At some sort of athletics event at Midvale High School, a young woman, Laura, collapses at the end of the running race after seemingly pushing herself too hard. Not long after her older sister, Anne, (on compassionate leave from the military) arrives in town to find out what happened and to pick up her sister’s graduation certificate since her stepfather, Ronald, seems too drunk and abusive to leave the house and her mother is too much under his thumb to attend either.
Meanwhile a killer stalks the grounds of the school and its environs, bumping off fellow students in a relatively bloodless fashion, all within a certain time limit that the killer monitors on their stopwatch; crossing each kill off one by one on an old athletics photo with a red marker pen. We are then introduced to a few characters who could all be the killer, including the grouchy and overly pushy athletics coach, played by the ever reliable Christopher George who seemed to be in loads of these kinds of films during the late 70s and early 80s.
It all comes to a fairly predictable head when Anne finally learns who the killer is, but will she survive to fight again for her country?
Most horror fans watch ‘slasher’ films for two reasons – firstly to see some inventive kills and secondly to catch a glimpse of some quality T & A. Sadly, there’s not a lot on offer of either of those factors in Graduation Day, but it is still fairly entertaining in a daft, undemanding way.
The kills, although relatively bloodless, are still mildly diverting, in a routine kind of way, with one girl being impaled through the neck with an epee blade, another guy getting decapitated on the college campus and a pole-vaulter ending up impaled onto spikes when his crash mat turns out to be draped over a hole of upturned spikes.
On the tits and ass front good old Linnea Quigley takes her top off in order to seduce a school teacher to try and ensure that her grades are good, and this being the eighties, it works – well until the teacher turns up dead!
A couple of things make Graduation Day stand out from many other ‘slashers’ of the same time period: firstly the heroine, Anne, has a military background, which means she can actually fight (not particularly well, but she still manages to plant a couple of kicks on the crazy killer) and secondly the production values are generally pretty decent, with good picture quality, reasonable direction and a memorable film score by Arthur Kemp.
Sadly the film also tends to drag a bit, especially during the first half, where the pacing is all over the shop. There’s also what seems to be a bit of camera noise on the soundtrack from time to time, which can be a little distracting if your ears pick it up!
There are also too many false scares, which tends to grate after a while, and the killer is pretty dull; generally just going around in a fencing mask and stabbing people with a fencing blade – later borrowed by Urban Legend 2.
I think my favourite scene in the film is the strangely engrossing juxtaposition of a band, Felony, playing pretty much the whole of their catchy song, with the stalking and killing of a young couple, including good old Linnea. This is shot almost like a bad music video and I can only think that the band must have been mates with Herb Freed, the director, for them to be allowed so much screen time!
All in all Graduation Day is a fun, but pretty mild ‘slasher film’, the type they just don’t make these days, which is kind of a shame…
(plus an extra half star if you really like ‘Slasher’ films)
Graduation Day was recently released on DVD and Blu-ray by 88 Films as part of their ‘Slasher Collection’. The Blu-ray disc includes a ‘Full Moon Trailer Park’ section, which features trailers for the likes of Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-rama; Puppet Master I & II; Tourist Trap; and Castle Freak.
Also in the special features section is a cool trailer for Graduation Day itself; an interview with Slasher expert Justin Kerswell (9.5 mins) where he talks about this indie film; an interview with Linnea Quigley, where she talks about literally throwing up after her death scene; a ‘Tromatic Filmmaking Classroom’ where we’re shown how to do the sfx for an arm rip gore gag, Troma style; an introduction by Lloyd Kaufman (head of Troma) who distributed the film; the ‘Cannibal Lesbian Hoedown’ Troma music video, that features lots of T & A; and a documentary film, Horror Heroines Exposed (77 mins) which features lots of talking heads of various actreses who have been daubed as Scream Queens talking about how the moniker has affected their working and personal lives. This was actually quite an interesting documentary, although quite cheap-looking.