Frats and slasher movies tend to go hand in hand. Starting with "Black Chritmas", it wasn't until 1983's "The House on Sorority Row" that we got several fraternity themed slasher movies-from "Girls Nite Out" to "Killer Party" for example. It makes sense really-with all the sex, drugs and debauchery that goes on, they are a prime target for killers. Another entry in the "killer knocks off kids in sororities" sub-genre is Larry Stewart's sole theatrical credit as a director, "The Initiation."
Kelly Fairchild (Daphne Zuniga) has been suffering the same nightmare since childhood-one that involves her parents and a man being set ablaze. At school, she's a member of the Delta Rho Sorority, and she and her friends are going through some initiations. She's also going through some tests thanks to her psychology teacher Peter (James Reed), which her parents (Vera Miles and Clu Gulager) don't approve of. To make matters worse, someone is killing people, and seems to be headed towards the kids, as they plan to spend the night at the mall...
"The Initiation" is undoubtedly a flawed movie. Only Zuniga, Miles and Gulger show any real acting talent, the electronic score is mostly annoying (though I liked the opening credits theme, which reminded me of Coil during one of their more ambient moments), and the conclusion is a pretty lame "He's the killer...no, he is!" ending that left me rolling my eyes. That out of the way, this isn't that bad. Why?
Well for starters, it's interesting to see a slasher focus more on the psychological aspects of the main character, and what do you know, she's not unlikeable either. In fact, many of the characters here get a credit or two of character development, with Marcia (Marilyn Kagan) in particular getting some sympathy from the viewer. Also, while not the goriest slasher, it does give us a few memorable moments, the stand out being one of the girls screaming into the microphone while she's being stabbed to death. Finally, while it does have a lot of the tropes of the "frat horror" genre (goofy costume parties, a shitty band, obnoxious pledges-actually, this is a lot like many slasher movies), the movie relies more on atmosphere and impending dread than it does splatter, and I kind of admire that. Some might complain that it takes too long to get to the slaughter, but I appreciated the slow burn approach. of the movie.
Is "The Initiation" one of the best 80's slashers? Not really. It is however, a decent little movie that's something of a diamond in the rough, and is worth checking out for those looking for such movies.
Oh, and there's an interesting coincidence here: While everyone knows Zuniga went on to star on "Melrose Place", writer Charles Pratt Jr. went on to write episodes of said show. This also marks the only time he'd write a theatrically released movie.