The Goodwin sisters, Patty, played by Morgan Brittany (Dallas), and Sarah portrayed by two time Emmy winner Kay Lenz (Midnight Caller), are headed off to their freshman year at Waltham College. Shortly after they arrive, the two begin to make the rounds, attending functions hosted by the various sororities. Their first stop is at ASN (Alpha Sigma Nu), the sorority their mother (Kathryn Grant) attended while at Waltham. Mrs. Goodwin has high hopes that the attractive, socially outgoing, Patty will get accepted to pledge. She doesn’t have the same sort of expectations for Sarah, who is more of an introvert. Sarah, herself, has confided in Patty, that she’s apprehensive about leaving home and going away to school, even though Patty attempts to assure her that everything will be fine.
The popular ASN sorority, as expected are very welcoming of Patty. This is particularly true of their sorority president, Jennifer, played by Golden Globe nominee Morgan Fairchild (Flamingo Road). Sarah meanwhile is largely ignored. Sensing that her sister is not having a good time, Patty leaves with Sarah, and they make their way to PED (Phi Epsilon Delta), or as ASN has unkindly dubbed them – pigs, elephants, and dogs. The girls at PED haven’t set up any sort of function in the way of attracting new pledges. Patty and Sarah do spend some time with the sisters of PED, and while Patty acts polite and interested, it is plain to see that this time, Sarah is more in her element.
When the sorority bids are announced, it comes as no surprise that Patty gets a bid to pledge ASN, and Sarah receives her lone bid from PED. Patty and Sarah originally made a pact to stay together during their college years, but once Patty is accepted to ASN, those plans quickly change. Instead of cowering in her room, afraid to face the world without Patty, Sarah makes friends. She beings to grow close with her fellow sorority sister, the violin playing Alberta (Tisa Farrow), whom everyone calls mouse, as well as Paul Yates, a teaching assistant in the psychology department, played by Oscar winner Tony Bill (The Sting).
Mrs. Hunter, the PED housemother, is portrayed by two time Oscar winner Shelley Winters (The Diary of Anne Frank). A former student, she now teaches at the college, and has a deep and abiding dislike for ASN. She also practices witchcraft, and is the holder of the only key to a mysterious room that is off limits to the girls. When Mrs. Hunter was a student at Waltham, PED was the most popular sorority, and ASN members were jealous of them. Mrs. Hunter states that information to Sarah one evening while they spend time talking. She also imparts to Sarah the fact that she knew Sarah’s father, who is deceased, when he was a student at Waltham.
Mrs. Hunter is aware that Sarah possesses special abilities, psychic and telekinetic powers to be exact; this is something the viewer will already be aware of from the opening scene of the movie. Sarah believes that Mrs. Hunter wants to help her to harness her powers so she can get the maximum effect out of them. Sarah, however, is not certain of what to make of her powers, or how she wants to use them; her struggle is evidenced by the type of conversations she has with Paul.
What finally pushes Sarah over the edge, is a cruel trick played out against her by the sorority sisters of ASN. Jennifer has her boyfriend Scott, a role acted by Robert Hays (Airplane), call Sarah on the phone and invite her out to a party. Sarah rejects the offer, until she learns that the party is a surprise birthday party for Paul, so she agrees to attend. Sarah buys a new dress, gets her hair and makeup done, and for the first time since arriving at Waltham has a good feeling about things. Once she steps outside, however, she is pelted with mud and tomatoes by Jennifer and the rest of the sorority sisters from ASN, who think the humiliation they are causing her, is the funniest thing they’ve ever done.
Will Sarah, guided by Mrs. Winters, give in to her dark urges? What kind of revenge will she extract against the sisters of ASN. Does she harm her own sister, Patty, who is pledging to become a member of ASN? Do the other sisters of PED perhaps also have powers? Has Mrs. Winters made it, through the use of her witchcraft, so that only girls with unique abilities are interested in joining PED? The answers to those questions, as well as a good deal more that I haven’t mentioned, will be revealed by the film’s conclusion.
“The Initiation of Sarah” was directed by Robert Day (The Bold Ones: The Senator). The teleplay was written by Don Ingalls (Star Trek), Carol Saraceno (The Streets of San Francisco), and Kenette Gfeller (Police Woman), based on a story written by Saraceno and Tom Holland (Fright Night). The movie originally aired on February 6, 1978 on ABC Television (American Broadcasting Company). The 96 minute television movie held my interest from start to finish, primarily because I took it for what it was. The movie is labeled as belonging to the genres of horror and thriller, however, the scares are kept to a minimum. The movie offers solid performances from its cast, especially Lenz, and an interesting story, enough so, that I wanted to know how things would be resolved in the end. As of the writing of this post the movie is available to be watched on Amazon Prime.