Last year, I wrote about Kino Lorber’s release of The Victim, a 1970s made-for-TV movie given new life via boutique home-video release. The whole phenomenon of TV movies took off during the late 1960s into the early 1970s before blockbusters lured audiences back to the silver screen. There are definitely hidden gems, but by and large, these films were produced fast, cheap, and with an eye toward familiar themes and tropes to rope audiences in on a Sunday night. Witnessing the current glut of them filling out release schedules for top-of-the-line labels like Kino and Arrow, complete with special features and beautiful new box art, never ceases to make me laugh. Are these films really worth restoration alongside the likes of, say, True Romance (also out from Arrow this month)?
I mean, no. Not really. The Initiation of Sarah is a riff on the “troubled woman with powers” archetype made popular at the time by Carrie, replete with mean girls, abusive mothers and ruined dresses. Its production values are cheap, its pacing languid, its pleasures largely visual. Sarah (Kay Lenz) and her sister, Patty (Morgan Brittany), are both entering college and want to pledge the fanciest sorority. Sarah is shy, nerdy and adopted; their mother obviously prefers the gorgeous Patty and encourages her biological daughter to abandon her “lesser” child if the sorority calls for it. Sure enough, Patty is brought in while Sarah is shunted off to a smaller house for geeks. What nobody understands, not even Sarah, is that she has telekinetic powers that manifest in times of extreme stress. Unfortunately for queen bee Jennifer Lawrence (Morgan Fairchild), that makes Sarah a bad target for bullying … a lesson learned too late.
The story hits every necessary beat and not much more. It’s a curiosity, but not much more than that.
Here’s what makes it most curious for those interested: The film was directed by Robert Day, whose Hammer film She remains in regard as one of that studio’s best. It stars Shelley Winters, of The Night of the Hunter. The script was written by Tom Holland, writer of Fright Night, with cinematography by Ric Waite, who also shot 48 Hrs., Red Dawn and The Long Riders. There’s talent here, working their rates to make a disposal movie for an era when these sorts of projects weren’t destined for deluxe packaging.
It’s a minor film, a paycheck gig for names who would go on to make themselves known for better work. There’s nothing inherently bad about Sarah. It’s just entirely unexceptional, outside of being a basically watchable TV movie.
Special features include a brand-new audio commentary by TV movie expert Amanda Reyes, a brand-new appreciation by film critics Stacie Ponder and Anthony Hudson (from the Gaylords of Darkness podcast), a brand-new visual essay by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, and a new interview with Holland about writing the script. The first pressing also includes a collector’s booklet with new writing by Lindsay Hallam and Alexandra West.
For what it’s worth, The Initiation of Sarah‘s special features were more fascinating than the film itself, particularly Ponder and Hudson’s appreciation providing a new lens for understanding the film.