The Initiation of Sarah (Robert Day, 1978)
NOTE: This review contains some spoilers for the film. Proceed with caution.
Ah, the seventies—the golden age of what has come to be known as the Satanic Panic film, though the repercussions of same would not be felt until the eighties and early nineties, when Satanic Panic leached into American culture, with shysters coming up with all sorts of things to keep a newly-freed-from-Red-Dread country checking under their beds for boogeymen at night. Instead of commies, we were told, we needed to watch out for devil worshippers kidnapping and molesting our children (or even doing it right at the day care). All of it absolute bunk, of course, cooked up by the morally bankrupt in order to make themselves a few bucks. And as a result, I feel like I should take every Satanic Panic movie made in the seventies to task for foisting these monstrosities on us. But instead I watch a movie like The Initiation of Sarah and I just wonder to myself, “people eventually thought this sort of thing really happened?” (An amusing side note: I did not know until just now that the movie had been remade in 2006, starring Mika Boorem and Summer Glau. Satanic Panic has indeed returned, at least on celluloid.)
Sarah Goodwin (House‘s Kay Lenz) is a newly-minted college freshman at a campus where greek life is everything. (For those of you who went to bigger schools and don’t believe such things exist: when I was a college freshman in 1986, 95% of the males at my school were in a fraternity. The women weren’t yet because (a) my class was the second to be coed and (b) sororities were not chartered on our campus until 1989.) She goes through rush, but as something of a wallflower, she is for the most part heckled or snubbed… until she finds her niche in the polar opposite of the Mean Girls-esque sorority that pledges her glamorous sister Patty (Gypsy‘s Morgan Brittany). Now, we already know something is up with Sarah, since she used telekinetic powers (without understanding what she was doing) to prevent her sister from being raped in the very recent past…but let’s forget all that, shall we? Oh, well, until the sinister house mother (Shelley Winters) and some of her creepier housemates discover Sarah’s talents and decide to put them to good use humiliating those stuck-up chicks.
The good part—while this is (obviously) somewhat derivative of certain earlier movies (*cough*Carrie*cough*) whose names we won’t mention, there’s that other supernatural aspect to it that sets it apart somewhat. That’s the good part. The bad, well…how is it that a made-for-TV movie feels cut? That makes sense in the days of the DVD, where the “made for TV movie” has an unrated director’s cut waiting in the wings to be released a week later, with all the f-bombs not dubbed and the extra half-mil in special effects not cut out to make room for deodorant commercials. But in 1978? The final sequence, especially, feels as if it had been cut to shreds, with some implications that are never fully spelled out, and a few characters who would have done exceptionally well given another two minutes of epilogue. Still, there’s enough of the final sequence, or what was the final sequence (I hope), to give you an idea that you think you know what happened. And hey, maybe there’s a director’s cut waiting in the wings. Hey, they made a remake, right? ** ½
The full movie, currently available on Youtube.