The Initiation of Sarah
Director: Robert Day
Stars: Kay Lenz. Shelley Winters, Morgan Fairchild
Reviewed by Brian M. Sammons
The made for TV movies from the 1970s, man I have a weakness for them. Even when they’re not great, they’re usually a whole lot of fun. They have a look and a style all their own that didn’t even last past the very early 80s. They’ve comfort movies for me, but that’s not to say that there were some excellent movies made exclusively for television. They would include Trilogy of Terror, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Salem’s Lot, Home for the Holidays, The Norliss Tapes, Duel, and let’s not forget the “classic(?)” Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park. So how does this mostly forgotten and little-known-today movie rate with all those others? Well, grab your books, stay clear of mean girls, and look out for any obvious stand-ins for pig’s blood, and let’s find out.
Here two young women, adoptive sisters, go off to college together. Both are beautiful and smart, but one is outgoing and vivacious and the other is meek, timid, and shy. Oh, and naturally the shy girl has massive telekinetic powers. Yes, this is another ripoff…er…homage to Stephen King’s story and Brian De Palma’s movie, Carrie. That movie was such a smash that we had films about shy girls with terrifying powers for years afterward, like Jennifer, Ruby, The Spell, Summer of Fear, Midnight Offerings, and more. So how does this one compare to all the others? Well, it’s a bit slow moving, and the horror aspects have been toned down a bit as this is a made for TV movie. There are a surprising amount of recognizable names in here. In addition to the stars listed above, you can find Robert Hays, Tisa Farrow, Morgan Brittany, Tony Bill, and others.
As for the story, one sister gets accepted into the cool, swanky sorority, and the shy girl with all the power only gets accepted into quiet, nerdy sorority. Morgan Fairchild is wonderful as the leader of the mean and popular girls, and she goes out of her way to torment our wallflower protagonist. Then there is Shelly Winters, the house mother for the unpopular girls, who immediately recognizes that there is something different, and dangerous, about Sarah. But of instead of helping her to come to terms with her strange powers, she only wants to weaponize her to get her own petty revenge. The acting is all really good in this and the direction is fine. The story is a bit muddled, with plot elements brought up that go nowhere, the pace is slowed by having a bit too much padding, and the climax is kind of abrupt and mostly unsatisfying. Still, it has two fists of that 70s TV movie flavor that I get a kick out of, so it’s still a win for me.
Now on to the extras and special features that Arrow did for this new and re-mastered Blu-ray release. There is an audio commentary track with film historian Amanda Reyes, a retrospective featurette called Welcome to Hell Week, and a featurette on how this movie reflects the second wave of feminism called Cracks in the Sisterhood. There is an interview with film critic Samantha McLaren about witchcraft, empowerment, TV movies, and telekinetic shy girls post-Carrie. There is an interview with writer/director Tom Holland (Fright Night, Child’s Play) looking back at this, his first official writing credit. Last but not least, there is a collection of photos in an image gallery. Now that’s a nice collection of extras for a TV movie most today have never heard of or have forgotten about.
The Initiation of Sarah is a Carrie wannabe and as such, it is nowhere as good. But taken by itself as an example of the bygone era that was network made for TV movies, it’s more than fine, it’s quite fun and very watchable. If you have a fetish for TV flicks like I do, then I would recommend it. If you don’t and have never seen it, well then you ain’t missing anything too Earth-shattering. Consider this one a conditional recommendation.