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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

The Initiation Larry Stewart 1984

"Welcome to the Pity Party"

Once again I find myself in a difficult position. See, I actually enjoy watching bad movies.

Not all of them, mind you -- sometimes a movie is actually so bad that even I can't enjoy it. Take Gothika, for example -- or House of 1000 (Implied) Corpses, or House of the Dead, or basically everything else that came out this year. These graceless, bloated commercial crappers are so lacking in soul that I'd actually prefer watching the Coca-Cola Refreshing Filmmaker Shorts to the features that follow (ironically, these filmmakers are probably the very same morons who grow up to direct the poop features that follow).

But oddly, sit me down in front of a royal BM like Troll 2, or Sorority House Massacre 2, or Return of the Aliens: Deadly Spawn, and I'm like a pig in shit. Literally. I don't know, maybe it's the distance that a few decades and poorly-transferred grainy old Kodak stock introduce that turn me soft on the bad films of days past. Maybe I'm more forgiving when watching Murder Weapon because I know that most of the cast of the former is either in rehab or doing the horror festival ten-dollar autograph circuit (the genius who figures out how to make said circuit an actual component of rehab will make untold millions), while the cast of the latter is soaking in tubs of hot milk in Beverly Hills and advertising Covergirl for a million dollars a minute. Or in rehab. So maybe nostalgia is really just the smokescreen for what really makes these films loveable:

Pity.

Such is certainly the case with the royal pile of dookie that is The Initiation. "Introducing" Daphne Zuniga (who would make quite a career for herself in pitiably bad movies, including Prey of the Chameleon -- one of my favorite fuck-you recommendations when I worked at Blockbuster in high school -- and The Fly 2), the Initiation is what seems at the start to be a Hell Night-ish horror flick about a sorority hazing gone horribly wrong. But it's oh, so much more than that. It's about repression. It's about guilt. It's about 20 minutes too long for a made-for-TV movie, but that's exactly what it should be.

From the onset, we know we're watching a horror film because there are beheaded dolls and we are forced to watch Clu Gallagher having sex with an old woman. Those of you who are faint of heart, beware: this movie has a lot of Clu Gallagher (who featured in my favorite killer cat movie, The Uninvited, where he is upstaged by Rob Estes in pink shorts and a puppet cat), and a lot of a certain old woman named Vera Miles, who started her career as a Hitchcock lead (he famously snubbed her by making her a brunette for Psycho) and ended up in such drive-in fare as, well, Psycho 2. Echoing the careers of other Hitchcock heroines (Night of the Lepus, anyone?), the past-pasture Miles struts around in an appallingly bad wardrobe holding the world's largest brandy snifter (to make her hands look smaller?). This means she's evil.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. See, Kelly Fairchild (gag) is pledging a new sorority but she's plagued by nightmares of seeing her mother have sex with Clu Gallagher and set someone on fire. At least, she thinks that they're nightmares, but we know that they're flashbacks because they're shot through ten fog filters and look ike Tori Amos videos (like all scarring childhood events should). When she wakes from the flashback, she is surrounded by what is perhaps the most spectacularly coiffed assortment of Christian women in history: the sisters of Delta Ro Kai. What we are being treated to is the traditionally hidden early stages of the Texan Pentacostal Hairdo, and here it is shown, in its natural habitat, in a range of developmental stages: just poofing a bit around the split ends; frizzed out almost perpendicular to the head; in its more advanced stage, starting to lift off the top of the head, and in the beginnings of what is commonly recognized as the fully-matured, devloped TPH: full-fledged Tammy Bakker muffin-top glory. It is truly a sight to behold.

So we learn from the hideous horde that there are 4 new pledges and that they must spend the night in Kelly's father's department store and steal the night watchman's uniform to get into the house. Fair enough. But wait....

Cut to a castle-like "sanitarium" that is obviously a Midieval Times in rural Dallas. The inmates stage a riot that is more like a dance number from Marat/Sade and we see that the groundskeeper is horribly burned. Hmmm....

Cut to a wealthy suburban home. Clu Gallagher is wearing Elvis glasses and what looks like a uniform tie from Bishop's Buffet. Vera Miles looks like a blood clot. We know that they are rich because in the establishing shot a man walks a horse across their lawn. We know that the filmmakers are drunk because the horse hooves make clip-clop noises even though it is walking on grass. The proud parents are apparently overprotective of their young, mildly retarded daughter (Kelly), a plot point that will become vital later, when we abandon the whole "sorority" angle for a good 35 minutes.

Cut to a college campus. The slutty pledge and Kelly (the Lemon Pledge?) are walking when out of nowhere, the GAYEST MAN ALIVE attacks them, wearing short-shorts and babbling on about a "repressed desires" party. Coming from him you'd think it was a queer campus political group, but it's a shindig that is happening that weekend. Kelly visits the campus sleep center, which is staffed by a dimestore Bruce Boxleitner named Peter and a lesbian troll who emerges from under the desk wearing a toolbelt and a pillow on her head. Kelly talks about her dreams and has a dizzy spell, and runs to the bathroom, where the water is conveniently already running in the tap (?!). HORRIBLE electronic music plays. Nothing much happens.

Back at the ranch (literally), Mommy is drinking and Clu is wearing another ascot (which explains the drinking). However, minutes later when Clu is murdered at his car when leaving to see an unseen mistress, he is wearing NO ASCOT! Perhaps the ascot really holds the hidden meaning here -- is it a symbol of how the man is collared by the shrewish woman in contemporary bourgois society? In a movie that is becoming increasingly Freudian (repressed desires parties, dream analysis), I wouldn't be surprised. But for now I'm just happy that we've gotten rid of one old person.

But wait -- it's been 35 fucking minutes since we've seen the sorority, the college kids, anything! Why isn't this film called The Old Rich People? Maybe The Incontenence? I mean come on -- I know that Vera Miles is your big name (sigh), but that doesn't mean you have to spend all your time on her. She's obviously a drinker -- fill her prop glass and pretend you're running the camera. But wait -- suddenly, FINALLY, we're back at the sorority house, and there's a Tom Selleck poster on the wall. All is right with the world.

OR IS IT?! Someone is watching Kelly in a very improbable scare sequence, but it turns out to be only Gay Andy in a leather fetish outfit.

Wait -- what?! Yes, folks, Andy is in full leather gear, including a harness-thingie and legging-thingies. I think he's supposed to be a gladiator of some sort, but the look really isn't working. The kids head off to the party, where the director's friends' band is playing and men in makeup are dancing horribly. A man arrives dressed as an enormous penis. Wait -- if this is a suppressed desires party, does that mean that he's a size queen? I'm confused, and start drinking heavily. Blame it on Vera. Speaking of which, she steals an outfit from the Golden Girls set and heads to the school to confront this young whippersnapper grad student (Peter, who is counter-culture because he wears tight jeans with blazers). She finds Kelly in the throes of another regression, again with the gauze filters, again with the Tori Amos video. She does her best Dixie Carter monologue and shows her shoulder-padded self out.

And now we get to the meat. The girls are taken to the department store, which is obviously a convention center and where they probably had to move all the "merchandise" around from store to store to make it look like a retail establishment. We meet the aforementioned security guard; when the girls mentioned him earlier, they referred to him as a stud. In fact, he looks like a moustachiod Waylan Flowers on steroids and is one of the most hideous men I've ever seen. Megan, the sorority bitch, shows her true colors and locks the kids in. The kids, meanwhile, are stealthily advancing their covert mission by slamming heavy doors and running across open courtyards in hot pink blouses (clever!). But of course, as soon as they split up, things get a little wild: the bimbo goes right for the roller skate department and the virgin gets hit with a bowling ball that comes out of nowhere. Gay Andy ends up in a g-string (again, this IS a horror film) and Megan is shot with a bow and arrow. In true bad-movie fashion, even this simple action is executed in an almost unfathomably misguided way: the killer draws the bow, Megan recoils, the arrow flies and strikes her, and she knocks over an enormous vase -- and of course the camera follows the vase, NOT the character who has just been shot with an arrow. Apparently is was more of a tragedy to the director that a tacky K-Mart home furnishing was destroyed... and I would tend to agree.

Meanwhile, the chipmunk-faced lesbian has solved the entire mystery with one trip to the microfiche and she tells Peter the whole story, which leads us to the most unexplainably strange shot of the film: Peter calls Kelly's parents' house to warn her and her parents, and we cut to a close-up of a tacky princess phone, with Vera Miles standing behind it, shown from the waist down (she's still drinking). For some strange reason, instead of picking up the phone like a normal person, she takes it off the hook and walks away. And for some STRANGER reason, the shot is taken through at least 5 fog filters. Now, I can understand when the makers of Murder, She Wrote slathered vaseline on the lens to protect the children of America from the corpse-like visage of Angela Lansbury. But a shot of someone's HAND? Why not get a stand-in with nicer hands to be in the shot -- was it really essential that Ms. Miles do her own hand-acting in this scene? Such preposterousness is what keeps me breathing, people. It nourishes my very being. And it is for this reason that I love this film.

We cut back to the kids, who are now drunk. The virgin lets loose with a confession that she was raped by her violin teacher as a little girl (cue Tori Amos video). Wait -- WHAT?! How inappropriate! This is a teen slasher movie, people. No need for that kind of character depth -- especially when you're going to kill the character in a few minutes anyway. Yes, the virgin and her bad comedian boyfriend get it after sharing a tender moment of consentual physical love between two adults. But not until after the ho gets it (there is a pecking order, you know). The ho is standing in a bridal display, and when she pulls a tiny plastic flower out of a fake hedge, the body of the watchman falls out. She gets it, then her boyfriend gets it, then we cut back to Peter, who is lecturing Mommy and screaming at her like she is suddenly deaf. Kelly and the virgin (she's still alive) are being chased by the killer, and when they get trapped in an elevator, Kelly takes her first chance to run and leave Marsha Mallow in the killer's clutches -- it's the equivalent of tripping your friend to distract the dinosaur that is chasing you. Marsha gets it, and from here on in we are bombarded with imagery from A Nightmare on Elm Street (which came out the same year, oddly): burned men, boiler rooms, dark-haired bad actresses, the whole nine yards.

Kelly is reunited with her long-lost father, whom she promptly smacks in the head and knocks off the building. Later, Pops. And what do you know -- daddy's not even the killer -- the killer is.... HER LONG LOST TWIN SISTER, who was in the institution under the watchful eye of the groundskeeper father as was made painfully clear in the Midieval Times sanitarium scene and who witnessed with Kelly as her real father caught her whore of a mother having sex with Clu Gallagher and then cruelly being set on fire! The rest of the film plays like a Very Special Episode of the Patty Duke Show, with the mildly retarded Ms. Zuniga out of her depth not once, but twice. But before you can say "Goodnight, sister darling!", Mommy shows up and miraculously is able to aim and shoot a gun in her drunken state, apparently unaware that this would have been a Psycho ripoff with or without her. Freeze frame on Daphne, cue the saxophone solo from Moonlighting, and all is right with the world...

Rating (out of 5):