Quickly moving their way through the obscure slasher collection market much the same way they did (and continue to do) with giallo films, Arrow delivers this insanely overwritten cult classic that continually strives to be much more than just another run of the mill slasher flick. The Initiation pulls more from daytime soap operas and Italian giallo films than any of the other hallmark slasher films of the era. Complete with a gloved killer, twisting whodunnit, over the top violence, and theatrical element in the performances, The Initiation is as close to an American take on a giallo than any other film of the 80s. While the pacing is a bit rough by today’s standards, the focus on family drama and psychological horror elements give this enough energy to boost it up on its own.
Kelly Fairchild (Daphne Zuniga, Spaceballs), a young college student who has been suffering from nightmares about a burning man that assaults a couple making love in bed, has become a pledge of the Delta Ro Kai sorority. She meets an assistant professor, Peter (James Read), who helps interpret the dream only to discover that the couple in bed is her parents, played by Vera Miles and Clu Gulager, and that the nightmare is a lost memory hidden in her mind. Not only was the situation real, the man that was burned is still alive and just so happens to be one of the multiple psychiatric patients that break out of the hospital on the same night that Kelley’s sorority forces her to break into her father’s department store as an initiation ritual.
On the surface, this may seem like a pretty standard slasher plot line. Multiple college couples break into a mall after hours and get stalked by a maniac that kills them off one by one. Luckily, The Initiation breaks that mold and offers something far more narrative driven than just a wannabe Chopping Mall. Relying heavily on the talents of a young screenwriter, Charles Pratt Jr., who would go on to work on multiple daytime soap operas, and less on the director’s visual flair, this film succeeds in its struggle between drama and horror. Offering many aspects of psychological horror, The Initiation builds over time only to become a full-on slasher in the final act of the film. There are still kills and scares in the beginning, but everything ramps up in the final 20 minutes, offering a fairly significant body count. Even though the build up is certainly worth the wait, the kills are fairly generic. Thankfully the final scene is a nice crescendo of twists and turns that more than make up for the lack of guts and sinew.
If you are a fan of Arrow’s output and dug their previous slasher outings, The Mutilator and Blood Rage, consider this a must own. Sure, this is B-grade slasher stuff that isn’t going to make you look at anything from a new perspective or shock you, but it is a solid slasher. The lovingly handled transfer and bonus content are a fantastic addition, but The Initiation is worth the price on its own.