By all accounts, I am a dude of the male persuasion. In my experience as a male person, I've never come across many initiations. When I was preparing for college I spent a summer night in a fraternity during orientation, but I quickly remembered that I didn't like alcohol or polo shirts, and got the heck out of there. I didn't get to any initiation phase, and am grateful for that.
Sarah, played by Kay Lenz, is not fortunate enough to escape that easily. Sent to college with her sister Patty by her adopted mother, Sarah is an awkward creature with crazy jowls and a mean stare. She wants to get into the best sorority on campus, along with her sister, but she's not cut out for their sort.
That decision is made by witchy queen bee Jennifer - played by Morgan Fairchild - who then sets out to separate the siblings. Sarah is accepted into the nerdy rival sorority, and thus contact between the sisters is not allowed. Sarah goes off to her old-school sorority, which looks like your grandparents' house with Tom Noonan's House of the Devil furniture. I don't know what her problem is, because that's my kind of sorority house!
(Also, I should mention that Patty is played by future Dallas co-star Morgan Brittany. I bring this up only because Ms. Brittany has pretty much the most piercingly beautiful eyes in the history of beauty. I recalled them instantly from that odd vampire flick Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat, in which I also thought they were also piercingly beautiful, and now I feel safe saying that they kind of see through my soul and make my knees weak. So yeah....where was I?)
Sarah has long had a strange ability to control objects with her gaze, which causes some tension when dealing with those who embarrass her. This is when Shelley Winters enters as the house mother who wants to make sure that Sarah uses her powers to their maximum potential, even though she seems to be doing a good job on her own. A mid film scene where Sarah stands up to Jennifer is a fantastic moment of self-confidence, but revenge is swift (and comes with an assist from Jennifer's hunky boyfriend, Airplane! star Robert Hays). Despite her budding relationship with a wise psychology TA (Tony Bill) who enjoys leading half-cocked discussions on the duality of good and evil, Sarah wants to get a leg up on Jennifer.
Since we're currently focusing on Mothers of Horror here at FMWL, I find it imperative that I focus a bit on Winters' character. She might be just a house mother, but Sarah quickly follows her lead. The house mother's first appearance is accompanied by ominous music and a mysteriously locked door - so it's pretty obvious that there's a darker side to her character. That doesn't faze Sarah, and Winters' Mrs. Hunter ends up the Burgess Meredith to her telekinetic Rocky Balboa. This is another example of a motherly character in horror who isn't exactly Mrs. Cleaver, though it makes for some great entertainment in the final act.
I know this sounds like it's basically Revenge of the Nerds meets Carrie...and it kind of is...but there's something magical about it. We all ran into a bully or two when we were growing up, and The Initiation of Sarah harnesses those memories perfectly. Fairchild is fantastically sadistic as Jennifer, and we really want to see her get what's coming to her. But the film becomes even more interesting when Winters' character is played against the snooty sorority. Caught in the middle, Sarah really seems like a lost soul who caught a bad break. She rarely smiles (even when she's with her manfriend) and her stare of doom provides for some fantastic moments - especially in an early scene with a lifted piano.
There's not much to say about The Initiation of Sarah except that I kind of love it. Maybe I was done in when I saw Ms. Brittany's eyes, or maybe it was the thrill of a suspended piano that just might crush someone at any moment. Maybe it was Fairchild's gravity defying hair, or a possessed shower door. Whatever it was, I loved it. If you thought Mean Girls needed a few more cloaked sacrifices, this film's for you.
(Want to hear more about this rocking film - which happens to be on Instant Netflix, despite never making DVD? Then head over to Final Girl at some point on Monday and see what other Film Club Fanatics have to say! In the meantime, stare into the eyes of Morgan Brittany and grovel.)
The Mike began his youth by demanding ghost and monster stories, and was soon given three VHS tapes by his parents - The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Lon Chaney's The Phantom of the Opera, and 1958's The Blob.
Since then, he has embraced the wide world of cinema, and has always kept the bizarre, fantastic, and macabre close to his heart.