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TV Terror Guide: The Initiation of Sarah (1978)


The Initiation of Sarah (1978) is such a blatant rip-off of Carrie (1976) that the few original ideas it threatens to offer are forgotten or overshadowed by familiar characters and plot points. Even if you haven’t seen Brian DePalma’s masterpiece from two years earlier, or read Stephen King’s novel, chances are you know the beats of the story.

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Sarah Goodwin (Kay Lenz) goes off to Waltham College with her sister, Patty (Morgan Brittany.) While Patty is wooed by the mean girls of Alpha Nu Sigma, the only sorority that will pledge Sarah is Phi Epsilon Delta, or PED (Pigs, Elephants & Dogs.) Jennifer Lawrence (Morgan Fairchild) bears a historical grudge against the other house and focuses her cruelty on Sarah, driving a wedge between the two sisters.

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Sarah, of course, equals Carrie White (Sissy Spacek.) Her telekinetic powers explode when she gets angry, and she can’t control them. The camera jerkily zooms into her face at different angles three times and then mirrors break. She rightfully gets mad when she’s bombarded with mud (and possibly feces) thrown at her on the way to a big party. At first, she stands in a trance, then walks slowly inside the house, her eyes peering from a face covered with dripping brown goo.

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Jennifer equals Chris Hargenson (Nancy Allen), coaxing her dumb but hunky boyfriend, Scott Rafferty (Robert Hays), who equals Billy Nolan (John Travolta), into arranging the prank, which inevitably goes wrong. Patty equals Sue Snell (Amy Irving), acting somewhat complicit, yet feeling guilty about it and trying to do the right thing. She tells her sister nothing will tear them apart, but little balloons filled with mud and/or feces, might prove her wrong.

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Teacher’s aide Paul Yates (Tony Bill) equals Tommy Ross (William Katt), the good guy who wants to help, but becomes the person around which the big prank revolves. He doesn’t invite her to the prom, but his is the birthday party Sarah is invited to attend (even though it’s not really his birthday.)

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Finally, we all know who’s missing: Margaret White (Piper Laurie), Carrie’s wacky mother. She’s represented by PED housemother Erica Hunter (Shelley Winters.) It’s hinted in one scene that she may actually be Sarah’s mother, but instead she’s the authority figure who focuses her zealotry on Satan worship instead of God worship.

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It’s unclear, but the sacrifice she demands on initiation night may be the reason for the two sororities’ feud. Someone died mysteriously in the 1950s when she was a member of PED. Instead of moaning that they’re all going to laugh at Carrie, she yells at Sarah to get angry and destroy Jennifer. Instead of mass destruction, though, Sarah creates a little wind at Alpha Nu Sigma’s initiation ceremony and snaps to her senses to instead create a conflagration for PED.

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Credit any positive remarks regarding The Initiation of Sarah to nostalgia. There are quite a few familiar faces that all look so young. Besides the ones mentioned, there’s also Tisa Farrow, Mia’s sister and the future star of Zombie a year later. Some of them would very soon go on to bigger and better things: Robert Hays would star in Airplane (1980), Tony Bill would direct My Bodyguard (1980), and Morgan Fairchild… wait a minute. Why is Morgan Fairchild famous?

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It took three writers to make sure nothing from Carrie was overlooked, but it saddens me that Tom Holland (Fright Night, Child’s Play) is credited for the story. Director Robert Day had done better with one of the first films in this series, Ritual of Evil (1970.) The Initiation of Sarah is harmless. It’s just unoriginal. Considering many other TV movies borrowed from theatrical successes, I guess this shouldn't be a reason to criticize it.

Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch The Initiation of Sarah as well as all the great movies from this series.

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