Starring Neith Hunter, Maud Adams, Tommy Hinkley, Allyce Beasley and Clint Howard
A young woman falls to her death in flames from the rooftop of a downtown LA building, the apparent victim of spontaneous human combustion. Sensing her big break, aspiring journalist Kim (Hunter) begins investigating the strange case only to find herself at the centre of a freaky Christmas ritual conducted by a coven of man hating witches…
Completely jettisoning the Santa slasher angle of the previous three films in the wonderfully naff Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise, Initiation is an all together different beast. Whilst this and the superfluous and largely shoe horned in Christmas elements will likely infuriate die hards, lovers of the more psychotronic side of things will find much to savour in this utterly bizarre and kinky shocker.
Directed by the brilliant Brian Yuzna, the Re-Animator producer orchestrates the copious amounts of creepy crawlies, orgiastic violence and body morphing yucks with his typical in-your-face gusto. In fact it is for this reason alone that I’d wholeheartedly recommend Initiation, as saggy and at times nonsensical as its story may be. You see, for my money, Yuzna is the quintessential horror auteur, a berserk and unique talent somewhere between Ken Russell, HG Lewis and David’s Cronenberg and Lynch.
The second film in Yuzna’s triptych of early nineties sequels, Initiation serves as the centrepiece between his necro festishitic opuses Bride of Re-Animator and Return of the Living Dead 3, refining and reworking as it does the notions of perverse terror and extreme bodily transformation present in the both of them. Of course, it must be noted that the groundwork for all three films was certainly laid in Yuzna’s directorial debut Society, his 1989 cult hit with which Initiation shares more than a passing resemblance.
Like Society, Initiation is another Los Angeles county set tale of surrealism and paranoia. Both playing like potent blends of Un Chien Andalou and Rosemary’s Baby, both movies focus on a lone hero/lone heroine who just can’t convince those closest to them that there’s something very wrong beneath realities ‘normal’ veneer. Interestingly they also seem to be brother and sister films and near polar opposites, Society being male and Beverly Hills focused whilst Initiation is a female and less affluent area centric piece. Hell, Intiation even steals a few key members of Society’s cast and crew, most obviously barmy Japanese effects wizard Screaming Mad George who, once again, proves himself adept at physically realising some truly warped ideas.
Acting honours go to former Bond girl Maud Adams as Fima, the enigmatic (and little bit MILFY) head witch, and the ever delightful Clint Howard. The bubble headed B movie icon is perfectly suited to his deranged cult henchman role of Ricky, a character who may or may not be the same homicidal nut from parts two and three (which, in a pleasing moment of meta, plays in the background on a television in a nasty home invasion scene). A cute cameo from Phantasm’s Reggie Bannister aside (as a chain-smoking, sexist trash mag editor), the rest of the cast is perfectly serviceable but unremarkable, with lead Hunter veering dangerously close to being awful. At least she looks wonderful naked and covered in goo…
Though not for everyone and hardly the most festive of festive fright flicks, Initiation is a quirky and diverting little picture. A failure as a proper sequel it may be, it’s a must for old school straight to video enthusiasts, Yuzna fans and those who dig Halloween III type franchise riffs. Seek it out, either on the Lion’s Gate region one Silent Night, Deadly Night three pack (with three and five) or on the lovely 1996 big box UK VHS release from Guild where it’s titled “Bugs”. Be warned though it’s slightly cut.
Eight mutated carollers out of ten!