A few months ago, I saw a documentary online about the hazing rituals of fraternities and sororities on college campuses. It was one of the sickest things I’ve ever seen. When I was in college (and that was a long time ago now folks), I had the misfortune of living in a dorm that was right on fraternity row. As a matter of fact, the building I lived had been a frat house the year before…until the university kicked the greeks out for trashing the place. The other fraternities nearby made life miserable for me. They kept me up night after night by blasting Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” over and over and over again. So, to say I don’t have a high view of the greek system would be an understatement. Today’s film, 1984’s “The Initiation,” is all about a sorority’s annual hazing of new members that turns bloody thanks to the bizarre past of one of the pledges.
The film opens with scenes of a young girl waking to strange noises in the middle of the night. She wanders down the hall to her mother’s bedroom, where she finds that the noises are the sounds of passion. The girl grabs a pair of a scissors and begins stabbing at the naked man who is with her mother. But another man (presumably the husband) soon appears and begins fighting with the interloper. The naked man grabs a wine bottle to try and strike the husband, but succeeds only in dousing him with alcohol. He then pushes him into the fireplace, resulting in a human fireball.
It turns out that this is all a dream, a recurring nightmare for Kelly Fairchild (Daphne Zuniga). Kelly wakes to find she is surrounded by a group of her fellow coeds, dressed in their nighties, holding candles and chanting…”Delta Rho Chi, never will die.” It’s the start of Hell Week for their sorority, and by this point only four new recruits remain. In addition to Kelly there is tough chick Beth (Paula Knowles), virginal Marcia (Marilyn Kagan), and floozy of the group Allison (Deborah Morehart…later known as Hunter Tylo). These four will have to endure a strange challenge of some sort, and Megan (Frances Peterson), the head of the sorority, has the just the thing. Since Kelly’s father owns a large department store, she will need to get a set of keys to the mall. Then, the four pledges will sneak into the store where they must seduce the night watchman and get his uniform as proof.
From here, we are briefly taken to another location…a sanitarium. This place has the requisite nasty nurse (Patti Heider) who has somehow been put in charge of a bunch of crazy people. She’s mean to the patients and even mean to the staff, including a disfigured groundskeeper. But later that night, as she goes to her car, she is surprised to find many of the patients roaming the parking lot. Before she can escape, she is murdered by an unseen assailant.
Back at school, Kelly is trying to balance her class work and the activities of Hell Week. Plus, there are those recurring nightmares. Her parents (Vera Miles and Clu Gulager) are concerned for her, especially after she starts visiting a graduate student (James Read) who is studying dreams for his doctoral thesis. As he goes through sessions with Kelly, he begins to think that the recurring dream may actually be a suppressed memory. But Kelly’s father isn’t able to object to these sessions for long, he ends up being killed with a gardening tool as he leaves for business trip. His wife and daughter have no idea he’s dead.
Of course, Kelly doesn’t have time for that sort of thing anyway…it’s time for the night at the shopping center. The task of getting the security guard’s uniform seems easy enough, but there’s two things they didn’t count on. First, Megan and three frat house goofballs are planning on doing everything they can to scare the three pledges locked in the mall (one less after Beth dropped out). Oh yeah, and then there’s the fact that the security guard has already been taken out by the killer, who is now waiting to take care of the crazy coeds. And using various items picked up in the mall such as an axe, a bow and arrow, and a harpoon gun to boot. Whoever this killer is, seems to have a connection to the sanitarium and to Kelly. Of course, the bodies start piling up and it all comes down to Kelly having a final confrontation with the killer.
For the majority of the movie, “The Initiation” is your standard 80’s slasher film. I mean, you’ve got a large group of college kids and a killer with access to all sorts of bizarre implements. Of course, these college kids aren’t exactly on MENSA’s short list, either. One the guys comes to a costume party dressed as a penis, after all (scariest scene in the movie, by the way). The killings are not surprising or scary, in fact, they’re downright predictable. You remember that 80’s slasher movie rule…have sex, end up dead…well that rule applies in this one big time. You don’t need to be Jamie Kennedy’s character from “Scream” to tell who’s going to meet the business end of something sharp next.
Now, having said all that, I will say that the movie almost completely redeems itself with the last 10 minutes. I love the reveal of the who the killer is! It’s absolutely nuts and it makes all the stupidness that led up to it totally worth it. It was surprising, and a bit funny. Completely out of left field, but I loved it. Kudos to Daphne Zuniga, in one of her first roles, for really selling the wacked out ending.
The premise of having a killer loose in a shopping mall after hours has a lot of teen horror potential, but it really doesn’t have anything to do with a sorority initiation. It’s a bit of a stretch. Besides, the film was clearly shot in a large office building rather than a mall. What the film actually has, is three horror movie premises all crammed into one film. There’s the hell week sorority stuff, the girl with recurring nightmares bit, and the shopping mall stuff. The producers should’ve picked one and run with it.
“The Initiation” is not a very good horror film. It is quite bloody…since I’ve never been a gore for gore sake type of person, that’s not really a plus for me. I think scary movies go further on atmosphere, and this film doesn’t have it. Still, I wouldn’t want to deny you horror fans out there the fun of experiencing the crazy ending!