‘Trust me, if you’re a goat or a virgin, I’d avoid that side of campus altogether.’
A lot of 1970s TV movies have lodged in the collective memory, turning up over and over in the ‘what was the one where … ?’ file, and thus quite a few key titles have gone the remake route. This follows a similar redux of Satan’s School for Girls, which was easy to mix up with the 1978 Initiation of Sarah — for the uninitiated, School was a Rosemary’s Baby riff, but Sarah draws from Carrie. In an ‘eighteen years ago’ prologue, cute blonde high priestess Corinne (JoAnne Garcia), surrounded by the usual robed chanting acolytes, is on the point of sacrificing a fellow sister on the eternally flaming altar in the Alpha Gamma Nu basement. The fact Corinne can’t slice her open with a magic knife alerts her to the fact that they’ve got the wrong sister stretched out. Some magic knife, by the way: this will only stab ‘the One’, unless the chosen’s blood is on it, in which case it’ll stab anyone.
In the present day, wealthy alumna Trina Goodwin (Morgan Fairchild, who was in the original) drops off her non-identical twin daughters Sarah (dimpled Mika Boorem) and Lindsey (bulb-foreheaded Summer Glau) at Temple Hill college, strongly suggesting they pledge her old sorority, where ageless Corinne is still queen bitch sorceress. Sarah wears wrist-bangles to cover the scars from suicide attempts she doesn’t remember and has incipient telekinetic powers while Lindsey slightly resents having been a geek-by-association all through high school and wants to be pretty and popular now she’s in college. Since Sarah seems liable to be ‘the One’ needed for the sacrifice at the end of Hell Week, Corinne wants to recruit her to Alpha Gamma Nu. She’s also approached by Dr Eugenia Hunter (Jennifer Tilly, who must be delighted to inherit a Shelley Winters role), den mother of Pi Epsilon Delta, a sorority of sneaky but more benevolent witches. She wants Sarah – and mind-reader Vita (Amber Wallace) – in her house, and isn’t above some unethical deceptions to win her over to the cause. Dr Hunter hopes to tutor Sarah in using the magic powers she’d like to get rid of (another hard thing to believe – seriously, any teenage girl who could telekinetically shove the local bitch into mud would hardly be looking for a cure).
It’s a female-dominated tale, with only clueless virgin Finn (Ben Ziff, a Keith Gordon lookalike) mixed up in the complex but frankly predictable tale (Spoilers: Trina isn’t the girls’ real Mom but a scheming witch, Lindsey turns out to be the actual ‘the One’). There are a couple of witty ideas, including Sarah sneaking out to have sex with Finn near the climax just so he won’t be in dnager of becoming the backup sacrifice and Tilly’s good witch. It’s trashily watchable eye candy and the young cast are mostly fun to be around – while Tilly and Fairchild go for cougarish diva acts – but suffers from thumpingly dumb moments like Corinne making the mistake of telling the silly Lindsey that all she has to do is slice open her own hand to turn the knife she’s holding into a weapon which can kill the villain. Sarah is slapped with several rock-your-world revelations (not only is her mother not her mother but she’s been draining her blood for magic potions while letting her think she’s a cutting nutcase) but barely reacts to, much less is upset by. She isn’t even put out much to learn that the frankly infuriating Lindsey has only apologised and plead for help to lure her to the altar because sororicide is part of her popularity make-over.
Weird touch: T-Rex’s ‘Children of the Revolution’ plays as the newly witched-up Sarah and her cloaked posse stride across campus, going nowhere in particular but looking reasonably cool. In an open ending, the number two villain (Tessa Thompson) walks off with an ember from the just-extinguished eternal flame as Sarah intones the familiar line ‘it’s just the beginning’, suggesting someone had hopes of a series. Of course, the Buffy/Charmed/Craft approach – twentysomethings in fetish coed outfits, snarky dialogue (‘without my so-called powers, their pit-of-eternal badness will just go out’), slick but cheap effects and avoidance of anything actually creepy — makes for a less memorable experience than that off-kilter vibe the 1978 version managed simply by casting weird waifs like Kay Lenz and Tisa Farrow. Written by Daniel Berendsen, from the old script by Don Ingalls, Carol Saraceno and Kenette Gfeller from a story by Saraceno and Tom Holland. Directed by Stuart Gillard, who made one of those Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sequels and a bunch of Canadian TV things.