• Initiation, The



    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: November 8th, 2016.
    Director: Larry Stewart
    Cast: Daphne Zuniga, Vera Miles, Clu Gulager, Hunter Tylo, James Read
    Year: 1984
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    The Movie:

    Daphne Zuniga first proper starring role, Larry Stewart’s 1984 slasher picture The Initiation opens with a prologue where a young girl named Kelly walks in on her mother, Frances (Vera Miles), while she’s in bed with a man named Dwight Fairchild (Clu Gulager). This man is not her father – quickly things go bad and before you know it, he father arrives home, a fight breaks out and dear old dad (Robert Dowdell) has been seriously burned.

    Ten years later, Kelly (the aforementioned Ms. Zuniga) is a college girl whose amnesia has wiped out the first nine years of her life. Frances and Dwight are married now and she believes them to be her natural parents. She’s also pledging at a sorority whose initiation requires new pledges to commit a prank decided upon by the head sister. This year, the idea is for Daphne to get the keys to her father’s massive mall complex and for the girls to sneak in and style the night watchman’s clothes. It sounds harmless enough, until we learn that a man with a burned face has escaped from a mental hospital a few hundred miles away.

    At the same time, Kelly falls for a hunky professor named Peter (James Read), who treats her for a recurring dream she has… a nightmare about a man whose body is engulfed in flames!

    This one hits all the requisite eighties slasher notes – gratuitous nudity, clichéd characters, a deranged killer and some gory murder set pieces… even a gratuitous shot featuring a Tom Selleck poster on the wall. The shopping mall setting for the last half sets it apart from other similar slasher films (unless that other slasher film is Chopping Mall but to be fair, this one came first) and there’s a fairly ‘out of left field’ twist that comes in the last part. By and large, however, The Initiation knows what its target audience wants and it gives it to them. A lot of the enjoyment that the movie offers comes not from originality but from quirky and colorful characters, bizarre subplots (including one in which a girl, rumored to be a virgin, unleashes the truth on her unsuspecting friends!), and from getting pretty much exactly what you want out of the film.

    If the tits and blood formula is just that – a formula – at least director Larry Stewart is savvy enough to be quick with the pacing. The film’s cast is amusing enough and it’s odd seeing Vera Miles pop up in a picture like this. Obviously she was in Psycho, the one that really started it all, but as she aged she started taking on less film work and more TV work and when she did appear in features, well, they weren’t always of the same caliber as The Searchers or The Wrong Man. Still, it’s cool to see her pop up here and more or less act circles around the younger cast members. Clu Gulager is always a blast and he’s fun here too, playing the rich, snobby elitist type quite well even if he’s underused and doesn’t get as much screen time as you might hope for. Most of the film revolves around the younger characters, however. Zubiga is all fresh faced and adorable here, quite a few years before she’d go on to star in The Fly II, Spaceballs and of course, Melrose Place. The camera love her, she’s a lot of fun to watch even if she’s not necessarily stretching as a thespian in this film.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    The Initiation is presented in AVC encoded 1080p in a ‘new 2K restoration framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and it looks quite good. As to the quality of the transfer, compared to what we’ve had before on home video (specifically the old DVD release) it’s a huge improvement, but keep your expectations in check because clarity and detail are limited by the occasional use of soft focus. Colors are generally really nicely handled here. The image sports heavy grain, but detail is solid and skin tones look fine. The image is free of any noticeable compression artifacts and crush, nor is there much in the way of actual print damage to complain about. There’s no obvious noise reduction nor is there any edge enhancement and whatever softness is there would seem to be inherent in the original photography.

    The only audio option for the feature is an LPCM Mono track in the film’s native English. This isn’t the world’s fanciest mix but it seems like it’s pretty true to source. The score sounds fine and the dialogue stays clean, clear and properly balanced. Optional English subtitles are also provided.

    Extras start off with a brand new audio commentary by The Hysteria Continues that was clearly done without everyone in the same room. As such levels fluctuate a bit between the participants. That said, if you’ve enjoyed previous commentary tracks from these guys you’ll probably enjoy this one too. They approach the subject with a sense of humor but never delve too far into MST3K style lampooning. There’s some good information here, trivia and what about, about the cast and crew as well as some analysis of what works and just as importantly what doesn’t.

    From there we move on to the interviews, the first of which is entitled Pledge Night and spends nineteen minutes with actor Christopher Bradley. He talks about how he got into acting, his thoughts on the picture itself, his fellow cast members and what it was like making a somewhat regional horror film in Dallas rather than New York or Los Angeles. In Dream Job actress Joy Jones talks for thirteen minutes about the vibe that existed between cast members during the shoot, what it was like being on location and participating in some of the film’s more memorable scenes. In Sorority Saga, we get twenty-one minutes with the film’s writer, Charles Pratt Jr.. He shares some amusing stories about some of the difficulties that they ran into during the shoot, including having to replace the films’ original director, as well as what he tried to bring to the script with his work.

    Outside of that we also get the film’s original theatrical trailer, animated menus and chapter selection. Accompanying the disc inside the clear Blu-ray case is a collector’s booklet featuring an interesting (but spoilery) essay from critic James Oliver. This release also features some nice reversible sleeve art with the original one sheet image on one side and some and newly commissioned artwork by Justin Osbourn on the other side.

    The Final Word:

    The Initiation – a lost slasher classic? No, but a really fun watch nevertheless. The film features a few fun twists, healthy doses of nudity and gore and it goes at a pretty quick pace. Fans of eighties horror pictures ought to eat this right up and it’s got a pretty interesting cast too. Arrow Video brings the picture to Blu-ray in grand style with a very nice presentation and some solid extras too. A really well rounded package for a ridiculously entertaining film.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!