31 Days of Slashers: The Initiation (1984)

The twenty-seventh entry in the 31 Days of Slashers series is Larry Stewart and Peter Crane’s The Initiation (1984). Kelly (Daphne Zuniga) has been having nightmares about a man on fire in her house since she was a small girl. She discusses them with the graduate student Peter (James Read) who teaches her psychology class. He suggests doing a sleep study, which her mother (Vera Miles) flatly refuses. As this is happening, a mysterious man with burn marks escapes from the nearby mental institution. To add even more drama, Kelly is currently pledging a sorority on campus and is forced to steal something from her dad’s department store for her initiation. She and her friends enter the mall at night and find themselves the targets of a murderer. Will Kelly be able to escape from the department store?

I absolutely love this film. During quarantine last year, it was one of my favorite discoveries when I was binging slasher films to escape from the reality of the pandemic. It is just the absolute epitome of a college-set slasher film and is incredibly entertaining. The performances throughout are excellent, featuring appearances by Vera Miles (of Psycho fame) and Clu Gulager (Jesse’s dad in Nightmare on Elm Street 2, and more) as Kelly’s parents. Daphne Zuniga also gives a really standout performance as Kelly in her first leading role. She proves to be a very engaging and charismatic lead that really helps the viewer connect with her character. James Read is also enjoyable as Peter, but Heidi (Joy Jones), his assistant, steals every scene that she appears in and is just an absolute hoot!

The campus themes are explored quite nicely in The Initiation, as we see Kelly in class, in extracurriculars, and engaging with faculty. As a graduate student myself, it was nice to see that Peter was actually referred to as a graduate instructor instead of a professor, as so many movies fail to label their graduate student characters correctly. The Southern Methodist University campus was used quite effectively to showcase the campus environment, as well.

One of my favorite elements of the film is the closed mall that is used for the last act of the narrative. It is a huge structure that just allows for so many creative moments and the directors make full use of the space. Malls at night are generally on the creepier side, and this one is no exception. The dark hallways allow for fantastic jump scares and the darkened window displays of the various storefronts add fun opportunities for the killer to blend into the background. The mall sequence was shot at the Dallas Market Center, and the details of the real stores and the landscape really enrich the depth of the film. It is honestly one of my favorite locations in a slasher film to date.

Through its excellent use of location, its great performances, and the care of its direction, The Initiation is an absolute must-watch this spooky season. This is one of my favorite slasher films of the 1980s, and if you know me at all, you know that that speaks very highly of this one. It is just such a blast! Also, be sure to not look anything else up about the film before you watch it, as it features a twist that will really surprise you.

The Initiation is currently streaming for free on the Tubi and Hoopla apps and with membership on the Arrow Player app. It can also be rented from Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, and YouTube. The Arrow blu-ray might also be available at your local library.

I’ll be back tomorrow with another entry in the 31 Days of Slashers series!

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