The Initiation (Blu-ray Review)

initiation squareThey pledge themselves to be young, stay young and die young – and all now on Blu-ray!  Marking TV star Daphne Zuniga’s debut in a leading role, The Initiation (now available on Blu-ray from Arrow Video) ranks amongst the finest of the college-based stalk-and-slash flicks – now finally restored in glorious High-Definition!  Arriving in 1984, The Initiation might have been late to the slasher party, but, alongside the likes of The House on Sorority Row and The Mutilator, it remains one of the stronger entries to emerge in the latter days of the slice-and-dice boom.  The new Blu-ray features a brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative with uncompressed PCM Mono Audio and has extras that include a new Audio Commentary by The Hysteria Continues,  the featurettes Sorority Saga with a brand new interview with writer Charles Pratt, Jr., Pledge Night with brand new interview with actor Christopher Bradley, Dream Job with a brand new interview with actress Joy Jones, plus an Extended Scene and the Original Theatrical Trailer.

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As part of the slash and dash fare that made up the genre work of the 80’s, The Initiation is surprisingly movie memorable.  It of course has all the horrible decade staples like feathered hair, bad dialogue and questionable performances, but it also has an engaging story, some horror acting icons and one captivating leading lady who would go on to become a very big star.

Kelly Fairchild is a college girl pledging to join a sorority with typical tropes like ceremonies and hazing becoming a daily ritual.  She’s also been plagued by a reoccurring nightmare involving a man breaking into her home as a child and catching on fire.  Her disturbing dreams get the attention of Peter Adams, the graduate assistant in her psychology course, and he offers to analyze her dream with both theory and technological expertise – much to the chagrin of Kelly’s overprotective parents.  But soon both the sleep sessions and pledge tasks come to a head when Kelly is asked to swipe the keys to her father’s department store for a little late night group assignment as they are not alone.

Even though it’s a slice and dice film through and through, The Initiation feels almost like two separate films.  One is a ‘more interesting than it should be’ tale of dream examination and of a murder mystery slowly unfolding.  The other is more on par with the slasher elements of the day with a gang of teens trapped inside a department store who are picked off one by one – both have their own ups and downs.  The first has cheese-ridden stuff like evil sorority sisters (complete with bad overacting and full frontal nudity!) and doofus college guys, but also features quirky turns by James Read and especially Joy Jones as the dream examining team that ads some layers to the basic story.  The second is a pure ‘trapped in a closed space with a killer scenario’ taking place in a mall with some cool kills and tasty trysts, but also a boatload of dumb decisions and wrong turns.  Thankfully the glue that holds all of the above together is the work by haunted lead actress Daphne Zuniga in her first starring role, which adds an engaging depth to a character that could have been a throwaway with any other actress. It’s her earnest and eerie turn here that grounds the more goofy moments of The Initiation and for that the film should be ever so grateful. (Plus as Zuniga’s slightly off parents Vera Miles and Clu Gulager do bring a little cool icon credibility to the mix!)

The Initiation is never going to be considered a five star film, but as far as cult classics go it has enough going for it still hold up. In a sea of subpar 80’s slasher fare, The Initiation’s few nifty notables pledge to entertain.

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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Clarity/Detail: Shot mostly like a TV movie the picture is big and bright – surprisingly uncharacteristic for a horror film.

Depth: Not a ton – Larry Stewart is a gent who prided himself on flat standard shots.

Black Levels: Very limited –again light reigns here!

Color Reproduction: Colors stand out for sure – almost Miami Vice pastel city!

Flesh Tones: Clear as day – you can even see teenage acne!

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

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Audio Formats(s): English Uncompressed Mono PCM Audio

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: This is a mono track so it’s as dynamic as it’s ever going to be.

Low Frequency Extension: No hums or ambient noise to report.

Surround Sound Presentation: No distinction – front and center.

Dialogue Reproduction: All dialogue is audible – even the bad lines.

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The Initiation Blu-ray comes with a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Justin Osbourn, as well as a Collector’s Booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic James Oliver.

Audio Commentary

  • With The Hysteria Continues  (Featuring a chat with head man Justin Kerswell author of Teenage Wasteland: The Slasher Movie Uncut who has guests but should have helmed this one on his own – aka he’s the best of the bunch!)

Sorority Saga (SD, 21:17) – A chat with Writer Charles Pratt Jr. who talks of his education prior to hitting Hollywood and gives nice detail about the dismissal of original director Peter Crane and inclusion of no-nonsense helmer Larry Stewart.

Pledge Night (SD, 18:36) – A conversation with actor Christopher Bradley who goes into even more detail about what he calls a ‘troubled set’ – this is the real skinny of what happened on-set.

Dream Job (SD, 13:34) – A sit down with actress Joy Jones who played the lovable and quirky Heidi – she’s still a delight.

Extended Scene (SD, 1:07) – The addition of a few lines to the party scene with no audio and subtitles added instead – nothing to see here.

Original Theatrical Trailer (SD, 1:11)

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While The Initiation will never go down as a horror classic that defined the genre, it’s got just enough sass and scares to elevate it above the myriad of mindless movies it shares a decade with.  This Blu-ray, while lacking on the inclusion of lead gal Daphne Zuniga in any and all extras here (where are you girl?!), has some chats that will keep fans happy and this release is the best this flick is ever going to look and sound.

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I'm a passionate and opinionated film critic/movie journalist with over 20 years of experience in writing about film - now exclusively for WhySoBlu.com. Previous sites include nine years at Starpulse.com where I created Forgotten Friday Flick back in 2011, before that as Senior Entertainment Editor for The213.net and 213 Magazine, as well as a staff writer for JoBlo.com. My other love is doing cool events for the regular guy with my company Flicks For Fans alongside my friend, partner and Joblo.com writer James "Jimmy O" Oster. Check us out at www.Facebook.com/FlicksForFans.

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