FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Jan 15, 2007

Film Club: The Initiation

Here we are at the 4th meeting of the Final Girl Film Club. I have a feeling this will be a very, very lonely meeting, and it’s all Netflix’s fault. OK, it’s MY fault for not reading the ENTIRE Netflix entry for the club selection, The Initiation (1983). I realize that offering up a film that’s essentially unavailable at most rental outfits is akin to taking back an engagement ring- it’s equally as soul-crushing, to be sure- but what can I say? Jesse Ventura ain’t got time to bleed and I ain’t got time to read. A word of warning if you couldn't catch the flick this time 'round: this post will most likely be all ten kinds of spoileriffic, so if you care about that sort of thing…don’t let the door hit ya!

A young girl walks in on her parents making The Beast With Two Backs. As can be expected, the girl pulls a knife and stabs her father in the leg. Suddenly, a strange man in a suit bursts in the door. There’s a tussle; the girl’s father pours some liquid over the stranger, the stranger falls down by the lit fireplace, the stranger catches fire. The girl screams—

--and it’s all one of Kelly’s (Daphne Zuniga) nightmares! Phew! It seems the poor girl has been plagued by this same nightmare for some time now…but there are more pressing matters at hand. It’s Hell Week at Delta Rho Chi sorority, wherein the nubile pledges must perform feats of derring-do and obey their elders if they hope to become full-fledged sisters. Everyone all together now, get monotonous!



The crazy prank demanded by the bitchy sorority leader Megan (Frances Peterson) is classic 80s shenanigans, baby: the pledges are to break into the mall owned by Kelly’s father and steal the hunky security guard’s uniform…”Right down to his skivvies!”

Don’t get too excited though; there’s still a few days yet until Prank Night. In the meantime, Kelly’s nightmares are getting worse. She visits “The Dream Factory”, the domain of graduate student Peter (James Read) and his glamorous assistant Heidi (Joy Jones), whom I found oddly…fascinating. Don’t YOU find Heidi oddly fascinating?

Peter and Heidi hook Kelly up to all manner of machines to get her REM readings and the such. Upon waking, Kelly recounts her nightmare in great detail, to which Peter replies, “That’s beautiful. You’ve got all the classic symbols there: mom, dad, fire…a strange man…” Wow, Peter really knows his shit! Good luck with that thesis, Peter- not that you’ll need it. The resourceful Heidi interprets things a little more scientifically, however, and surmises that Kelly’s not experiencing nightmares…she’s experiencing hidden memories. See, Kelly can’t remember much of her childhood…she’s got amnesia that conveniently blocks her memories prior to age nine. Heidi is very excited by this discovery!

Have you fallen under Heidi's spell yet? I bet you have.

Anyway, Kelly’s parents (Vera Miles and Clu Gulagher) are NOT excited about the Dream Factory and forbid her from continuing the therapy, to which Kelly basically replies “Up yours, I’ll do what I want!” Sheesh, parents- all uptight and whatnot. And hey, why are they so concerned with a breakout at a mental hospital that’s 300 miles away? Hmm. Who knows. It doesn't really matter; soon enough Dad finds himself meeting the business end of a gardening fork- yowee!

But why dwell on such unpleasantries? It’s time for that 80s cinematic staple, the Party Which Serves No Purpose! Yes, it's off to a frat party wherein a band plays- one so perfect for the job that the keyboardist pogos and plays with one hand, mind you- and everyone is dressed as their “favorite suppressed desires”. Everyone gets their Freud on and we’re treated to someone in bad KISS makeup, someone in a giant penis costume, and Daphne Zuniga in a leather miniskirt and studded collar. Speaking of Freud, let’s pause to take another look at the poster art for The Initiation, shall we? Is it just me, or do you also get a…deeper meaning here?

Now THAT’S Jungtastic!

OK, FINALLY it’s time for Prank Night. Kelly and her fellow pledges Marcia (Marilyn Kagan) and Alison (Hunter Tylo) get into the mall with no problem 'cause Kelly stole the keys from her dad. Megan promises to let them out when they’ve scored the uniform and locks the door behind them. As the pledges go off to do their thing, however, Megan and three doofy frat guys head inside as well. Their goal? Something I’ve never before seen in a horror flick- they’re gonna scare the pledges! By “I've never before seen”, of course, I mean “I've seen 50,000,000 times”.

What no one knows is that a shadowy, garden fork-wielding figure has ALSO snuck into the mall…probably NOT with the intent of getting an early start on Macy’s Super Door Busters Sale. First on the chopping block is the hunky security guard, who dutifully checks out a strange noise. Man, I don’t know who this guy is, nor does he have any lines, but he really gives his all for his big death scene. That’s called screaming with gusto, or Le Scream-Scream, as the French like to say.

Now that we’re at the mall, The Initiation kicks it into high gear. Hunter Tylo puts on roller skates, the shadowy figure dispatches teens with your usual assortment of slasher weapons (including a hatchet and a bow and arrow), and there’s some spooky stalking sequences.

Meanwhile, back at The Dream Factory, super sleuth Heidi has pieced together Kelly’s past through the power of microfiche: when Kelly was young, she walked in on her mom and dad having sex…only it wasn’t really her dad! The man in the suit was Kelly’s dad, and after he got char-broiled he was shipped off to…a mental hospital! He recently escaped the hospital, however, and Heidi is sure that Kelly’s in mortal danger. Peter fires up The Dream Factory Mobile and heads off to save Kelly.

Heidi is totally right- Kelly IS in mortal danger! Bodies are being discovered and Daphne Zuniga acts totally scared.

She’s chased up to the roof by the shadowy figure who turns out to be…her burn-scarred original dad! Oh noes! Have no fear, though, because Kelly is totes resourceful and conks him on head with a pipe. Burn-Scarred Original Dad falls to the ground and lands with a thud. Before you can say “Wow, that was intense!”, however, Kelly heads back into the mall to find…her EVIL TWIN SISTER stabbing Peter and staring back at her! Oh. My. God.

Then Daphne Zuniga has the best I just saw my evil twin sister that I didn’t even know I had totally stab my new boyfriend right in front of me! reaction EVER.

The twins square off and…maybe one of them lives. I’m not going to tell you the outcome, precisely, but let’s just say that The Initiation ends with a freeze-frame and a saxophone. “Good night, sister darling!”

OK, The Inititation is really nothing more than an average mid-80s slasher flick; there’s gratuitous nudity to be sure, but the gore pretty much amounts to copious amounts of...shall we say Karo-esque blood. The storyline is at times hokey (despite your Heidi-ness, I’m looking at YOU, Dream Factory) and hackneyed- how many times have we seen the Evil Twin scenario? I’m not complaining- I love me some evil twins- but it’s not exactly new ground being tread here.

For what it is, however, The Initiation certainly excels and I kind of adored it. It’s got a sort of…quiet enthusiasm about the subject matter that sets it apart from its contemporaries. The acting is much better than the typical genre fare- particularly from Vera Miles (who seems to forget she’s in a low-budget slasher flick and does a great job) and Daphne Zuniga. The title sequence claims, with a big “Introducing…”, that this is Ms Zuniga’s first on-screen role. We here at Final Girl know that her REAL debut came a year or so earlier in Pranks (aka The Dorm that Dripped Blood); truth be told, however, I’d probably want Pranks off my resume as well.

Another advantage The Initiation has over the competition comes courtesy of Charles Pratt’s screenplay: there’s actually some characterization going on here. Particularly of note is a story told by Marcia; when she’s teased about being a virgin one too many times, she reveals that she’s not, in fact, a virgin- she was sexually assaulted by her violin teacher when she was 12 and she’s never told anyone, not even her mother. It’s an odd moment in a slasher flick, to be sure, but when Marcia falls victim we’re maybe just a little bit sad about it. Audience investment heightens the effects of any movie, and it’s especially true of horror films.

Charles Pratt, of course, would go on to meet up with Daphne Zuniga again a few years later on a little project called Melrose Place. You may also recall that one Hunter Tylo was fired from Melrose Place prior to filming for…well, basically for getting pregnant. See? The world- even the realm of slasher flicks- is just one big Aaron Spelling-flavored Moebius Strip. And honestly, wouldn’t we all like the world a little more if there really WERE two Daphne Zunigas? Yeah, even if one was evil- that’s a chance I’d be willing to take. I give it 7 out of 10 I’m sorry, I’m sure “Aaron Spelling-flavored” probably ruined your appetites.

Mermaid Heather managed to catch this Club entry; click the link to read her thoughts. If anyone else saw it, leave a link in the comments and I'll add it here. Next time I'll get something easier to get a hold of, I promise.

Dreamrot saw it too!


Anonymous said...

The zoom in on Heidi's incredible face made me LOL. Now I've got to see this movie!

Unknown said...

I, for the second time, joined in the fun. For about $7 (after shipping) used on Amazon, how could I refuse? Besides, I like doing the film club posts, I think I write longer entries for them!

I think I was much less impressed by The Initiation than you. No, scratch that. I was CERTAINLY less impressed. But it would be a bit of an understatement for me to say that I'm less interested in early 80's slasher films than you. That said, I didn't hate the movie. I liked the ending, even if Daphne (as Terry) was over acting a little. Okay, a lot.

It was a good movie to sit around and get drunk watching. So, if that was the film makers' intention, they succeeded!

Reese said...

I'm sorry I missed it. Looking forward to the next go-around.

Anonymous said...

No, I did not see this damn movie (oh, jeez... I must be cranky, sorry!).
But did you catch the second member review of THE INITIATION on Netflix?
It's by Joy Tipping!
Uh, formerly Joy Jones!
You know, the glamorous assistant!
Blatantly trying to get people to rent the movie!
The review-- and her-- are pretty funny.

Stacie Ponder said...

Mr Rot: Thanks so much for playing, even though you didn't wuite dig this flick. I DEFINITELY have a huge soft spot for slashers. That was my original intent with starting Final Girl, to talk about them, but there's only so much daily stuff you can do about slashers, so I've branched out some. I try to keep in this subgenre for club picks, but I may branch out on that front as well.

I don't know, there's just sort of an innocence about alot of these films that really tickles me. They're not all jaded and sarcastic and mean all the time. Sometimes they're just bad, sometimes they're cheesy, sometimes they're actually scary.

Don't worry about disagreeing with me, even though I totally hate you for it. Reading outside reviews, I think I'm one of the very few who really dug this flick. I don't even know why that is, exactly, but it's true.

And Daphne was TOTALLY overacting at the end- I LOVED her evil twin. "I been WATCHIN' you!" I loved the raspy hiss- it was awesome.

Reese: Next time, to make up for this, I'll to pick something VERY easily accessable. I promise!! My wheels are already spinnin'.

Cattle- that's so cool! I totally didn't make that connection. This movie is her only imdb credit- no wonder she's asking people to rent it. HEIDI RULES!

Unknown said...

Slashers may not be my cup of tea (that would be zombie movie. or something from asia), I'll be the first to admit I don't watch a ton of them. But, I dig coming here and reading what you have to say about them. And whatever the next pick is, I'll do my best to join in. It makes me feel like I belong. :)

There does seem to be a trend lately for "mean" movies. I would agree there. Watching someone torture someone for the sake of torturing someone does exactly do anything for me. A good movie about hauntings will leave me creeped out by the slightest sound.

It's okay if you hate me. I'm just some anonymous dude on the interweb. I don't even use my own name!

The end of the movie was like Daphne as Kelly had learned to act, but Daphne as Terry just decided to watch videos of Captain Kirk chewing through scenery. I kinda liked that. There wasn't much I didn't like about the ending though. I thought they did a good job of pointing the murders at dad without giving many clues that there even was a sister.

Stacie Ponder said...

Aw, I don't really hate you, Dreamy. Well, I guess I should say I don't hate you any more than I hate anyone else who has an opinion that differs from mine.

This is the internet, after all. :p

Colin said...

can I ask for another Heidi close-up? pleeeeeeaaaase? ps - this "michael" beat is kinda catchy...

Unknown said...

And god bless the internet :)

Unknown said...

By the way, thanks for the link. :)

Anonymous said...

Heidi looks like the mom of Robert's wife on Everybody loves Raymond.

I'm so square.

Amanda By Night said...

Heidi is HAWT! I dig her and I love how she kind of gets the answers but the hot guy gets the credit. Ah, such is life!

I LOVE this movie. Mostly for Zuniga and Kagan and, of course, Clu Gulager who is just the bestest ever. It's a fun and engaging movie that enjoy watching from time to time.

The setting is great. I mean, that mall is HUGE! It's got some nice moments and a slow but well directed build-up. I don't mind parties for no reason or even movies for no reason as long as I'm entertained (yup, I'm that easy!)

I'm so gonna have to see Heidi's plea for rentals on Netflix. That's like kind of cool!

Anonymous said...

Wow, I think I will definitely see this move. In fact, I would've seen it even without the glowing review, just to see if it would cure me. It seems that whenever I see or hear Daphne Zuniga's name, my immediate and automatic reaction is "Funny. She doesn't look Druish."

Lunchmeat said...

Not a bad film. It's kind of dry, but, all in all, not a bad slasher.I like watching Daphne's ass even tho it is kind of flat.

Unknown said...

OK, well, Heidi here, and I just HAVE to chime in, although I have no idea if anyone will actually read this post ... Just found this page, having googled myself to find clips under "Joy Tipping" ... the reason I have only one IMDB listing is because "The Initiation" is my one-and-only movie. I grew up and became something even worse than an actress ... a journalist, mostly at The Dallas Morning News. (I've also written two books as Joy Dickinson ... "Haunted City," a guide to New Orleans for Anne Rice fans, and "Scarlett Slept Here: A Book Lover's Guide to the South," both available on Amazon ... shameless promotion is my specialty, under any name).

I sure appreciate all the Heidi-love I'm seeing; makes me think I should have stuck with acting. For those who were particularly intrigued by those oh-so-flattering closeups, be assured that I am now using lip gloss with much more regularity, and Heidi's hairstyle was dreamed up by the movie's makeup artists (my own hair was deemed "too pretty" to make the cut).

And for those of you who're wondering how well shameless self-promotion works, I still get royalty checks from "The Initiation" occasionally ... the last one was about two years ago, for around $12.

Joy Tipping (aka Joy Jones, aka Heidi)

Stacie Ponder said...

Joy Tipping, aka Joy Jones, aka Joy Dickinson, aka Heidi the Glamorous Assistant! WOW!

Thanks so much for popping in. This made my day! The Initiation is such a fun little slasher movie. Hopefully featuring it as a Film Club pick will net you some more royalties. Regardles, you have Final Girl's Neverending Seal of Approval, which is worth at least $12!

You rule!

Anonymous said...

I love this movie so much I wrote the guy who played Chad and he told me some cool information about it - such as the fact Larry Stewart was the second director. Some of the film was already shot by someone else (can't recall his name) but the guy was taking too long so I guess he was fired. His (Chads) information is on, there is a column on the side of the screen where you can click 'contact information'

Unknown said...

i have this on dvd and i despised the swerve ending but the movie was actually really enjoyable. I think the thing is you'll need to be an '80s fan if you want to dive into it. It's nice seeing Daphne Zuniga in the lead because she was pretty underrated back then.

Thomas Duke said...

here's my film club entry for THE INITIATION, albeit almost four years late. To be fair, I don't even think I knew what a blog was four years ago.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, Heidi is definitely the best part of this movie!!! It's such a shame that Joy Jones had/has made an apparent decision not to bless us, the discerning viewer, with more of her presence in other titles or even television shows. Fortunately, we will always have her masterful performance in "The Initiation."

Unknown said...

Christopher Bradley here (AKA "Chad", the guy in the top hat who gets his throat slit in the bathroom).

I literally laughed out loud at this: "Then Daphne Zuniga has the best I just saw my evil twin sister that I didn’t even know I had totally stab my new boyfriend right in front of me! reaction EVER." I LOVE that moment. I'd love for someone to put a Scooby-Doo "oooo-OOMP?" sound under it! 😀

I share your fascination with Joy Jones/Heidi, who I think should have turned out to be the killer and who needs her own sequel.

I love The Initiation. We were all so young and excited to be in a movie-- ANY movie-- and I think our excitement is infectious. And part of why a movie about a bunch of college students getting axed in the head and knifed in the gut is so much fun!

This review made my day!

Stacie Ponder said...

Oh my goodness Mr. Bradley, you have made my day...nay, at least my fortnight! Okay, quite possibly my life. Thank you so much for your comment. THE INITIATION doesn't get the kind of love it deserves...although maybe this is the place for it since this comment section is verrrrrry slowly becoming some kind of INITIATION reunion!