Written by: Anne Marisse, David Baughn, and Herb Freed
Directed by: Herb Freed
Starring: Christopher George, Patch Mackenzie, and Linnea Quigley
Reviewed by: Brett G.
“Ah, fuckin' graduation day. They make a big deal out of it, like it was somethin' special or somethin'.”
In the 80s, it seems like any sort of holiday or landmark day became hazardous to your health if you were a teenager or young adult. Everything from your Bloody Birthday to April Fool’s Day soon became populated with nubile, sometimes-naked girls (now that doesn’t sound bad) and knife-wielding psychopaths (there’s always a catch!). Given the debauchery surrounding graduation, it was only a matter of time until some maniac decided to confer hatchets to the head rather than degrees. Director Herb Freed is your master of ceremonies for this bloody Graduation Day, and the commencement exercises include rocking tunes, bouncing breasts, and plenty of slashing.
We actually begin a few weeks before graduation, where Midville High track star Laura Ramstead tragically collapses and dies after winning a race. Her sister Anne returns home from her tour in the Navy, and suddenly other members of the track team begin to get hacked up by some unseen psycho. Is Anne behind the slashing, or is it one of the other half-dozen suspects the film throws your way? And, more importantly, will there be anyone left to walk across the stage on graduation night?
A gloriously 80s piece of crap, Graduation Day reveals the swift rapidity with which the slasher genre settled into its clichés. It was released only one year after the slasher cycle began in earnest, but this one has everything that would soon populate video shelves for the next decade: poor acting, a thin plot, bland direction, gratuitous violence and nudity, and goofball antics. In other words, if you love 80s slashers, you will probably find something to like here. You’ll probably especially like a sequence set in a skating rink that’s a veritable orgasm of 80s sights and sounds. Speaking of sounds, this slasher gives you not one, not two, but three really cheesy tunes that will have you nodding your head. One of those songs, “Graduation Day Blues,” is aptly-titled because that’s probably what you’ll feel for a lot of the running time here.
Sure, it’s a slasher and you should have low expectations, but this one is especially bad at times. Let’s just say that the violence and nudity aren’t the only thing that are gratuitous here, as there’s also plenty of track and gymnastics footage to pad out the run-time. Our main character also drops out for a long time, no doubt to make her a plausible suspect; it also makes her pretty uninteresting. In the meantime, we spend time with a bunch of knife fodder; two of these characters are interesting only because of who is playing them. One is Linnea Quigley, who, as usual gets more screen-time than her clothes; the other is Vanna White, who would get a gig turning letters on Wheel of Fortune a year later. Let’s just say her outing here shows why she’s still turning those letters 30 years later.
One thing that sticks out about the characters here is just how sleazy so many of them are. Later slashers especially would amp up the amount of obnoxious characters who would eventually be offed in the most outrageous fashion; Graduation Day features an abundance of these types. There’s the track coach (Christopher George) who works his kids to death (literally, perhaps), the clueless school principal who can’t fathom why parents would be upset about their kids disappearing, a teacher who trades sex for a passing grade, and Anne’s boozing, belligerent stepfather. It’s a veritable hall of fame of jackasses. But with most body count films, we’re more concerned with how the cast dies rather than how they live. They’re skewered, stabbed, and impaled with effects that are bloody and crude, just as they usually are in these films. It can boast at least two memorable sequences--one involving a football and another with a pole vaulter who clears the bar but is brought down to earth in vicious (and nonsensical) fashion.
There are plenty of red herrings thrown in along the way, but in typical slasher fashion, the ultimate reveal shows up out of nowhere and would be hard to guess. At least the culprit does keep the kills coming quickly and often enough to keep us (barely) interested until the end. Plus, it’s not like the film is really earnest about playing it straight--this is an early example of an unabashed slasher that knows it’s a cheap gorefest and nothing more. The fact that Troma released the film on DVD should give you more indication of the film’s quality (or lack thereof); the disc itself is fine--the transfer is full frame but still looks better than your old VHS copy. The mono sound is also good enough and does all of those rocking tunes justice. Special features include an introduction from Lloyd Kaufman, an interview with Quigley, and some trailers for other Troma releases. Your own graduation day probably wasn’t this painful, and hopefully it wasn’t as tedious either. The senior class at Midville High might have passed their final exam, but their Graduation Day sure isn’t full of much pomp and circumstance. Rent it!
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