Sunday, August 19, 2012

Final Girl Film Club - The Initiation

For the Final Girl Film Club, Cody goes through The Initiation (1984).

It's not rare for a slasher to start off with some kind of twisted flashback or dream sequence, but The Initiation has one of the craziest beginnings a slasher has ever had.

A young girl wakes up in the middle of a dark and stormy night and walks out of her bedroom, following the sounds of moans and groans down a hallway. She enters another bedroom and finds that the noises she's been hearing are what it sounds like when Clu Gulager and Vera Miles make sweet love, she has caught them in flagrante delicto. Then, everything goes to hell. Eye lines switch around the room, the girl gets a big grin on her face as she starts stabbing Clu with a weapon we didn't see her carrying, in some shots her nightgown is splattered with blood, in some shots it's still clean. Some random guy in a suit comes charging into the room and helps the little girl attack Clu, but for his trouble he gets knocked into the fireplace and set aflame. Vera rushes the girl out of the room as the screaming, burning man collapses to the floor...

It was all a dream, a recurring dream that college student Kelly has been having lately. The people having sex in the dream are her parents Dwight and Frances Fairchild, but the rest of it, the strange man who catches on fire, the part where she stabs her father, it makes no sense to her. It's made even more disturbing to her by the fact that she has no memories from her childhood, she was afflicted with amnesia when she fell out of her treehouse when she was nine years old. At least, that's what she's been told.

Kelly decides to use her problem to her own advantage and write her term paper on dreams and nightmares. This draws extra interest in her from her T.A., who's writing his doctoral thesis on dream analysis. She agrees to take part in his dream research.

The idea of Kelly having her dream analyzed doesn't sit well with her parents, who are "down on" psychologists and psychiatrists. It's clear that her parents are keeping secrets from her, in secret they talk of a "horrible lie" that they crafted.

After seven inmates escape from a sanitarium 300 miles away, Mr. and Mrs. Fairchild are notified. The sanitarium had a groundskeeper who was covered in burn scars and whose gardening work would really irritate the over-the-top unpleasant head nurse. When the inmates are set free, the nurse is stabbed to death with a gardening tool. The nurse is the first victim of several, as someone makes their way from the sanitarium to the town where the Fairchilds live.

During all of this, Kelly is pledging to the Delta Rho Chi sorority. If Kelly gets in, she'll have a place to stay where she can share a room decorated with Tom Selleck posters and wait in line to take turns using the sorority house's one shower. It's been a tough process, the number of pledges has been whittled down from fifteen to four by the time their "hell week" begins. The week will end with the final step in the pledge initiation, prank night. Pledge trainer Megan has come up with a doozy of a prank this year. After the local department store owned by Mr. Fairchild closes for the night, the girls will have to sneak into the place and steal the night watchman's clothes. All of his clothes, from his uniform to his underwear.

The week-long period that the film is set over allows for an inordinate amount of character and story development for a slasher. A lot of time is spent on the monitoring and discussion of Kelly's dream, her interaction with her parents, a subplot involving her virginal friend Marcia that culminates with Marcia delivering a monologue so unusually dramatic for a slasher film that I began to worry that it was going to turn out to be a joke. One stretch of the film is based around a "dress as your favorite suppressed desire" frat party that the Delta girls attend. Nobody gets killed there, we're just hanging out with the characters.

It's a slow build that can border on tedious, but about fifty minutes in the film gets to the big drawing point. As the Delta girls prepare to leave the sorority house and go the department store, Megan says, "I hope everyone's gone to the bathroom." She's addressing the audience as well, because that line is the kick-off to the really good stuff. The girls sneak into the uniquely massive store, I counted at least seven stories and have never seen anything like it in my life, and the rest of the film is full of the type of stalk and slash that we all know and love. With Dawn of the Dead, Chopping Mall, Intruder, Hide and Go Shriek, it's a well established fact that horror and store settings go together like M&Ms and pretzels, and once The Initiation gets there it really livens things up.

Most of the kills in the movie are not very impressive, but there are a couple bloody ones in there and some good shocks.

The cast does well with what they're given, and it's nice to have horror veterans Clu Gulager (The Return of the Living Dead, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2, Piranha 3DD) and Vera Miles (Psycho) around. Kelly is played by Daphne Zuniga, who I had a big childhood crush on due to her role as Princess Vespa in Spaceballs, so I really enjoy seeing her as the final girl in a slasher.

One popular cast member is Deborah Morehart, who went on to change her name to Hunter Tylo and be featured in over 1000 episodes of the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful. Zuniga went on to star in the nighttime soap opera Melrose Place, forty episodes of which were written by The Initiation screenwriter Charles Pratt Jr. Pratt was also a writer on the soap operas All My Children, General Hospital, and Santa Barbara, and it's clear in this movie that Pratt was very suited for the soap opera job. The story of The Initiation is packed with soap opera twists, turns, and cliches, and it's all the more entertaining for it.
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1 comment:

  1. I'm glad someone has heard of Hide and Go Shriek. I thought it was really obscure, but maybe not so much, although I don't think it was released on DVD.