Release Date: December 7th, 1984
Directed by: Larry Stewart, Peter Crane (uncredited/fired)
Written by: Charles Pratt Jr.
Music by: Gabriel Black, Lance Ong
Cast: Daphne Zuniga, Vera Miles, Clu Gulager, James Read, Marilyn Kagan, Hunter Tylo
Georgian Bay Productions, Initiation Associates, New World Pictures, 97 Minutes
“Well, the nightmare ends with this stranger coming in and fighting with my father. And the strange man ends up catching on fire and burning to death. It’s always the same; the last image is of his whole body engulfed in flames.” – Kelly Fairchild, “That’s beautiful. You’ve got all the classic symbols there; mom, dad, fire, strange men…” – Peter
The Initiation was better film in my memory than it was revisiting it for the first time in a couple of decades. It’s one of those great midnight movies I loved watching as a kid in the ’80s and I sort of had a thing for Daphne Zuniga when I first saw her in Spaceballs, a few years after this came out.
The coolest thing about this movie is the setting in the second half. While this is really a typical slasher with some mystery and a twist, the plot is pretty pedestrian and the twist isn’t shocking in the least. Still, the finale is kind of neat and pretty fun.
The setting is supposed to be inside of a large department store but the script was written and the filmmakers couldn’t find a suitable department store in the Dallas area to shoot. So they actually shot this in the massive and tomb-like Dallas Market Center. It doesn’t look anything like a department store but it houses hundreds of showrooms for anything and everything you could possibly throw money away on. It’s also fifteen stories tall and looks like the interior of a modern pyramid hollowed out and adorned with all the flags in the world. The corridors look more like a corporate office building with windows full of consumer goods. It really is a strange and unique setting and I’ve always wanted to see this place in person. Sadly, it’s not open to the public.
The film’s plot surrounds a sorority. The pledges are forced to sneak into a department store after hours to steal a security guard’s uniform. Kelly’s (Zuniga) father has keys to the store so she takes them and plans on just stealing a uniform from the inventory of spare ones. The queen bitch of the sorority has her own plans and sneaks in with some frat bros to scare the pledges on their mission. Of course, there is a slasher on the loose and people get murdered.
I liked that Zuniga’s parents were played by veterans Vera Miles and Clu Gulager, as it added a sense of legitimacy to this canned slasher picture. Vera Miles did some strange movies in the ’80s and Gulager would do just about anything thrown his way, which is why I’ve always loved and respected the guy.
As an ’80s slasher picture, I’d say this is a hair bit above average but it isn’t anything special once you take away the unique location. It has a lot in common with The Dorm That Dripped Blood, which also had Zuniga in it. But college based slasher pictures were a dime a dozen circa 1984. In fact, it feels like there was probably a new slasher movie every week in the mid ’80s, as I never seem like I’ve run out of ones to watch and still discover new ones all the time. But it was the peak of the genre and this film was just capitalizing off of the trend.
I still really like The Initiation but it isn’t a film that I want to revisit too often, unless I’m having a marathon or trying to pair up a few movies for a get-together.
Pairs well with: Chopping Mall, The Dorm That Dripped Blood, Final Exam, The Mutilator, Graduation Day, The Prowler and Night School.