Graduation Day (1981)
PLOT - High-school track star Laura suffers a fatal heart attack one day competing in a 30-second timed race in front of the entire school after being pushed by her coach and fellow peers. Two months later, Laura's older sister is taking leave from the Navy to attend what would have been her sister's high school graduation. Here an unseen killer lurks and begins murdering all of the other members of the track team in bloody violent ways.
LOWDOWN - I remember first hearing about Graduation Day when I first viewed the ultimate slasher Going To Pieces - The rise and fall of slasher films. Several clips from this film were featured, as well as it being mentioned as being one of the MANY slashers that followed in Halloween's and Friday the 13th's fashion in having a whole pile of slashers made in the early 80's cashing in on the success of these movies and taking place on holidays. There was Happy Birthday To Me, Silent Night Deadly Night, My Bloody Valentine, ect. Some were good, others pretty bad. Still, Graduation Day was a perfect example of studios wanting to take a holiday or life event, have a bunch of teens, an unseen killer, and plenty of bloody gory deaths to follow. Made by Troma, this was actually a pretty decent movie. Sure it was low budget, and very cheesy, but much like the deeply disturbing Mother's day (made by Troma as well) it had a solid director, and a half-way decent script to actually be made into something pretty memorable. I remember seeing clips of this, and instantly becoming curious. I loved the idea of the killer using a stop-watch, and the fact they were killing off members of the same track team in basically all sports related ways. (The football with the spear, the pole-vault with the spikes, the fencing sword, ect) A few years later a local book-store chain that also sold CDs and movies had the ability to order in out of print DVDs. Here I discovered they were able to order Graduation Day for me, and so I got it one June and had the pleasure of watching with my late mother who was a massive slasher fan. I still remember watching this movie with her and cracking up at the killer's reveal as well as something they had hidden in their bedroom. The movie is laughable, but actually a pretty decent slasher. It doesn't really drag anywhere, the kills are all memorable, and the killer's motive is really creepy. Plus the soundtrack is really catchy. The opening sets the tone, and leaves you feeling really uneasy after Laura collapses and her heartbroken boyfriend races to her side, holding her lifeless body as everyone watches.
I really dug the whole storyline of how the coach (played by the late Christopher George who also appeared in the super bloody slasher Pieces) and how his pride and joy are his athletes, but he's very hard on them, pushing them basically to the limit and then some. In fact you see a perfect example of this when the coach and a photographer watch one of the girls do her routine on the gym. It's beautifully shot as the girl does her gymnastics on the poles as peaceful music plays and the coach watches like a proud father. Still, as soon as she messes up he loses it, making even the photographer uncomfortable. Earlier when the kids get their team photographed for the yearbook, the coach doesn't care when one of the members is missing (This girl was killed jogging with her giant headphones on. The killer uses the stop-watch, timing it to 30 seconds, before slitting her throat. This kill is actually filmed really cool) But when she doesn't show up, he decides to have the photo taken anyways. Here one of the teens remark if any of them will last the season at the rate they are going with the coach pushing them. Clearly this strikes a nerve with the coach who tells him he's out of line. The character of the coach is actually really interesting. When he speaks to Laura's sister later, he seems angry remarking that he's been labeled as murder for what happened with pushing Laura the day of the race resulting in her heart attack.
Laura's sister also plays not only a suspect in the murders, but a pretty interesting character since you see her backstory with her family goes a little deeper than your typical slasher film. Clearly she's a tough woman, from the military, and devastated over her younger sister's passing. She's staying with her mother and step-father for the graduation, and we see there's tension with her step-father who makes it very clear he doesn't like her, and loved Laura as if she was his own. We see the wife is timid, and scared of her husband, and the few brief moments we see her at home, it shows the aftermath of Laura's death affected so many people, having been a sweet, popular athlete, and star student. Another character left devastated is her boyfriend, who has to try and pick up the pieces after witnessing the love of his life die before his very own eyes.
Not only is it a murder mystery with plenty of suspects, it's actually a pretty good horror movie with some truly scary moments. Without spoiling anything, the kills are actually pretty creative. I LOVED the pole vaulting death, and of course the school dance/roller-skating party featuring Linnea Quigley in a early role of hers that often gets forgotten. Of course she supplies plenty of nudity, but her death/chase scene intercut with the dance is really, really cool!
Laura figure I made a few years back. Ain't she pretty?
Graduation Day is filled with super funny moments. (The seedy music teacher), Vanna White in an early role of hers as a popular girl, the bickering principle with his assistant, and the teens all jamming out singing about the graduation day blues. This is a perfect early 80's slasher, with cool kills, a really great plot, and one HELL of a reveal at the end. Perfect to add to any collection, and a must to watch around this time of year!
3 1/2 stars!