Timeless wisdom from the world of 1978 made-for-TV ...
"I wonder why they didn't want us to wear any clothes beneath this?"

I stumbled upon "The Initiation of Sarah" whilst trawling netflix in hopes that I could either bore or laugh myself to sleep.  Mission accomplished on both counts.  BUT!  Before I closed my laptop to pass out, I discovered that this Carrie cash-in was not a complete waste of time (after all, I folded laundry and did my nails while I watched it).  

You could say I was lured in by Shelley Winters' ceremonial initiation garb - out of curiosity as to why she signed on for this made-for-TV creation ($?).  You could also say I was baffled by the Dallas side-character count here.  Morgan Fairchild, most likely freshly kicked off Southfork by Pamela and looking for some sorority action.  Also, Morgan Brittany plays Sarah's sister.  Ironically, Fairchild also appears in the remake of this film, made in 2006, the year Winters died.  So, yeah, you could say I was intrigued by the cast list.  You could also say I had just polished off half a bottle of Guenoc after work and lacked the motor skills and drive to move on to something that is not a shining example of the 70's in all of its retarded glory. 

That being said, let us look on the bright side!  This film is a shining example of the 70's in all of its retarded glory!  An excellent specimen in slapstick piano-dropping, poo-slinging horror with all of the graceful tact of a tampon commercial.  It is the story of two sisters - one of them being an easily-manipulated social butterfly - the other, an anti-social (also easily-manipulated) slightly disturbed telekinetic.  A match made on ABC Family.

Our two lovely sisters make their way to Waltham College, where they will be pledging various sororities in hopes of not living in the dorms and gaining social status through effectively buying their friends.  This movie was filmed way back when sororities and frats still thought they were cool.  Sarah and Patty check out the string of sororities in hopes of getting into their mother's sorority as "legacies", but Jennifer Lawrence does not like Sarah as a potential pledge, and wishes to separate Patty from her sister as a kind of power play. 

I can't help it that Morgan Fairchild reminds me for some reason of every female gym teacher I have ever had: all she needs is a bright neon track suit made out of that swishy stuff.  Her voice even sounds like my gym teachers (except for the one who had a tracheotomy).  I realized about halfway through the movie that I was waiting in anticipation for a speech on why being able to do 75 sit-ups and the mile-run is important.  Needless to say, I do not find spray-on hair and constantly thick make-up particularly attractive - in fact, it was kind of the scariest part of this movie watching Fairchild come out of the water looking like her face was re-touched again underwater.  It's like her face has been spray-painted on in every television episode, movie, or picture I have ever seen of her.  In this sense, however, she makes an awesome sorority super-villian.  This is definitely her best role.  

So poor Sarah gets blackballed by Jennifer Lawrence and crew, and she's stuck pledging Pi Epsilon Delta.  PED is lauded as "Pigs, Elephants, and Dogs!" by Jennifer and friends at Alpha Nu Sigma - a sorority that needs an Upsilon stuck in there somewhere (har har).  Sarah makes many fun friends at PED - a sorority that would've actually been fun with a bong in its living room, but had to settle instead for the illusory Mrs. Hunter (Shelley Winters) - not too bad a trade if only Hunter wasn't a crazed occultist.  And so, with the two sisters pulled apart and divided against each other, the unspoken rivalry between ANS and PED reignites.  Sarah becomes the target of Jennifer's bullying, and Sarah unwittingly fights back by using her 'gift' of telekinesis, which the PED house mother quickly enlists as a weapon to win the age-old sorority war of who gets to host the lamest tailgate parties.  

Sandwiched between the kitschy exterior and the dark evil poo-slinging heart of this piece is the heartfelt anti-bullying message, a bit of fluffy PSA: "Don't bully the weird girl or you'll end up telekinetically cut to pieces."  In some ways, this is the only really disturbing part of the movie, the only actual horror - that this kind of bullying actually really actually for real happens to real people in the real world by people as actually stupid as the character Fairchild plays.  Actually.  I don't think there is anyone I know who went to high school or college and did not experience some level of idiot human cruelty, poking fun at people who are different and the like.  Nowadays we have kids bullying each other and being asswipes online (a la Jessie Slaughter), and the occasional suicide with facebook or myspace 'friends' bullying others.  While this movie predates the technological aspect of bullying, it's not hard to imagine what it looked like before you could write some horrific message troll-style on someone's fb page.  Sarah is first separated from her sister by birth and then separated from her sister by popularity contest.  If everyone in this movie didn't look like they were over 30 and the dialog was not so fabulously trite, I'd have felt bad for these "kids" too.

But it was also a tad hard to relate...I grew up in a different time and place, where college kids in sororities and fraternities were for the most part looked down upon as the desperate sort of people who needed to be associated with a letter in order to score friends, an outdated and asinine form of name-dropping.  There were still lots of them, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't the majority anymore, and the decision not to pledge was not met with scorn or early retirement to the chess club (chess rocks anyway).  So I didn't really relate to the girls' initial need to pledge, but I was kind of happy that this movie (though dumb as a bag o' hammers dialog/plot/character-depth-wise) was at least smart enough to make that statement as early as 1978 that this sort of nonsense was nonsense.

I will also say that if you have trudged through the first hour of this, you might as well stay for the chuckles of the actual initiation scenes - priceless.  I'm not sure who wrote Shelley Winters' particular dialog in these scenes, but I plan on using them to break up a wedding at some point.  She is about as profane as Shake from Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and equally as dark and mysterious in her den mother from hell act.  

If anything, call it an amusing 96 minutes of semi-drunken social commentary and obligatory shower-scalding, a jolly peek into the world of dumb American collegiates, pursuing higher education and learning nothing.   

WTF= 15
W= 6
T= 5
F= 4

The first scenes with music anyone would want to drown to...

(beats the SHIT out of Barbie)



to Final Girl film club:


  1. Great review. I wondered about the initiation ceremony too. She uses the phrase "Eko eko azarak" at one point, which I knew as the title of an obscure japanese horror film. So is this like some well know magic phrase or what?

    Lazarus Lupin
    art and review

  2. OMG that Poseidon Adventure doll. I had no idea that existed!!

    And I can't believe I neglected to mention the shower scalding. Such a horror movie staple- even though in made-for-TV land the only result is some reddish skin. :D

  3. this movie is one of my favorite made-for-tv's; just perfect for that era.