The Initiation of Sarah (1978)

THE INITIATION OF SARAH (1978) may be wearing CARRIE’s hand me downs but I don’t think that’s such a damnable thing. There are worse fates than knowing exactly what to expect from a movie and can there ever be too many stories about psychic nerd revenge? Being born for television broadcast prevents SARAH from going hog wild or stomping on too many toes. You’ll find no skewering of religious fanaticism here; pigs blood is replaced by mud (and rotten tomatoes) and a sweaty work out will have to do as a stand in for sex. BRIAN DePALMA’s classic needn’t fret being usurped by this imitator anytime soon but let’s be real here, there’s only one movie in the world that features the unsinkable SHELLEY WINTERS and employs two of the world’s most notable MORGANs (We’re talking FAIRCHILD and BRITTANY.) Yes, this also-ran may as well be titled THE IMITATION OF CARRIE but it endures thanks to its fetching cast.

KAY LENZ (who will later star with CARRIE alum WILLIAM KATT in 1986’s HOUSE) is our wallflower Sarah. She’s a real uggo I guess on account of she wears oversize sweaters. We understand that Sarah is special from the first scene when she stops her more socially acceptable stepsister Patty (BRITTANY) from being raped ten feet in front of her on a beach. Rather than merely yelling “Hey, stop raping my sister in front of me!” Sarah uses her crazy power to knock the guy on his ass. INITIATION may fall infinity short of the emotional depths to be found in BRIAN DePALMA’s take on STEPHEN KING’s novel but the relationship between these two sisters, one with the opportunity for larger acceptance and one without, is actually pretty interesting in a BASKET CASE kind of way. In fact, Sarah’s interactions with others may be what ultimately rescues this movie from the superfluous retread zone.

Once in college, Patty is accepted by a highfalutin, snobby sorority lead by tweezer-faced glamorpuss Jennifer (the FAIRCHILD) and Sarah is relegated to a dumpy sorority of theoretically drab outcasts. We’re lead to believe that Patty is the fortunate one in this scenario, but I beg to differ. I admit that the idea of FAIRCHILD forcing me to don hobo drag and beg for change has always been a fantasy of mine but I still think Sarah receives the better deal. She gets to live in a gothic mansion helmed by creepy Mrs. Hunter (brilliantly insane WINTERS) and her roommates include Alberta “Mouse” (Italian horror staple TISA FARROW of ZOMBIE & the underrated says me, THE GRIM REAPER), butch, Izod clad Allison (slick chick TALIA BALSAM of the underrated says me THE KINDRED), and groovy Barbara ( Yay! Plunger gal NORA HEFLIN of the BLAIR-tastic BORN INNOCENT!) For all of Sarah’s supposed awkwardness, she’s also often seen canoodling heavily with dreamy assistant teacher Paul Yates (future MY BODYGUARD director TONY BILL.) Add to all that gravy the fact that Sarah has coveted psychic powers and I’m hardly convinced that hers is the sticky end of the lollipop. All Patty gets is the opportunity to watch Jennifer manipulate DONNA PESCOW’s future squeeze ROBERT HAYS. (Yes, that’s an ANGIE reference. Holla, Philly!)

Anyways, Patty and Sarah’s sororities have a long history of hating on each other and it puts a giant wedge in their once simpatico relationship. Eventually Sarah starts developing a backbone and throwing grand pianos at her sister and dunking bitch Jennifer in a fountain. Her new found moxie is an inspiration to her sorority sisters and to her house mother who wisely decides to harness Sarah’s hate to put an end to the rivalry but unwisely decides to use beloved Mouse as a human sacrifice in a garden maze ritual. Ultimately many things catch on fire and FAIRCHILD’s face gets crusty.

If you are looking for simple entertainment, INITIATION is a fluffy success. It’s a veritable late night classic and the scene involving FAIRCHILD’s fountain comeuppance is highly memorable and plenty o’ fun. Still, it’s unquestionably undercooked and rough around the edges. I’m convinced that SHELLEY’s character is, in fact Sarah’s real mom, but for some reason that revelation is never exploited or properly addressed. I’m also of the thinking that SHELLEY’s witchcraft is the cause of an injury that befalls “Mouse” but we’re never allotted any acknowledgment or evidence in that area either and that would have helped too. Unable to fall back on gore or sex, the television movie’s major strength comes in the form of characterization and story and these needlessly dropped threads leave a major dent.

This is a fun movie but there’s no reason why it couldn’t be more effective too. Unlike CARRIE’s ultimate end, SARAH’s feels strangely unfinished and substantially less satisfying. INITIATION may know whom to follow but it doesn’t seem to understand why or where. As I said though, you do get WINTERS and two, count em’, two legendary MORGANs and that ain’t hay. Too bad SARAH is so oblivious to just how good she’s got it.

NOTE:: This review is an important part of a nutritious breakfast AND it’s a part of the FINAL GIRL FILM CLUB. For more on SARAH look HERE!

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Amanda By Night
12 years ago

Wonderful review as usual!

I love this movie and really enjoy the revenge. Personally, I agree it’s not as good as Carrie (but what could be), but for small screen revenge, it’s on the top of my list. I really root for that little Sarah! I get what you say about it being rough around the edges though. I think I get distracted by Tony Bill and Robert Hays!

I adore your stills, btw!

12 years ago

This was actually going to be a name that trauma of mine but luckily I managed to figure it out myself. Great movie

Final Girl
12 years ago

“She’s a real uggo I guess on account of she wears oversize sweaters.”

I love the chunky sweaters. LOVE. And count me in on Team House Mom is Sarah’s Mom.

There’s just something about a movie that features Morgan Fairchild and Robert Hays making out on gym equipment that sends me! 😀

1 year ago

I have always believed that Shelley Winters was Sara’s mother. There was something deeply hinted at when they talked about the history of the 2 sororities.