The Initiation of Sarah
WELCOME TO HELL WEEK!
Satantic secrets and telekenetic terror combine in this classic made-for-TV horror movie directed by Hammer Films alumnus Robert Day (She), from a story co-written by Tom Holland (Fright Night), featuring cinematography by Ric Waite (48 Hrs).
Shy misfit Sarah Goodwin (Kay Lenz, House), has a secret gift: the ability to control — and destroy — with her mind. When Sarah goes off to college with her more outgoing and popular sister, Patty (Morgan Brittany, Sundown: The Vampire In Retreat), their plans to join the most prestigious sorority on campus are scuttled by snobby president, Jennifer Lawrence (Morgan Fairchild, Phantom of the Mall). Separated from her sister, Sarah is taken in by a rival, less popular sorority, whose mysterious house mother, Mrs. Hunter (Shelley Winters, The Night of the Hunter), is harboring a secret of her own: a scheme to harness Sarah’s terrifying power for revenge. Betrayed by Patty, humiliated by Jennifer, it can only be a matter of time before Sorority Hell Week erupts in flame!
Making its Blu-Ray debut with an all-new restoration by Arrow Films from the original camera negative, The Initiation of Sarah has never looked better and comes packed with all new bonus materials.
Arrow Video presents Robert Day’s television film The Initiation of Sarah on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on a dual-layer disc. Arrow has performed an all-new 2K restoration and are presenting it here with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode.
Presentations for made-for-television films can be hit-or-miss depending on the available elements but Arrow had access to the 35mm negative, scanning it in 4K, and the end results look unbelievably good. Grain is present and rendered nicely, which leads to excellent detail levels where the source materials allow. Some close-ups and zoom-ins have a slightly dupier look to them due to the frame possibly being zoomed in on but the overall picture looks clean. The restoration work has been thorough as well, only a handful of scratches and smaller blemishes remaining.
Colours lean warmer but that seems to be more of a reflection of the film’s colour scheme. Black levels are mostly decent yet there are instances where they can come off a little murky or heavy. This aspect seems to be a side effect of the original lighting or the use of filters and nothing to do with the encode. There's an odd blurring effect during a shower scene, poorly made to resemble steam, but there is no doubt this was intentionally applied.
Despite its TV origins it now has a sharp, film-like look, Arrow giving the film the same level of love and care that they do for all of their restorations.
The disc includes a DTS-HD MA 1.0 monaural soundtrack. The sound design for the film isn’t particularly special but for what it is it sounds perfectly acceptable here. Dialogue is clean and the music is sharp, no distortion present. Also there is no heavy damage present.
Television films, as pointed out a couple of times through the features found here, were made with only one airing in mind, doomed to be mostly forgotten. Impressively this one has managed to stir up a bit of a following (and a remake in 2006) and Arrow keeps its fans in mind with this edition.
Unapologetic TV movie and Morgan Fairchild fan Amanda Reyes starts things off with a new audio commentary, recorded exclusively for this edition. When it comes to discussing the film’s background Reyes has her hands tied a bit since there is very little documentation available around the film’s production, yet she does what she can on this front but ends up getting more into the story’s obvious influences in the post-Carrie period. Instead, Reyes focuses most of her attention on the history of “TV movies,” from their origins to the limitations imposed on them, whether those limitations be related to budget or to what content could be shown. In the case of the latter Reyes brings up the various rules that the networks followed when airing material that was family friendly or geared towards adults, and she explains how this film pushed the boundaries that were more-or-less in place (including Fairchild in a wet shirt). The film probably doesn’t call for a commentary, and the track does kind of peter out a bit as we get closer to the end, but I think anyone interested by the history of television and television movies would find this one worth the listen.
Reyes’ track does touch on a queer subtext present in the film, though this is ultimately left to most of the video features that Arrow includes. To examine the film through a “queer feminist lens” film critic Stacie Ponder and Queer Horror programmer Anthony Hudson—co-hosts of the Gaylords of Darkness podcast—provide a 16-minute visual essay. Though it has its charms and did make me grin a bit at times I ended up being rather disappointed by it because the feature simloy offers a rundown of the film and doesn’t delve into anything that isn’t already obvious to begin with, other than maybe an odd focus on grapes. I also found the format didn’t help things, the two applying a goofy vibe that I must assume follows the format of their podcast. At the very least I did agree with their observation around how movie Satanists make little sense.
I ended up finding the separate contributions from critics Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Samantha McLaren to be a bit more interesting and insightful. Heller-Nicholas focuses on the influence second wave feminism more than likely had on the film, relating things within the film to the 1977 National Women’s Conference. But I think my favourite of the bunch may be McLaren’s contribution, which looks at the film in the context of a female empowerment film revolving around witchcraft, sharing her own feelings around the relationships in the film. She also throws in thoughts around some of the imagery present (like the maze) and then how the TV film managed to push boundaries. The two pieces run 15 and 16-minutes respectively.
Arrow also manages to get a new interview with filmmaker Tom Holland, who wrote the original treatment for the film. He recalls this early project's story and explains how it was solely focused on witchcraft, lacking the telekinesis aspect. He claims that the treatment was originally laughed at but after the success of DePalma's Carrie it was reworked into what it is now and it was one of the first big projects he was tied to. This of course set him on to his future career. It’s a quick 9-minute discussion but ends up being a terrific reflection on the beginnings of his film career.
The disc then closes with a gallery featuring what looks like television stills followed by the newspaper or TV Guide advertisement for the film, along with a booklet limited to first pressings. The booklet includes two essays, the first by Lindsay Hallam and focussing on the film’s relation to other sorority-centric films, primarily horror. The second, written by Alexandra West, focuses on the film’s story of a social pariah and the shift in power that occurs when said pariah gains superpowers and stacks up to other similar films. Carrie of course comes up in comparison, though West finds that this film handles the social dynamics in a more interesting manner.
Not everything here is "gold" so to say, but I'm impressed by the level of effort Arrow put in for this quickie television production and I still enjoyed going through most of it.
The low-budget television thriller receives an affectionately assembled special edition with an impressive new high-def presentation.