The Initiation (film)

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The Initiation
The Initiation poster.jpg
Directed by Larry Stewart
Produced by Jock Gaynor
Bruce Lansbury
Scott Winant
Written by Charles Pratt, Jr.
Starring Vera Miles
Clu Gulager
Daphne Zuniga
James Read
Marilyn Kagan
Hunter Tylo
Music by Gabriel Black
Lance Ong
Edited by Ronald LaVine
Georgian Bay Productions
Initiation Associates
Distributed by New World Pictures
Release dates
December 7, 1984
Running time
97 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Initiation is a 1984 American slasher film directed by Larry Stewart, and starring Daphne Zuniga, Clu Gulager, Vera Miles, and Hunter Tylo. The plot focuses on a sorority member who, after being plagued by a horrific recurring dream her whole life, is stalked along with a group of pledges during their initiation ritual in a department store after hours.[1] The film has been noted for being star Zuniga's first leading role after her minor part in The Dorm That Dripped Blood (1983),[2] as well as establishing a contemporary cult following as a midnight movie.


Kelly Fairchild (Daphne Zuniga) is a university student who has suffered from a recurring nightmare in which a strange man is burning to death inside her childhood home. Adding to her stress, Kelly is also about to take part in her sorority's initiation ritual, which entails her and a group of pledges breaking into her wealthy father's multi-level department store after hours. Megan, the head of the sorority, comes up with the idea in hopes of getting Kelly into trouble, out of jealousy. Kelly, her friend Marcia (Marilyn Kagan), and roommate Alison (Hunter Tylo) are the three main pledges.

At a sanitarium 300 miles away, several inmates break out of the building and murder a nurse. The following morning, Kelly's parents, Frances (Vera Miles) and Dwight (Clu Gulager), receive a phone call from the sanitarium notifying them that seven inmates have escaped. That afternoon, Kelly pitches an idea for her term paper to Peter (James Read), the graduate student in her psychology course. Kelly explains her dream to Peter, and tells how she had lost memory of her early childhood after falling out of a treehouse, leaving her with injuries that put her into a coma.

At dinner, Frances forbids Kelly's meetings with Peter, who is attempting to analyze her nightmare. Meanwhile, while Dwight is outside starting his car, he is attacked by an unseen assailant, who impales him in the neck with a garden fork and beheads him with a machete. Frances goes outside and sees Dwight's car driving down the road, assuming he left the house.

The following night at the department store, the night porter is murdered while doing rounds. Shortly after, Kelly, Marcia, and Alison arrive at store as planned to steal the night porter's uniform for their initiation pledge. The three split up, and Kelly heads to the lounge upstairs to get one of the spare uniforms. Meanwhile, Megan lets Chad, Ralph, and Andy into the department store to scare the girls. Chad and Ralph scare them by rolling a bowling ball down the hallway; the girls then attempt to leave the store, but find themselves locked inside. Meanwhile, Megan and Andy make out inside one of the shops, and begin playing hide and seek. Andy is murdered when the killer emerges from an elevator, impaling him in the head with a tomahawk. Shortly after, the killer shoots Megan through the chest with an arrow, and her body collapses, breaking a vase. Kelly and Marcia hear the commotion, and run into Ralph and Chad who are hiding in a dressing room.

At the university, Peter comes across newspaper clippings detailing the fire Kelly described in her dream; the articles reveal the burning man's identity as Jason Randall, a floor manager at the Fairchild department store, who was married to Frances; he believes Kelly's dream to be a memory of her biological father, Jason, being burned in an altercation with Frances' lover, Dwight, whom Kelly believes to be her real father. A recent article on the inmates' revolt at the sanitarium reveals Jason was a groundskeeper and an inmate there, and among those who escaped.

Stuck inside the store, Kelly, Marcia, and Alison drink wine together with Ralph and Chad. Alison and Chad leave to use the bathroom, and Alison discovers the body of the night porter. Panicked, she runs into the men's bathroom to get Chad, and finds him in a bathroom stall with his throat slashed. Kelly goes into the bathroom to investigate, while a frantic Alison goes downstairs to the security desk. Inside the bathroom, Kelly sees her name written on the mirror in blood.

Alison is viciously stabbed to death at the security desk, and the sounds of her screaming are broadcast over the store's intercom system. Meanwhile, Peter drives to the Fairchild house to tell Frances what he has discovered; Frances tells him that the police have just notified her that Dwight's mutilated body was found inside the trunk of his car, parked two blocks from his department store. At the store, Ralph is shot dead with a crossbow in front of Marcia, who flees to find Kelly. They hide in a freight elevator inside the building, which is infiltrated by the killer, who pulls Marcia into the elevator shaft as the doors close. Kelly escapes and flees into the store's boiler room, where she finds Marcia's corpse being dragged away by the killer and encounters the burned Jason Randall. He chases her to the roof, and she pushes him off, killing him.

Peter and Frances arrive at the store and find Jason's body lying on the ground outside. Inside, Peter sees who he believes to be Kelly standing in the store foyer and embraces her; she then stabs him in the stomach. Kelly runs into the room, and is faced with a mirror image of herself— it is her disturbed twin sister, Terry, who had been institutionalized as a child when Frances left their father and married Dwight, and whom Kelly has no memory of. Just as Terry is about to murder Kelly, she is shot to death by Frances. The film ends as Peter is taken away in an ambulance, while Kelly stares at her mother in disbelief.


  • Vera Miles as Frances Fairchild
  • Clu Gulager as Dwight Fairchild
  • Daphne Zuniga as Kelly Fairchild
  • James Read as Peter Adams
  • Marilyn Kagan as Marcia
  • Robert Dowdell as Jason Randall
  • Patti Heider as Nurse Higgins
  • Frances Peterson as Megan
  • Hunter Tylo as Alison (as Deborah Moreheart)
  • Paula Knowles as Beth
  • Trey Stroud as Ralph
  • Peter Malof as Andy
  • Christopher Bradley as Chad
  • Joy Jones as Heidi
  • Mary Davis Duncan as Gwen


The Initiation was filmed on location in Dallas, Texas in early 1984.[3] The multi-level Dallas Market Center served as the location for the Fairchild department store.[4][5] The film marked star Daphne Zuniga's debut in a leading role. Recalling the experience, she said "It was a great part. I got to play twins: a good sister and an evil sister. I got shot in the back on-screen. It was pretty heavy for a first role."[2]


The Initiation was released in December 1984, but was overshadowed by Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), released the month before.[6] It screened sporadically throughout the country playing in one or two-week runs.[6] Although it passed the MPAA's restrictions without being cut, the British Board of Film Classification cut nearly a minute of gore from the film, specifically from Hunter Tylo's gruesome death scene.[6]

Critical reception[edit]

Few published reviews of the film during the time of its release exist; however, contemporary reception of the film has been mixed. Film Threat gave the film an unfavorable review, writing, "The Initiation is the latest forgotten horror film to receive the Anchor Bay DVD treatment, and I'd be at a loss to tell you why."[7] Film School Rejects, however, said the film "has all the hallmarks of being an awful movie without being an awful movie... it’s fun, and that should count for something."[8] gave the film a negative review, calling it "a bad movie with bad ideas that are badly executed,"[9] while TV Guide summarized the film as "boring slasher stuff," noting that "Top-billed [Vera] Miles and [Clu] Gulager barely appear in the film, which would make a terrifically dreadful double bill with the similar The Dorm That Dripped Blood (1983), also featuring Zuniga."[10]

Irrespective of the film's critical reception, it has garnered a contemporary cult following as a midnight movie.[6]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on VHS by EMI Pictures in the late 1980s. It was released on DVD by Anchor Bay Entertainment in 2002, and was later reissued in 2011 by Image Entertainment's "Midnight Madness" Series.[11]


  1. ^ Muir, John Kenneth. Horror Films of the 1980s. McFarland. pp. 395–397. ISBN 978-0786472987. 
  2. ^ a b Burke-Block, Candace (1987-06-22). "Actress Daphne Zuniga: `I Want To Be A Chameleon`". Sun-Sentinel. Retrieved 2015-05-02. 
  3. ^ End credits, The Initiation (1984). New World Pictures. Anchor Bay Home Entertainment [DVD]. 2002.
  4. ^ Swindall, Damon (2012-04-27). "The Chronicles of Horror Movie Night: 'The Initiation' (1984)". Horror's Not Dead. Retrieved 2015-05-02. 
  5. ^ "The Initiation (1984): Revisiting the psycho-sexual thrills of the slasher that time forgot". What's On TV. Movie Talk. United Kingdom. 2013-08-09. 
  6. ^ a b c d "The Initiation". Mondo Digital. 2013-08-13. Retrieved 2015-05-02. 
  7. ^ Vonder Haar, Pete (27 November 2002). "Film Threat - The Initiation (dvd)". Retrieved 21 July 2012. 
  8. ^ Beggs, Scott (2012-10-18). "The Initiation: 31 Days of Horror". Film School Rejects. Retrieved 2014-08-07. 
  9. ^ Snider, Eric (2012-05-08). "The Initiation (1984)". Eric's Bad Movies. Retrieved 2015-05-02. 
  10. ^ TV Guide Staff. "The Initiation: Review". TV Guide. Retrieved 2015-05-02. 
  11. ^ "The Initiation (Midnight Madness Series)". Amazon. Retrieved 2015-05-02. 

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