The Chronicles of Horror Movie Night: ‘The Initiation’ (1984)

Posted by Damon Swindall - April 27th 2012 @ 4:11 pm

After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. Horror’s Not Dead’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!

VHS cover of The Initiation

Another week, another slasher flick. I don’t want to that to sound derogatory or anything because I love the genre. It’s just that lately the slashers I’ve seen have been lacking that thing which makes them great: gore. Luckily, I had already seen The Initiation a couple of times before and knew good things were on the horizon. This has all the good stuff – some blood and guts, nudity, cheese, red herrings – and packs them into and hour-and-a-half with some sexy Zuniga action and a soap opera flare.

We open with a young girl walking in on her mother in the middle of having an affair and she goes nuts! The little girl begins stabbing the man, and when another man walks in on the ordeal things get worse. The scuffle leads to him being set ablaze from the nearby sexy-time fireplace. Kelly (Daphne Zuniga) wakes in a panic from this horrible dream where she’s hurting her father as if he were the bad guy. These recurring nightmares could not pick a worse time to bug her as she’s entering hell week and the last steps of pledging a sorority. She meets a psychology TA, Peter (James Read), who is trying to help her while falling in love, but things soon go crazy as he realizes her dream is real. She suppressed the memories and her burn victim father has escaped the sanitarium and goes on a killing spree on the same night she and the other pledges are breaking into her “father’s” shopping mall.

Not only does this fun film have all of the great things that 80s slashers are known for, but I know the locations! Well, some of them at least. This film was shot in the Dallas area when I was just a boy, but the shots of SMU (Southern Methodist University) are quite recognizable and the mall is actually the Dallas Market Center, a venue for wholesalers and fashion shows mainly. I’ve been in there on a few occasions over the past couple of years working crew at some events, and can’t help but giggle the whole time because all I do is think of The Inititation.

At one point during the flick there is a costume party. Something pretty commonplace in horror films involving college students, but this one excels. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another film with a better costume than one of the guys in his giant penis get-up. And this isn’t the first dick outfit I’ve ever seen! No, this really has nothing to do with the plot but I feel it deserves some special mention.


There’s nothing wrong with a little penis talk in this column. It makes more sense than some of the actions or logic in the film itself. When the sorority pledges break into the mall, they are sneaking around on a mission to steal the security guard’s uniform. Kelly has the bright idea of just going into the employee locker room and snatching the extra instead of forcing the young rent-a-cop to strip. She tells her cohorts to run interference and act as distractions. Don’t worry, because if they get caught they just have to tell him they’re friends of Kelly’s and he’ll be cool. What?! If that’s the case, and she’s just gong to take an extra uniform why all the covert maneuvers? She could just tell him what’s going on and save them all a little time. Then much later, after being scared by two of the guys, the five students start playing dress up in the stores and sitting down to drink and eat loudly while never wondering where the guard could be. Doesn’t make too much sense, well, until they find his hacked up body.

This film has the distinct honor of being the first starring role film of the lovely Daphne Zuniga. While her first role was in another college slasher, The Dorm that Dripped Blood, a couple years earlier, this would be the first time she was at the head of the cast. For those who might not know her, she would go on to become moderately famous for a number of 80s films, most importantly in the role of Princess Vespa in Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs. She is also well known, by me, as being pretty damn cute.


One bit of this film that strikes me as a tad bit odd is how it feels like a soap opera most of the time. This is evident in many aspects of the film, most notably by having some crazy plot twists. There are tons of fucked up family relations, affairs, secret relatives and betrayal which are all staples of the daytime drama medium. At times when they cut to Kelly’s home and things involving her mother and “father” (who is played by the great Clu Gulager), there is a shift in focus that’s way too soft for the rest of the film and gives off a weird vibe. This soapiness continues as we get to the end credits and hear music that is filled with the haunting notes of sick days at home from school when my mom had control of the remote. Eek! After researching the writer of the film, Charles Pratt, Jr., this now makes a bit more sense. The majority of this man’s career has been spent in soap operas where he has created, written, produced, and directed many. Guess his story idea for this film was just something rejected by the execs on Santa Barbara.

The good thing about this film is that it’s still easily available. Amazon shows two different DVD versions – one is a standalone disc and the other is a double feature sharing billing with Mountaintop Motel Massacre. As far as I can tell they are both the same cut and transfer and include the same bonus feature: a lone trailer. I recommend picking this up if you have the cash and slightest desire. The Initiation might not be the best or most groundbreaking slasher out there, but it’s quite enjoyable and a wonderful way to spend 90 minutes.

Until next week – “The shorts you’re wearing should never be shorter than the girl’s you’re hitting on.” – Brian Kelly, @BTSjunkie

Body Count: 10
Time to First Kill: 14:50
Best Kill: Clu Decapitated in the Driveway
First Nudity: 33:51, Full-Frontal in the Sorority House!

Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):
-4/25/12: A Night to Dismember (1983)
-5/2/12: The Unnamable II: The Statement of Randolph Carter (1993)
-5/9/12: Judgement Day (1988) aka The Third Hand
-5/16/12: Of Unknown Origin (1983)

Blood at the security desk

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