Graduation Day Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Vinegar Syndrome
Directed by Herb Freed
Written by Anne Marisse and Herb Freed
1981, Region A, 96 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on September 9th, 2014
Christopher George as Coach George Michaels
Patch Mackenzie as Anne Ramstead
E. Danny Murphy as Kevin
Linnea Quigley as Dolores
Vanna White as Doris
Michael Pataki as Principal Guglione
Richard Balin as Mr. Roberts
Carmen Argenziano as Inspector Halliday
A few months ago, triumph turned to tragedy in a matter of seconds when high school track star Laura Ramstead collapsed immediately after winning her race. Now, several months after her death, on the eve of the graduation ceremony, someone is stalking and killing her fellow members of the track team. Who could be responsible for the crimes? Is it her overbearing coach George Michaels, or possibly her angry sister Anne? Could it be her sensitive boyfriend Kevin, or maybe Principal Guglione, the man who hates students? It might be Blondie, the put-upon secretary, or even Laura's antagonistic stepfather.
Honestly, it could be any one of these people because every adult in this film acts strangely for no real reason other than increasing the number of suspects. Anne is in the military and has returned from Guam to get answers about her sister's death, but once the murders begin she is nowhere to be seen. The same can be said of ever sour George Michaels, who is facing early retirement and holds some sort of grudge against his team. Once enough students are missing, the police are called in and Inspector Halliday arrives on the scene, but he is as worthless as the town sheriff, the only other law enforcement figure on site.
Graduation Day came relatively early in the slasher cycle of the early 1980s, but director Herb Freed (Haunts) managed to force every shoddy clichѐ imaginable into the film without a second thought. He co-wrote the script with his wife Anne Marisse, and if there is ever a moment when confusion or suspicion could be eliminated with simple dialogue, the characters run in the opposite direction, even if that makes them appear more guilty. Everyone's bizarre behavior adds to the fun of the picture, but I have no idea how this community could exist in a real-world scenario. While slasher flicks are not typically known for their cinematic merits, the kills are usually a high point and unfortunately the deaths offered here range from lame to ludicrous with the silliest involving a football/sword impaling a player. Fans searching for an athletics-based horror film would do better checking out Fatal Games (1984).
Despite a weak script and shoddy direction, the cast does the best they can with the material and some are more successful than others. Patch Mackenzie (It's Alive III), the reigning queen of 1970's “special guest star” television appearances, gives an interesting performance here as Anne. She is introduced as a tough ball-buster, but immediately acts sketchy around the students before disappearing for a good chunk of the movie. Christopher George (City of the Living Dead) is pretty awesome as the infuriated Coach Michaels, a man who bullies everyone around him, but is somehow unable to verbally defend himself when suspicion is thrown his way near the climax. The unidentified killer stalks victims wearing a grey running suit with black gloves. Both Mackenzie and George are shown in possession of similar wardrobe and are but a few of countless red herrings here.
The rest of the cast is fairly competent but largely interchangeable. Linnea Quigley (Night of the Demons) was reportedly cast as Delores when a previous actress refused to do nudity, but both ladies appear as the character. Vanna White (Wheel of Fortune) has a small role as Doris, a dimwit student who does little but flirt with the skeezy music teacher and stumble upon dead bodies stuffed in lockers. E. Danny Murphy (Tomboy) is all right as Kevin, the grieving boyfriend, but his performance is a little on the nose and Michael Pataki (Halloween 4) is fairly one-note as the pissed-off authority figure Principal Guglione. On the opposite end of the acting spectrum, Carmen Argenziano (Red Scorpion) almost disappears into the background as Inspector Halliday, simply because he isn't chewing the scenery.
Halloween inspired countless imitators and this is one of the lesser efforts, but it is just goofy enough to be entertaining. Genre fans will undoubtedly recognize aspects pinched from better films including Prom Night and Friday the 13th, to name only a few. The overall silliness of Graduation Day is met with a few nice touches, including the kills being timed with a stopwatch to coincide with the duration of Laura's final race. A missed opportunity however comes with the killer's disguise and makes me question why not a graduation cap and gown, possibly worn during an epic slaughter at closing ceremonies. What fans can enjoy is a soundtrack packed with hits from Felony and if that isn't convincing, perhaps the band's onscreen performance at an underpopulated roller rink will entice you.
Graduation Day is a fun but not very good movie. The primary reasons to check it out are Linnea Quigley's breasts and Vanna White’s improv skills. There should be a drinking game where audiences partake during every over-the-top moment. There are awkward line readings, questionable direction, really bizarre edits (including the classic scenario where a character flashes back to footage from a scene they are not in à la Jaws: The Revenge), dead-end subplots and wonderfully tacky wardrobe choices, all of which contribute to how easily I can recommend this film to anyone unfamiliar with its third-tier existence.
Video and Audio:
Graduation Day is presented for the first time in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and features an all new 4K Hi-definition transfer. There is a much to be said for the efforts of Vinegar Syndrome and the dedication to restoring this catalog title. While the picture has never looked better, there are still instances of print damage and some dirt, which a film of this age should rightly have. Colors are strong and black levels are solid, but the general brightness and clarity work against the movie in the final act, when the killer's face can clearly be seen through the fencing mask disguise.
The original mono audio track has been cleaned up and is presented in a respectable DTS-HD MA mono track that is quite nice. Music cues are quirky but effective and dialogue remains clear and free from distortion. The roller disco performance by Felony has never sounded better.
Vinegar Syndrome delivers two audio commentaries here, one from producer David Baughn and the other provided by podcasters The Hysteria Continues, true fans of the slasher genre. The first track contains more technical information and while Baughn is proud of the film, he is aware of what type of movie he made. The podcasters are easily the more entertaining of the two commentaries and these guys know this film really well. They point out lots of trivia, have nice banter among the group and appreciate the merits of a bad horror flick.
Next up are a quartet of on-camera interviews with Patch Mackenzie, Herb Freed, David Baughn and editor Martin Jay Sadoff. Each share their thoughts on the production and are generally pleased with the finished movie. Mackenzie is still awesome and it's nice to hear her reflect on her career in general as well as this film specifically. Genre fans will want to check out Sadoff's piece in which he discusses among other things, his work on the Friday the 13th franchise.
The original theatrical trailer finishes off the special features in a nice and cheesy way.
A DVD copy of the film is also included.