The October Diaries: The Initiation

Illustration by Max Brown
Blurbs by Sean and Christof

October 7thth, 2014:
The Initiaion

Year: 1984
Director: Larry Stewart
Vehicle: Netflix
From IMDB: Trapped in a new nightmare, Kelly must fight for survival when a madman begins killing her pledge sisters one by one.

Christof’s Take:

First off, this came out before Sorority House Massacre, and there are some weird similarities between the two of them – again: the Halloween-esque family/asylum-break-out premise is present, again: the lead is a pledge in a sorority house,  again: the dreams and repressed memories play a role, and again: dream symbolism is discussed by the characters in the film. The production value is way higher than SHM, yet the cinematic grammar didn’t achieve the same level of dread and tonal horror that SHM was surprisingly able to.

Early on at the asylum, there is one pretty sweet scene of patients chanting together that got my hopes up a little too high for more of a creep-fest thriller, but it just wasn’t close to scary watching the hidden-killer represented as mere gloved hands that barely peek into a shot just to pick up a kill-tool. We’re used to this sort of presentation by now, but seeing how bland these moments were really put a wet blanket on the fire for me.

The Initiation was way heavier on the sorority aspect than SHM, but oddly enough, most of the horror-plot takes place in a mall, which is uncommon for a movie that’s not featuring characters seeking supplies and refuge from a zombie and/or wasteland premise. The mall is a part of a sorority initiation prank, but someone else is crashing the prank-party.

Too often, the characters are unaware of a need to be afraid. The cast of actors seemed pretty good, but the cast of characters didn’t do much for me. I was indifferent toward seeing most of them die. They are split up across the mall for the majority of the time, and most of them meet their end with this or that murder weapon while the others are oblivious. This is somewhat common in slashers, but usually once it’s known the final throws of the horror are tension-drenched and appropriately drawn-out. Here we’re sort of just introduced to the ending, and it felt to me like a bit of a shrug.

I won’t spoil it, but I will say that at some point we are shown a licence plate dripping with blood. The letters on the license plate spell out PUN. After that, I kept hoping that this was not an accident. That this was some goofy formal foreshadowing. Still not sure if it was. What I do know is: there is indeed a pun uttered by the killer at the end. Maybe you can crack the ending if you think about equivocation…

The Initiation

 Sean’s Take:

October is a long month and this is a perfect title to fill in the gaps between the more notable and memorable days. There are plenty of nights where we strike out by watching a stinker, there are days where we knock it out of the park by finding an undiscovered gem and then there are days where we split the difference. To keep up with the baseball metaphor, let’s call this one a base-hit. No one struck out, but no one scored. It gave me just enough of what I wanted and nothing beyond that.

I would have enjoyed this one even more had we not just watched Sorority House Massacre. I knew there would be similarities between the two, I knew they’d both delve into the question of what happens when you cross sorority sisters and violent death, but I didn’t realize how many other similarities there’d be. The Initiation likely suffered slightly by being second in line on our syllabus of collegiate carnage.

The obvious similarity is that they are both slasher movies about psychos who prey on sorority girls and their beaus. The less obvious similarities are that they both feature killers who escape from a mental institution to track down a family member who shared in some heavy trauma from yester-year, the same trauma that gives the main characters nightmares in both films. And in both, these nightmares are a big enough plot point that other characters attempt to decode the significance of the dreams based on knowledge of, and familiarity with, dream symbols. Each movie even features a killer who smashes a display rack full of hunting knifes.

The Initiation did have a few moments that differentiated itself. At one point, a pledging sister named Beth tells off the sorority. She eviscerates how inane their initiation rituals are and she even manages to articulate what a waste of time the sorority life has been. She bemoans how many other activities are much better deserving of her time as she quits. To this movie’s credit, this decision rewarded her escape from death. Because she had the foresight to quit when the idea started sounding bad, she lived. This is a rare moment of cosmic support in a genre that usually practices cosmic punishment.

The pace of the killer in this one was much less hurried than in Sorority House Massacre and because of this, the tension wasn’t nearly as palpable. In The Inititaion the killer employs the lurking-in-shadows method of stalking. Which is fine, I’m just still marveling at how motivated, and brutally efficient, the killer was in Sorority House Massacre.

Had I seen The Initiation before Sorority House Massacre I may have preferred it, it’s got snappier production values and a good vibe all the way through (in addition to being made first, which I should really give it more credit for) but, as it is, it ended up feeling like perfectly respectable filler for a month that needs all the respectability it can get.

One final note of satisfaction: after what feels like years of having this one in our sights, I was happy to have our living room finally pull the trigger on it. We all have these titles, the movies that live in your instant queues long enough to start to feel like a houseguest that won’t leave. This viewing was a victory if for no other reason than I don’t have to stare at the cover on Netflix anymore.



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