THE INITIATION (1984) Blu-ray
Director: Larry Stewart
Arrow Video USA

"Delta Rho Chi never will die" now that Arrow Video USA has pledged it with fresh blood on their new Blu-ray.

Troubled by nightmares in which she stabs her father Dwight (Clu Gulager, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD) who then fights with a strange man who burns to death, college student Kelly Fairchild (Daphne Zuniga, THE FLY II) approaches graduate teacher's assistant Peter Adams (James Read, TV's REMINGTON STEELE) who is doing clinical research in dreams and nightmares and volunteers herself as a research subject. Having no memory of her childhood before age nine when she fell out of a treehouse, Kelly is eager to discover the significance of the dream despite the objections of her mother Frances (Vera Miles, PSYCHO) as well as her threats to Peter's career when his analysis suggests that the dream may have a basis in reality. Meanwhile, Kelly is also pledging sorority Delta Rho Chi and sadistic trainee pledge Megan (Frances Peterson) tasks her with stealing the keys to her father's shopping center, sneaking in fellow pledges Marcia (Marilyn Kagan, FOXES), Alison (Hunter Tylo, TV's THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL), and Beth (Paula Knowles) into the building, and stealing the night watchman's uniform. Not only has Megan planned to sneak in a few uninvited guests in jokesters Chad (Christopher Bradley, WAXWORK), Andy (Peter Malof), and Ralph (Trey Stroud), but the burn-scarred maintenance trustee of an insane asylum (VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA's Robert Dowdell) has escaped the grounds along with a handful of inmates and has been closely watching Kelly.

Coming in at the tail end of the slasher boom, the Texas-lensed THE INITIATION has a familiar combination of setup elements – the sorority hazing, spending the night in a creepy setting, a nightmare-plagued heroine, and an asylum escapee lurking around – handled with somewhat classier production values of the film's producers Bruce Lansbury (MURDER SHE WROTE) and Jock Gaynor (BUCK RODGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY) and a certain soap opera aspect to the film's family scenes and love story subplot on the part of screenwriter Charles Pratt Jr. who would later work on SANTA BARBARA, MELROSE PLACE, GENERAL HOSPITAL, ALL MY CHILDREN, and THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS among others. The lengthy buildup with the mall slasher action pushed all the way to the half-hour third act may have been an effect of the adherence to screenplay structure of inexperienced Pratt, and the film could stand to lose a couple minutes here and there, but Gulager (with too little screen time), Miles, Zuniga, and Read – along with Joy Jones in a fun turn as his sarcastic lab sidekick – hold attention and convey the film's exposition and misdirection nicely during the first two-thirds, so much so that it is easy to forget that this is a slasher film (despite a couple bloody murders and nude shower scenes peppered in) and more of a well-made TV thriller until the characters get to the mall. The shopping mall setting – actually a wholesalers' building – adds to the film's production value with an expansive and impressive-looking space well-lit by Czech DP George Tirl (SLEEP OF DEATH) even if the gore is as perfunctory – apart from an excessively bloody stabbing – as the sex scenes. Viewers looking for the goods in a mall slasher are probably better off with HIDE AND GO SHRIEK or CHOPPING MALL while THE INITATION probably will work better with those who enjoyed the actual made-for-TV body count picture DEADLY LESSONS.

Released theatrically by New World and on video by Thorn/EMI (the UK release of which was shorn of much of the film's scant onscreen gore), THE INITIATION was one of the New World package titles that had heavy rotation on cable and late night network TV (which lead me to believe it was a made-for-TV slasher upon seeing it in the nineties). Anchor Bay issued the film in 2002 on barebones DVD in an anamorphic transfer – followed by a double-sided DVD double bill with MOUNTAINTOP MOTEL MASSACRE – and Image Entertainment did not improve on the package when they spit out a "Midnight Madness" series DVD in 2011. In the UK, Arrow issued the film on DVD as part of their budget ArrowDrome series in 2013 with only the trailer and a booklet. An unlikely but welcome choice for Blu-ray remastering, THE INITIATION comes to Blu-ray in the US (and Blu-ray/DVD combo in the UK) in a 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer restored from the original camera negative. The image looks more glossy and filmic than before with colors that pop and an enhanced sense of texture and detail. The commentators point out the unusual depth of the night exteriors which is due more to the greater depth of field afforded by the wide-angle lenses used than adequate lighting, as some possibly second unit night exteriors and a couple underexposed interiors look quite grainy. The camera shadow is visible during the opening nightmare pan (possibly because the lighting instruments used to create lightning effects were behind the camera) and a couple low-light shots are not soft but just plainly out of focus as if the actors were off their marks. Discovered on the negative as a three-second shot of a victim's legs being dragged out of frame that has been restored here (and pointed out in the commentary) as well as some extensions to the party scene that have been included in the extras (1:07 with the full aperture visible) because the audio has been lost. The English LPCM 1.0 mono track boasts clear dialogue and a bit more umph in the scoring while English SDH subtitles have also been included.

The film is accompanied by an audio commentary by The Hysteria Continues, and its perhaps because they have covered the film before podcasters and have done extensive research on it that the track does not get bogged down by too many jokes like some of the earlier tracks (although another reason may be because they have grown to respect the film's meager achievements in the context of the body of slasher films). They note that DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD was actually Zuniga's "introducing" performance but that the actress speaks more fondly of THE INITIATION and leaves the former film off her resume (they also note that born-again Tylo probably does not remember the film fondly because of her frontal nudity). They note that the film was started with Peter Crane in the director's chair but his "arty" approach (the early asylum scenes and presumably the nightmare and early sorority rituals) had the film behind schedule after the first three days, whereupon he was replaced by BUCK RODGERS' series director Larry Stewart (although Crane would subsequently direct episodes of MURDER SHE WROTE for Lansbury) whose approach was quicker but more perfunctory. The commentators relay anecdotes from the actors they have interviewed throughout the years while researching the film. The British members of the track express some unfamiliarity with American sororities and fraternities but also point out all the bits that were shorn from the BBFC-approved video release.

A trio of interviews starts off with writer Pratt (21:16) who recalls growing up on movie sets as the son of producer Charles Pratt (WILLARD) and deciding that writing was a good way of making movies without spending money. He trained at USC film school and got into the Writer's Guild of America at age twenty when he sold a script that was never produced to Disney. His classmate Scott Winant (TRUE BLOOD) – the film's credited producer – was working for executive producer Lansbury and approached him for a pitch. Pratt stayed in Los Angeles at the time but got to see the film's dailies and was impressed with the work of Crane and perceived the differences in Stewart's footage (while also noting that it appears that the production did attempt to use every frame of Crane's work). He also recalls that Miles agreed to work on the film for two days because she liked Crane only to then be told upon arrival that he had been fired the week before. He acknowledges the film's shortcomings and its "soapy" aspects but is proud of the final product and its continuing cult appeal. Actor Bradley also appears in an interview (18:36) in which he recalls being hired because the other guy trying out for the role decided instead to go see a concert in Hawaii. He recalls the enthusiasm of himself and other local actors that they were getting to be in the movies while living in Dallas, the unexpected creepiness of the corporate mall setting, working nights, and Stewart blowing up at him when his gore prosthetic would not stick to his throat. He acknowledges that the film is not art but fun nevertheless. The third interview features actress Jones (13:34) who got into a community college acting troupe while in high school and often played the "best friend" roles. She, Peterson, and Tylo were in the same group and all sent in to audition for the film. She also recalls being intimidated and the reassuring words offered to her by co-star Read. After the film, she decided to go into journalism but is amazed that the film has continued to pop up throughout her life and the affection fans have for her character. Besides the aforementioned extended scene (1:07), the disc also includes the film's theatrical trailer (1:11). Not included for review were the reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Justin Osbourn, and the collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic James Oliver that comes with the disc's first pressing only. (Eric Cotenas)