a nice, spooky mood, and for the only time in the film.   

#4.  What the hell are they drinking here?

The picture above depicts a sorority babe combining what is clearly a watery keg beer on the right with whatever green shit that is on the left.  And don't tell me it's green beer, because why would you sully regular beer with green beer?  Maybe it's Kool-Aid?  But that seems like an even more hideous misstep.  Perhaps Créme de menthe?  Mouthwash?  Why in God's name would anybody want minty beer?  Perhaps it is a metaphor for the movie itself: a cruel concoction of simultaneously low-quality and incongruous ingredients served up to horror fans who've already resigned themselves to taking whatever cruel swill is handed to them.  Eh, maybe that's a bit harsh.  But then again, drinkin' mouthwash always makes me surly!

That's about all, folks.  Two stars.

–Sean Gill



Jason said...

I saw this on Netflix instant. It liked it more than you did, but as usual your observations are pretty spot-on. Minty beer!

Sean Gill said...


Thank you, sir!

Christopher Bradley said...

I have great affection for this film (It's a time capsule of a very happy time in my life) but your review really made me laugh!