Color, 1984, 97m.
Directed by Larry Stewart
Starring Daphne Zuniga, Vera Miles, Clu Gulager, James Read, Marilyn Kagan, Robert Dowdell, Patti Heider, Frances Peterson, Christopher Bradley, Joy Jones
Arrow Video (Blu-ray & DVD) (US/UK R0 HD/NTSC), Pegasus (DVD) (UK R2 PAL), Image, Anchor Bay (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

The Initiation

The Initiation

Made during a transitional period in the slasher boom of the '80s, this unassuming little gothic number was overshadowed by A Nightmare on Elm Street, often playing for a week or two in most cities with just a tiny newspaper ad or two featuring kinky artwork of a dripping candle morphing into a sorority girl's body. Shot in Dallas, the troubled production features a catchy hook (a maniac hunting down college kids overnight in a shopping mall) and a more interesting cast of characters than usual, not to mention a bonkers plot twist that actually ties this more closely to a certain brand of potboiler familiar in the '40s. Not surprisingly, the New World production amassed a minor cult following and has become a home video staple ever since.

Poor college student Kelly Fairchild (Zuniga) has been having a tough time since she became a pledge at Delta Ro Kai. She's suffering from nightmares, and her rich parents (Miles and Gulager) seem a little too prim and distant to help with what's troubling her. Even more worrisome, some of her night terrors involve her dad, a faceless assailant, and a lot of fire. Kelly finds some comfort by flirting with a dream-investigating grad student (Read, a short-lived regular on TV's Remington Steele) who takes an interest in her unusual case. However, even more trouble's brewing in the aftermath of a violent asylum breakout nearby, and when the sorority decides to stage a Hell Week initiation by The Initiationbreaking into the mall department store owned by Kelly's dad (with some frat boys tagging along), the stage is set for a night of stalking, slashing, and screaming. The Initiation

The first 45 minutes or so of The Initiation are fairly standard stuff, enlivened mainly by the presence of Zuniga (still almost a decade away from Melrose Place), some wholly gratuitous T&A, and an absolutely indelible turn by one-shot wonder Joy Jones as Heidi, a teacher's aide unlike any other. (If you're a fan of Barb from Stranger Things, you'll take a shine to Heidi immediately.) One can only wish we'd gotten some spin-off sequels in which she tackles more cases of lunatics on the loose around that Texas campus.

The film really comes to life once the action shifts to the mall, really letting the characters strut their stuff as they cavort through the deserted department store and find themselves getting picked off one by one. Some of the supporting characters are actually very appealing here, and it's shocking when some of them get the axe (or arrow, or knife) so suddenly. Then there's the big reveal at The Initiationthe end, a fantastic bit of silliness that's almost as delirious as the one in Happy Birthday to Me. Also, it's odd that Zuniga receives an "introducing" credit here since she had already faced another slasher in The Dorm That Dripped Blood, but she's fun to watch in a role that calls for her to show some more range than usual and deliver one line of dialogue that should be part of the cinematic camp hall of fame.

Though it escaped the wrath of the MPAA unscathed with an R rating, The Initiation didn't fare so well in the UK where it lost almost a minute of gore (including some splashy close ups that look like they were shot later as inserts). It didn't get an uncut release there until the 2003 DVD from Pegasus, which came hot off the US DVD from Anchor Bay as part of their deal with New World. Its trajectory since has followed most of its '80s New World companions like Vamp, Dead End Drive-In, and The Vineyard, switching over to Image Entertainment for an American reissue and Arrow Video for a 2013 DVD. In addition to the trailer, that release includes liner notes by Calum Waddell covering the film's oddball slasher status. The transfer is The Initiationessentially the same all around; it has that vaguely soft, The Initiationpowdery look you find in most mid-'80s New World titles, with the fake blood and bright outfits all looking suitably retro.

In 2016, Arrow revisited the film for simultaneous US and UK dual-format releases, at last bringing this one to Blu-ray with a smattering of much-needed special features. The transfer is up to par with the label's other HD upgrades of New World titles, meaning it still has that dark, gaudy '80s film stock look but benefits considerably in the detail department with some nicely textured fine grain and more visible dark scenes. The LPCM English mono audio sounds as pristine as it possibly could, with optional English subtitles provided. A lively new audio commentary with the slasher-happy quartet at The Hysteria Continues has them revisiting this film years after first covering it (as their second episode, when they were only a trio); as always it's a pleasure hearing them swap slasher facts and have fun with the film, noting its "megamix" genre aspects, the odd placement it has in the slasher wave near the end of the golden era, the musical chairs between the film's directors, the literary faces of Joy Jones since her one film role here, and the fun of watching Zuniga as a different kind of final girl.

The 21-minute featurette "Sorority Saga" with writer Charles Pratt, Jr. talks about his family showbiz connection (to Willard!), his entry into writing, the pitch he used to get this film The Initiationmade (for a paltrThe Initiationy sum of money), and the adapting he had to make to some switches in filming locations and props. The 18-minute "Pledge Night" features actor Christopher Bradley explaining how he jumped into the film just after college, switching to films after years in theater. He talks quite a bit about the scheduling and logistical problems with the shoot that resulted in some rushed conditions, with a few tense altercations along the way, as well as his excitement as a Psycho fan about getting to meet Miles. He even reads a diary entry written at the start of the shoot, too. Of course, the real coup here is a 13-minute interview with Joy Jones herself, "Dream Job," in which the scene stealer recalls how an acting class led to her role (along with others in the cast), the odd way she found out about getting her role, and her rapport with Read (who gave her some useful advice in their first scene). She also notes how her first day of shooting happened when the original director was being swapped out, so she ended up reading Stephen King all day. Also included are the original trailer, a one-minute extension of the party scene with more drunkenness in kinky costumes, and a BD-Rom and DVD-Rom option to check out the original screenplay and production schedule, all packaged with a reversible sleeve sporting the original poster art and a great new design by Justin Osbourn. Obviously, a must for any '80s slasher junkie.

Updated review on October 26, 2016.