1981 – R – Troma
Starring Christopher George, Vanna White, Linnea Quigley – Directed by Herb Freed
School kids are going to be graduating and soon, the streets are going to be littered with over privileged kids who think they know it all because they maintained a C average in Psych, drinking and driving during the day, being loud and rude in public places and throwing their trash on the sidewalks. Ah yes, the bright, young future leaders of our businesses and country. In honor of this most joyous celebration (or second most dreaded time of the year, the first being Christmas), we’re gonna sit back with a Troma flick and watch these dunces get hacked and slashed in the appropriately titled Graduation Day. This of course was in the wake of the slasher boom since, hey, Friday the 13th was successful, so let’s just do that.
But does copying its neighbors test make it a passing grade?
It’s the end of the school year and track star Laura collapses and dies after crossing the finish line at the 100 meter race. A metaphor for racing to the finish line in life perhaps? Most likely not, it’s just something that happens in the movie. Coach George Michaels (played by genre favorite Christopher George) is blamed for causing her death from pushing her limits too far and also from being one letter away from having the same name as the guy who was in Wham. Plus, he’s kind of a tool, so that doesn’t help. Laura’s sister Anne comes home after hitching a ride from a sleazy truck driver, which I feel is a one sided representation of a truck driver. Until Big Trouble in Little China, truck drivers were always portrayed as fat, lazy and stupid sleaze balls. Anyway, as another member of the track team jogs through the shady woods near the school, someone with a stop watch and a pair of black leather gloves approaches from behind and slits her throat in under thirty seconds! That’s gotta be some kind of slasher movie record.
So where does Anne fit into all this? Well, she is here to honor her during graduation and accept her diploma and to thank Laura’s boyfriend, Kevin, for all his support. The two meet up later on (no, it’s not what you think, perv) at Kevin’s grandmother’s house, who spends her last few dragging minutes of life sitting in a rocking chair and staring into space while shouting for people to leave or get out. So, basically every old person ever. Anyway, Anne wanted to meet up with Kevin to give him Laura’s track medal, which I wouldn’t be surprised if he tries to pawn it for cigarette money.
Since this is a slasher in the early 80’s, we enter autopilot where no characters are really developed and only serve the purpose to add to the body count one at a time, as we watch the same set of gloved hands time his kills in under 30 seconds. Quick thought, Dead in 30 Seconds would make a great sequel to Gone in 60 Seconds, so someone get on that. What on Earth is he timing all these deaths for? Is there some sort of forum where he posts his time and competes? Actually, it does tie in with how Laura died and if you made that connection (as I’m sure most of you did during the first kill), you can already make a safe assumption about who the murderer is.
However, this doesn’t stop the film from trying to throw you off. For example, the principal of the school opens his desk to remove a switchblade to peel an apple (cause you know, just eating it regular would be weird…). We also see a stop watch in his desk, so if you didn’t have a brain, something along the lines of, “Duhhh, whaaa? Is he the killer?” may have popped into your skull, but anyone with the intelligence of more than a tangerine knows better.
*Editor’s note: I mean no offense to tangerines. I like tangerines. They are delicious.
So if you’ve been keep track of everything I told you, pretty much the remainder of the film is like a tame stag reel of random character deaths, which ordinarily isn’t exactly a bad thing. But believe it or not, this is where the movie really starts to feel like it’s dragging. Of all the scenes in a horror film, you should be excited to see characters get offed, but this is where Graduation Day really fails; none of these characters are truly developed. I’m not saying they have to have really emotional and in depth back stories, but ANY kind of character development would have helped to make their murders feel entertaining instead of random shots of people dying, which is truly surprising given that this movie has a fairly decent cast, which ultimately makes it feel like such a waste! Christopher George, Vanna freakin’ White and Linnea Quigley! Even when poor Linnea gets decapitated (surprisingly almost no blood for a decapitation, by the way) the only thing you know about her is that she is a promiscuous stoner. Which I’m sure may sound great to some of you after just reading that, but once you see the execution (both in character development and demise of), you’ll see what I mean.
By now you may have just realized that Anne hasn’t been in the film in quite some time and isn’t she the heroine of the story? Well just when you think that, Anne pays a visit to Coach Michaels and accuses him of murdering her sister to which he denies (I guess he gots to faith… ahem). We already knew this, but the film really wants to drill it into your head that he’s the killer, but since you’re smarter than that, you know it’s hogwash. So more scenes of randoms dying, mostly through virtually bloodless impalements, and the principal yelling at poor Vanna White for the flood of incoming calls about the school kids missing, which understandably brings in the local police. Not shockingly, the film really doesn’t do anything with this either. A detective shows up, states that they are all probably just out partying or running away with their ladies for the weekend. Really driving home the tired cliche of the uninterested local police force that doesn’t really do any police work. Normally this would be frustrating, but thankfully do to the film’s lack of character development, it’s easy not to care.
A few students find one of the victims stuffed inside a locker, which Coach Michaels (after having been fired) sees since he is nearby. Boy, they really want you to believe he is the killer. Gee, I guess he is and not who it obviously is… speaking of, Kevin is now locked in fistacuffs with Coach, blaming him for all the murders, but… yeah do I need to keep repeating myself? We know who the killer is, but regardless, the movie wants to drag out this false sense suspense for several more minutes as a chase ensues, resulting in Coach Michael’s being gunned down by the cops, leaving Anne to enter the movie once again just as you are thinking, “where the hell is she?”
So the murderer is dead and everyone can move on, right? Well in such a shocking twist, Anne pays a visit once again to Kevin to see how he is holding up, discovering Laura’s corpse in his room, which could only mean… he is the killer!? Duh, whaaaa?!?! Yeah you saw it coming since he stepped foot into frame. So once again, we partake in another chase scene, leaving you feeling like some exhausted dog; Go fetch the ball, bring it back… but to save us some time, Anne gets the upperhand after a struggle, kicking Kevin onto a giant board of huge nails. You know, even if someone wasn’t killing all the students, I’m sure they would have died anyway, since this school has walls of nails sticking out. And parents think their kids will get hurt playing touch football.
At the end of the day and as much as I hate saying things like this, Graduation Day is nothing more than a Friday the 13th clone and a boring one at that. It feels like something of a cash-in, riding on the coattails of more successful slasher flicks during the boom, than it feels like it actually tried to be something. All of the characters are very one dimensional, the film doesn’t exactly try to play it like the straight man horror film (like Halloween) or even take a chance to let the audience know it’s self aware and spoof the genre. This makes Graduation Day void of (almost) any humor or genuine tense or scary moments. You would think that something following a pretty simple formula would have been successful and make an moderately enjoyable film, but it seems to fall flat in those examples. It’s not that the film itself is confused in which direction it should take the tone or appears to be confused on what it wants to be. It will leave you, for lack of a better word, bored.
Given the material presented in the movie and being an 80’s slasher, it’s not fun… not even cheesy fun, like something such as Blood Hook or Unhinged. Between the darkness of the film and the headache inducing score makes this one ugly film. It’s hard to believe Troma would later stamp their name on it, seeing as it lacks any elements they are known for. Still, it’s not entirely dreadful, nor is it the worst example of a slasher film. It’s just there, it exists and nothing it presented can save it or make it enjoyable. Not even when Linnea Quigley bears her top. And it takes some sort of bizarro talent to make that not worth the time invested in this film. You’re better of skipping school to avoid this.
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