Monday, February 8, 2016

The Hazing (1977)

          A peculiar film that fuses elements of adolescent angst, black comedy, melodrama, and outright horror, The Hazing uses a fictional story to illustrate the dangers of frat boys terrorizing pledges. (Fraternity Row, a more serious film about the same subject, also came out in 1977.) In The Hazing, a naïve young athlete arrives at college and receives an invitation to join a fraternity, as does a nerdy egghead. As part of their initiation, the athlete and the egghead are driven to a forest atop a mountain, forced to strip down to jockstraps, and told to make their way down the mountain on foot or risk ejection from the frat. Yet partway through the journey, the egghead suffers an immobilizing injury, so the athlete runs for help. Upon returning to the scene, the athlete—accompanied by several fraternity brothers—discovers that the egghead died from exposure. The frat boys then persuade the athlete to help them cover up the death until they can fabricate evidence suggesting the egghead died in a skiing accident, thus absolving the fraternity of responsibility.
          This is a wild plot, and the filmmakers keep an interesting narrative ace up their collective sleeve, but of course the whole story is predicated on the athlete’s babe-in-the-woods demeanor. Does this work? Sort of. Star Jeff East, whose face will be familiar to ’70s-movie fans because he played teen Clark Kent in Superman (1978), conveys the requisite degree of provincial wonderment. Costar Charles Martin Smith effortlessly out-acts East while portraying the egghead, but that suits the story’s requirements; similarly, the various dudes playing fraternity brothers seem appropriately craven and entitled.
          Yet for all its craftiness (a twist ending awaits), The Hazing feels a bit like the filmmakers made up what they were doing as they went along. The characterizations are thin, the situations are obvious, and the plot mechanics are laborious. Therefore, by the time the all-important climax arrives, very little credibility has been developed, robbing the finale of its intended power. And whenever the movie detours, things get very awkward; the lovey-dovey romantic montage involving the athlete and his best gal feels wrong seeing as how it occurs at the point in the story when the athlete is helping to cover up something akin to a murder. Demonstrating that distributors didn’t know what to do with this picture any more than the filmmakers did, The Hazing was reissued as The Curious Case of the Campus Corpse, and the movie was exhibited both theatrically and on television. By any name, it’s an oddity. 

The Hazing: FUNKY

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