2019 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 4: The Initiation

DAY 4. BLACK FRIDAY: A rough day at the shopping maul.

Today could have been any number of movies. Being from Pittsburgh, it’d be too easy to select Dawn of the Dead, seeing as how it was filmed miles from my house. Of course, I’m only discussing 1978 version, as the 2004 one has been stricken from my memory. I even debated the Argento Zombi cut of the film, but decided against it.

I also debated any of the multiple movies shot at the Sherman Oaks Galleria in Los Angeles, which include Night of the Comet, Fast Times at Ridgemont High,Valley Girl, Commando, Back to the Future Part II, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge, Innerspace and Chopping Mall.

What else was out there that had a bad day at the mall, yet fit into the psychotronic world of this monthly challenge?

The Initiation was directed by Larry Stewart, who started his career as an actor in fare such as Captain Video and the 1952 adaption of the Quality Comics character Blackhawk: Fearless Champion of Freedom. In 1976, after arguments centered around budgets and the concept that television productions were happening more in the west than the east of the United States, Larry became the leader of the new Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He was brought in to direct this film after British director Peter Crane fell behind schedule and the budget started to expand out of control. There were also creative differences, as Crane was said to have had “European art house sensibilities” that didn’t jive with the producer’s goals of making a profitable slasher.

Daphne Zuniga was still a student at UCLA when she made this, right after The Dorm That Dripped Blood. She plays Kelly Fairchild, a college student who has suffered from the same dream sicne childhood: watching a stranger burn to death in her childhood home. To top off that trauma, Kelly and her fellow pledges Marcia (Marilyn Kagan, Foxes), Alison (future Bold and the Beautiful star Hunter Tylo) and Beth have been tasked with breaking into her father’s department store — actually Dallas Market Center where Logan’s Run was filmed — and steal the clothes of a security guard.

To top all of that off, the prisoners of a sanitorium have been freed and the doctors call Kelly’s parents (Clu Gullagher from Return of the Living Dead and Vera Miles from Psycho!) to warn them. Let’s compound the pain some more — Kelly also explains her amnesia and dreams to the hunky grad assistant Peter, who tries to analyze her. Her mother flips out and forbids any of this from happening just in time for her father to get stabbed right in the neck by an unseen killer.

Our heroine has no idea that that happened, as she’s busy breaking into the giant department store, where a bunch of frat boys have also been sent to frighten the girls. Cue the slashtastic action: frat boy Andy gets a hatchet to the head and Megan gets shot with an arrow, as Peter learns that the fire in Kelly’s dream was real. One man died in it — Jason Randall, who used to be married to…cue the music…Kelly’s mom! Peter’s hypothesis is that Kelly is reliving the night that her adopted father (the dead Clu Gullagher for those scoring at home) killed her real dad, Jason. But then he learns that Jason was actually in the sanitorium that we saw at the beginning of the movie and never really got back to.

This being a slasher, everyone dies. Just like Shakespeare, right? Allison’s death scene was so brutal that British censors took an entire minute out of her stabbing demise.

Kelly runs to the store’s boiler room, where she meets Jason, who chases her to the roof. She kills him with a pipe and he falls to his death. Happy ending? Nope. Because as Peter and Kelly’s mom race in to the building, someone they think is Kelly stabs him in the stomach. That’s when Kelly learns the truth: she has a twin sister named Terry, who went insane when their parents divorced and burned the house down. Before Terry can kill her sister, mom blows her away. Now that’s how you do an ending.

The poster and tagline for the film, “They pledge themselves to be young, stay young…and die young” makes you think that this might be a Satanic film or a witchy movie like The Craft. But it’s not. It’s a slasher and sadly, came out the same time as a movie that plenty more people remember — A Nightmare on Elm Street.

If you’d like to see it for yourself, it’s been re-issued by Arrow Video, who has been awesome about bringing back some of the lesser known slashers of the past. You can also check it out on Tubi, but hey — physical media forever!

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