Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Initiation of Sarah (1978)

You know, when I think "cutting edge horror", I don't really think "kitschy Lifetime-style '70s television movie." But Final Girl called the tune and I can dance with the best of 'em.

I tend to be irony-adverse and my first impression of The Initiation of Sarah was largely negative. The music is disco, the camera work is zoomy, and everyone's hair is so feathered. I cooked up my Trader Joe's-brand pasta and settled in.

Turned out the movie wasn't half bad.

Okay, it ain't scary. Things are a little too bright and cheerful to really get under the skin, but it's a fine little story. While many of the characters in the movie are bitchy sorority stereotypes, I found that I genuinely cared about the lead characters.

The story revolves around Sarah and Patty Goodwin, two incoming freshman trying to get into the prestigious Alpha Nu Gamma, which their legacy mother has been pushing them to join since childhood. The charming Patty is immediately accepted, but the withdrawn Sarah is cruelly rejected and sent to Pi Epsilon Delta, the nerd sorority. The basically decent Patty starts becoming subsumed by her bitchy sorority sisters and an increasingly isolated and angry Sarah comes under that thrall of a creepy sorority mom with a daaaaaaaaaaaaa.....


rrrrrrk secret.

The movie hits the exact same story beats as Carrie as the troubled outsider slowly comes into her own power, but unlike poor doomed Carrie White, Sarah winds up leading the surly outsiders of Pi Epsilon Delta and teaching them how to stand up to the society bitches of Alpha Nu Gamma. She also forms relationships with other people, particularly the squirrelly young violinist with the obvious crush on Sarah (don't try to deny it) and the sleazy older teacher's assistant.

Overall, I liked the movie. It ain't scary, but it's well-written and acted, particularly with the legendary turn by Shelly Winters as the diabolical Ms. Hunter, who interjects a certain satanic theatricality to the proceedings. It's worth seeing The Initiation of Sarah for her alone.

Also, Morgan Fairchild looks hot soaking wet.

Here's my question: where are the telekinetic payback movies for dudes? These angry teenage psychic stories tend toward stories of repressed feminist rage but high school screws everyone up. I would love to see a reimagining of Elephant with rage-fuelled telekinesis.

This post is part of the Final Girl Film Club. For those of you who dug this post, welcome to my humble little blog. I'm a big horror fan and I like to apply my highly-honed bullshitting skills to the stuff I enjoy. I cover movies, books, games, and music. Welcome aboard!


Stacie Ponder said...

I think Patrick may sort of be the male-centric telekinetic revenge flick you're looking for. But yeah, it's mostly a girl's realm for some reason...

Lazarus Lupin said...

Akira is the male power telekinetic fantasy movie.

Lazarus Lupin
art and review

Creature said...

1) Patrick is pretty fantastic, but he spends most of the movie lying in bed staring up at stuff. I think what's interesting about these telekinetic vengeance stories is that they're all basically disastrous coming-of-age tales, where the kid develops her power as she's being mercilessly tormented. Every time I see a movie like this, where kids get psychic payback at their tormentors, I can't help but think of all the spree shooting that have happened in schools and I sort of wonder what shape the story would take from a teenage boy's point of view.

I think the psychic payback genre is primarily female because...I dunno, maybe it's a metaphor of oppressed women seizing their power and agency in the world? Or a fear of women's maturity? Or because King got their first and he made his protagonist female? I think the subgenre actually fits better with a female lead because it is empowering, but I'm fascinated with stories about payback going too far. I think we champion vengeance in our storytelling, especially with men (look at Machete, which was basically about how you can do any horrible goddamn thing you wanted as long as you were getting payback) but in the real world that level of violence is horrifying. Given the Harrises and Klebolds of the world, I think I want to see that take on the tale.

There's also the question of the kid's home life. What's especially interesting in Carrie, unlike The Initiation of Sarah, is that her persecution only gets worse when she gets home. I've been following the whole "It Gets Better" campaign and one of the things a lot of people talk about was that their parents and their religious leaders reinforced the torment these kids were experiencing at home. I think somewhere in there is a fantastic horror film.

Finally, and I really wish I came up with this stuff during my actual post, there's a lot of Satanic trappings in the story. Watching the movie, I couldn't help but be reminded of all those wiccan kids I knew in high school who couldn't face off against their bullies so they tried sending misfortunes their way. Payback is a strange thing.

2) It's been a long time since I've seen Akira and while there is definitely a chap with psychic powers, as I recall the movie was more of a story on why cold authoritarian government are a Bad Thing. It was pretty good, though.

Anonymous said...

I too have often wondered what about the bloke revenge movies