Directed By: Larry Stewart
Starring: Vera Miles, Daphne Zuniga, Clu Gulager
Tag line: "Be young stay young... and die young"
Trivia: Producers brought in director Larry Stewart to replace the original director on the film
I admit I was a bit perplexed when, during the opening credits for 1984's The Initiation, I saw “Introducing Daphne Zuniga” flash before my eyes. My confusion stemmed from the fact that Ms. Zuniga had a small role in 1982's The Dorm That Dripped Blood, and had therefore already been “introduced” to the movie-going public. While admittedly a minor issue, it proved to be the first of many problems, and though The Initiation had a promising concept, its execution left a lot to be desired.
Kelly (Zuniga) is a college student and sorority pledge whose been having the same nightmare for many years, one that ends with a strange man burning up in front of her. In an attempt to decipher its meaning, Kelly cozies up to a teacher's assistant named Peter (James Read), who's doing his thesis on the interpretation of dreams. At the same time, the Delta Ro Kai sorority is preparing for the final initiation of its four remaining pledges, and they've given Kelly and the others a task to perform: they must sneak into the department store owned by Kelly's father (Clu Gulager) after closing time, and steal the night watchman's uniform! Little do they know that a secret from Kelly's past has returned, a mysterious stranger who's been killing her family and friends in brutal fashion. When this stranger joins Kelly and her sorority sisters inside the department store, it leads to a night of terror that none will ever forget.
A sorority house is about as perfect a setting for a slasher film as you can get, promising a bevvy of scantily-clad babes running for their lives from a knife-wielding maniac. Yet The Initiation never makes full use of the setting's potential, and doesn't so much as provide a single tense moment within the sorority's walls. In addition, the central mystery of the film, which stems from Kelly's nightmare, isn't much of a mystery at all, and (with the exception of a completely ridiculous twist ending) is easy enough to figure out from the handful of clues the filmmakers spread around in the opening scenes. Of course, when it comes to slashers, many such shortcomings can be overlooked in favor of creative kill scenes. Unfortunately, The Initiation drops the ball here as well, and none of the kills (save one that occurs at the department store's information desk) are particularly memorable.
I've always liked Daphne Zuniga, and while I wouldn't go so far as to say she delivers a great performance in The Initiation, she does display a solid screen presence, which is something that definitely works to the film's advantage. Sadly, Ms. Zuniga is one of the only pluses in what proves to be a very pedestrian slasher film. The Initiation amounts to little more than a missed opportunity.