Telekinesis And The Greek System: ‘The Initiation of Sarah’ Reviewed

by Rachel Bellwoar

Sisters who pledge together, stay together. If only that were the case in The Initiation of Sarah, Robert Day’s TV movie which aired on ABC in 1978. It’s certainly not what Patty and Sarah’s mother (Kathryn Crosby) lead them to expect, yet Patty (Morgan Brittany) and Sarah (Kay Lenz) are determined to stick together in college. Since they also don’t want to spend their freshman year in the dorms, though, that means getting picked for the same sorority and while their mother is wrong about a lot of things (like favoring her biological daughter, Patty, over her adopted daughter, Sarah) she’s not wrong about how her alma mater will receive them.

While Patty is invited to join Alpha Nu Sigma, Sarah’s only offer comes from ANS’ rival, Phi Epsilon Delta (and since ANS is run by mean girl, Jennifer (Morgan Fairchild), that means Patty is supposed to cut all ties with Sarah). Not a great start for the sisters, and while ideally Patty would refuse to comply with ANS’ rules, it wouldn’t be much of a movie if she did.

But that’s not all! Like Stephen King’s Carrie, Sarah has telekinetic powers which PND’s house mother, Mrs. Hunter (Shelley Winters), wants to utilize against ANS. For anyone on the fence about The Initiation of Sarah, Brian De Palma’s Carrie would be a good barometer for figuring out if this film is for you.

The Initiation of Sarah does have a few loose ends. At one point, for instance, Mrs. Hunter strongly suggests that she knows the identity of Sarah’s biological mother, but the mystery is never touched on again. The film could’ve also done a lot more with Sarah’s sorority sisters. Other than Mouse (Tisa Farrow), who Sarah spends some time with, the other girls are criminally underserved.

If The Initiation of Sarah means Arrow will consider releasing more TV movies on Blu-Ray, though, than more power to them (and in terms of bonus features, Arrow haven’t held back – this film is just as stacked as any of the distributor’s theatrical features).

Starting with the commentary, TV movie expert, Amanda Reyes (who wrote the essential book on TV movies, Are You in the House Alone?: A TV Movie Compendium) is on board to talk about the two sorority houses and how they successfully reflect ANS and PED’s different values. Reyes also gives some context for why there were fewer horror-themed TV movies in 1978 (hint: it has to do with the TV movie, Born Innocent, and the introduction of the Family Viewing Hour).

“Welcome to Hell Week” is an appreciation of the film by film critic, Stacie Ponder, and Queer Horror programmer, Anthony Hudson (co-hosts of the Gaylords of Darkness podcast).

“The Initiation of Tom” is an interview with screenwriter, Tom Holland, who worked on the treatment for the film.

“Cracks in the Sisterhood” is a visual essay by film historian, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, which looks at the different representations of sisterhood in The Initiation of Sarah and how they mirror the feminist movement in the US (or the ideal, united sisterhood versus a sisterhood that’s fractured).

“The Intimations of Sarah” is a great interview with film critic, Samantha McLaren, who provides some background on TV movies, explores the Carrie comparisons, and digs into one of the most interesting aspects of the film (namely that the film isn’t that simplistic about which house is “good” and which house is “bad”).

Finally, author, Linda Hallam, provides an overview on sorority horror films, while film critic, Alexandra West, further dissects the differences between Carrie and The Initiation of Sarah.

The Initiation of Sarah is available on Blu-Ray starting June 20th from Arrow Films.

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