The Initiation of Sarah | The 1978 TV tale of telekinetic terror makes its restored Blu-ray debut
WELCOME TO HELL WEEK!
Shy teen Sarah Goodwin (Kay Lenz) secretly harbours psychic powers which she cannot fully control. When she and her sister Patty (Morgan Brittany) arrive at the prestigious Waltham College, their mother’s plans to have them both join her old sorority, Alpha Nu Sigma (ΑΝΣ), are scuttled by its snooty Queen Bee president, Jennifer Lawrence (Morgan Fairchild), who chooses Patty over Sarah.
Separated from her sister, Sarah is taken in by a rival sorority, Phi Epsilon Delta (ΦΕΔ AKA Pigs, Elephants and Dogs), which is made up of a group of independently-minded misfits. But Sarah soon becomes embroiled in a bizarre revenge plot masterminded by her satanic house mother, Mrs Erica Hunter (Shelley Winters).
Helmed by veteran British director Robert Day (The Haunted Strangler, First Man into Space, She) from a treatment written by Tom Holland (making his debut here), The Initiation of Sarah was part of a wave of made-for-TV horror movies that were shown on the US ABC network in the 1970s. This one aired on 6 February 1978, so was a late entry in what had started out as the ABC Movie of the Week in 1969, and which gave us such delights as Duel (1971), The Night Stalker (1972), Satan’s School for Girls (1973), Trilogy of Terror (1975), and so much more.
Growing up in this decade, I was lucky enough to have caught these – and they certainly fuelled my appetite for all things creepy, weird, and occasionally taboo. I have a lot of love for The Initiation of Sarah and am so pleased it’s been given a new lease of life on Blu-ray (and restored in all its kitsch 70s pastel glory). Yes, it does bare quite a few similarities to Carrie (most notably the shower scene, Jennifer’s cruel prank and the fiery climax), but it’s the cast that really sells it for me.
First and foremost, Shelley Winters! What can I say! She commands every scene she’s in as the mysterious Mrs Hunter, who starts out all nice and cuddly before revealing her evil true colours (in a flaming red robe, no less). And when she does, she certainly lets loose – very much like her wicked witch character in 1972’s Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (who also – SPOILER – goes up in flames).
Then there are two future US soap legends, Morgan Brittany and Morgan Fairchild, a fit-looking Robert Hays (just before his Flying High fame) – he effectively plays a character similar to John Travolta in Carrie – and Tisa Farrow (long before her Euro-horror turns) as Mouse, a withdrawn music student who is infatuated with Sarah.
When I first saw this on Australian TV in the 1980s, I knew there was something going on under the surface of Mouse’s attraction to Sarah (just check out those lingering looks between them). And thanks to the extras on the Arrow release, the queer connection is deffo playing out. Indeed, listening to the comments by the Gaylords of Darkness podcasters (who are a hoot) and Samantha McLaren (sporting fantastic batwing glasses) you’ll garner a new appreciation of the film from a queer perspective.
And if you count in Amanda Reyes’ commentary and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas’ feminist analysis – there’s a lot more to The Initiation of Sarah than just being a small screen Carrie rip-off. It’s all about sisters doin’ it for themselves!
Mind you, Tom Holland’s original idea was to have Sarah turn her victims into animals. Now, if only the terrible 2006 remake had gone down that dark path instead of the teen friend one?
On a trivia note, star Kay Lenz had been one year married to singer David Cassidy at the time (they divorced in 1983), while playing her ‘bitchy’ adopted mum was Kathryn Crosby (AKA Mrs Bing Crosby). Now, wouldn’t it have been cool if David and Bing had been asked to do a song together for the film? It certainly would have been way better than the annoying theme tune by the legendary Scottish composer Johnny Harris, who worked with the likes of Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones and scored the terrific jazz-fuelled Fragments of Fear (sorry Johnny).
The Arrow Video Blu-ray is out on 20 June 2022
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative by Arrow Films
• High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
• Original lossless mono audio
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Brand new audio commentary by TV Movie expert Amanda Reyes
• Welcome to Hell Week: A Pledge’s Guide to the Initiation of Sarah, visual appreciation by Stacie Ponder and Anthony Hudson, co-hosts of the Gaylords of Darkness podcast
• Cracks in the Sisterhood: Second Wave Feminism and The Initiation of Sarah, a visual essay by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
• The Intimations of Sarah, interview with film critic Samantha McLaren looking at witchcraft, empowerment, TV movies, and telekinetic shy girls post-Carrie
• The Initiation of Tom, a new interview with Tom Holland
• Image gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Luke Insect
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Lindsay Hallam and Alexandra West
The Brotherhood of Satan | The 1971 horror is devilishly good fun
Sam Peckinpah favourites Strother Martin and LQ Jones take the lead in the 1971 American indie horror The Brotherhood of Satan, which is now out on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
After witnessing a gruesome traffic accident, widower Ben (Charles Bateman), his girlfriend Nicky (Ahna Capri) and daughter KT (Geri Reischl) find themselves unable to leave the southwest desert town of Hillsboro, where scores of families have been slaughtered and their children have mysteriously disappeared.
As the sheriff (Jones) and his deputy (Alvy Moore) try to make sense of the situation, the local priest (Charles Robinson) suspects a supernatural force is at work. The town’s physician Doc Duncan (Martin), meanwhile, is hiding a diabolical secret – he’s the head of a satanic cult whose elderly members are planning on transferring their souls into the bodies of the kids.
Filmed (in Albuquerque, New Mexico) in 1969, but not released until 1971 (through Columbia Pictures), The Brotherhood of Satan belongs in the top tier of the satantic panic movies of the 1970s – alongside my personal favourites Race With the Devil and The Devil’s Rain. Originally titled, ‘Come In, Children‘ it was produced by best buddies LQ Jones (who also wrote the script) and Alvy Moore (who is best known for his comic turn as Hank Kimball in TV’s Green Acres), and directed by Bernard McEveety (who did loads of TV shows like The Fall Guy and Charlie’s Angels).
The film certainly wears its indie credentials on its sleeve as Jones goes down the arthouse route with the film’s visuals and pacing; while also giving his actors loads of room to invest in their respective roles – just like John Carpenter would do in 1976’s Assault on Precinct 13.
Everyone is brilliant here, particularly so Reischl, who would find fame (and infamy) taking over from Eve Plumb as Jan Brady in The Brady Bunch Variety Hour (1976-1977). Martin also shows much light and shade with his duplicitous character, before launching into full-blown scenery-chewing in the climax; while the facial contortions of Helene Winston’s doomed witch Dame Alice will haunt you forever.
Jones and Co also seem to be paying homage to Roger Corman and his 1960s Poe films with one effective dream sequence (that uses distorted lens and colours) and with the design of the film’s set-piece – the coven’s lair featuring an enormous spider web and the kids displayed like mannequins on pedestals. It’s terrific, if incongruous to the film’s dusty desert setting and looks like a rock concert stage creation by way of Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare. But then, the reason why it does look so out of place does become evident in the closing scenes. Interestingly, director Peter Sasdy’s Nothing But the Night, starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, shares a similar pay-off.
This is a super release from Arrow, with some excellent extras – especially the interview with Alvy Moore’s daughter, Alyson. Although it would have been great to hear from LQ Jones, too.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original uncompressed mono audio
• Optional English subtitles
• Audio commentary by writers Kim Newman and Sean Hogan
• Satanic Panic: How the 1970s Conjured the Brotherhood of Satan, a visual essay by David Flint
• The Children of Satan: interview with actors Jonathan Erickson Eisley and Alyson Moore
• Original Trailers and TV and Radio Spots
• Image Gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Richard Wells
• Booklet featuring new writing by Johnny Mains and Brad Stevens.
The Lords of Salem (2012) | His satanic majesty Rob Zombie spawns a trippy nightmare journey into pure evil
In 1692 Salem, as her coven of witches are put to death by judge John Nathaniel Hawthorne for creating satanic music, Margaret Morgan curses the judge’s female bloodline, promising that Satan will be spawned…
In the present day, Hawthorne’s descendant Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie) is living in a Salem boarding house run by overly protective landlady Lacy (Judy Geeson) and working on a late night show at a local radio station.
When Heidi listens to a record by a band calling themselves The Lords, she awakens Morgan’s spirit and triggers the curse. With the gates of Hell now opening up in room number 5 of her boarding house, it looks like Heidi is destined to bear Satan’s child…
Heavy metal icon and Halloween rebooter Rob Zombie gleefully sticks two blood stained fingers at Christianity with this trippy nightmare journey into pure evil. Taking its cue from 1970s devil worshipping films like Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and Michael Winner’s The Sentinel, Zombie has fashioned a supremely intelligent satanic shocker that certainly doesn’t hold back on its blasphemous intent.
Metal fans expecting a Zombie-inspired feature-length music video will be disappointed as the director saves his trademark stage show visuals for the film’s climax. However, The Lords of Salem is a very visual experience.
From the décor of Heidi’s bedroom (adorned with giant murals from George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon – an obvious visual joke) and the 1970s flock wallpaper in a corridor of the boarding house that leads to the dreaded room No 5, to the film’s big set piece – an ornate staircase where Heidi meets Satan (inspired by the masque ball sequence in 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera), Zombie lets his fevered imagination take full flight, with a host of visual film references guaranteed to put a smile on the faces of classic horror buffs.
For example, Mario Bava’s Black Sunday is paid homage to during the burning of the witch Morgan, while Brian de Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise is alluded to in the film’s theatrical climax.
Zombie also brings together veteran British actress Judy Geeson, Rocky Horror Picture Show’s Patricia Quinn and The Howling’s Dee Wallace as the satanic midwives put in charge of Heidi’s care. The presence of this unholy trinity got this fan boy excited, and they certainly do bring class and kudos to the proceedings, plus they help to paint over some of the cracks in Zombie’s dark canvas (like the naff Chewbacca-looking monsters in room no 5).
The Lords of Salem is worth repeat viewings just to get all the visual cues – if you are a horror fan. But Rob Zombie films are like Marmite (just look at his latest, 31). Luckily, I love the stuff. But you might have to make up your own mind on this one.
Devil’s Due (2013) | Honeymooners bring back a satanic souvenir in a derivative found footage horror
The horror chiller Devil’s Due debuts on Sky Premiere at 8pm tonight. Catch it on Sky 301/314, Virgin 401/431.
After a drunken night on their honeymoon in the Dominic Republic, Zach (Zach Gilford) and Samantha (Allison Miller) are forced to deal with an unplanned pregnancy on their return home. While recording everything for his unborn child, Zach becomes troubled by his wife’s increasing erratic behaviour. But as the due date gets closer and sinister forces begin to converge, it becomes chillingly evident that the child Sam is carrying is in fact the next antichrist.
This horror hokum by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, two members of the collective Radio Silence (V/H/S and V/H/S 2), is essentially Rosemary’s Baby meets Paranormal Activity by way of a dozen other horror classics.
It must be hard for filmmakers to try and come up with inventive ways of segueing the found footage formula into their narrative. Here’s it’s made up of video diaries, home movies and CCTV footage. But it looks laboured here (pardon the pun) and lacks logic (why are there so many cameras monitoring the couple’s home, who edited all this together, and where did Zach buy that seemingly indestructible movie camera?). It also makes Zach, who’s obsessively filming everything, come off as a right dick. Mind you, both of them are pretty unlikeable from the outset – she’s a health nut airhead and he’s just plain annoying. So when their cosy suburban world collapses around them, its kind of fun to watch them squirm.
Horror fans will breathe a heavy sigh at all the classic shockers this stillborn horror rips off: The opening of Halloween is replicated shot for shot; the crib from Rosemary’s Baby is there, so is Dr Saperstein (aka Dr Dylan) and the scene where Rosemary eats raw meat. Then there’s the priest coughing up blood and the faceless satanic worshippers monitoring the house (aka The Omen and The Amityville Horror) and lots of night vision (Blair Witch of course). The list goes on. The filmmakers also miss an opportunity of delving into the mysterious cartel of demon baby-makers, who are kept in the shadows throughout the film.
But as ill conceived as it is, Devil’s Due does manage a couple of effective scares, something the dullard Delivery never manages from the outset (check out my review here). These include some teens getting thrown sky high when they interrupt Sam feasting on a deer in the woods, Sam going bonkers in the nursery scratching satanic symbols on the floor, and the labour scene.
Devil’s Due is available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD in the UK through Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, and includes as extras, deleted scenes, viral videos and some Radio Silence shorts.