Graduation Day (1981)

graduation day

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer slashes track team.

When the high school’s top track star Laura (Ruth Ann Llorens) collapses mysteriously after winning a race strange things start happening to her teammates. One-by-one they get knocked-off by a killer who has a way with swords, but who could it be? Her brash, driven coach (Christopher George) who pushes his players past their breaking point or maybe it’s her strange sister Anne (Patch Mackenzie) who comes back home from the military. The clues and suspects keep piling up, but can the police find the culprit before the entire team gets killed?

Writer Anne Marisse and director Herb Freed teamed up four years earlier to make the very original one-of-a-kind horror film Haunts where they created an excellent atmosphere on a nickel-and-dime budget that is completely lacking here. The scares and suspense even on a cheap level is non-existent. What is even worse is that there is no central character just a mishmash of uninteresting people and scenes that does not help to create any empathy from the viewer nor story momentum.

Freed’s direction is lively to some extent as he does inject some humor and a couple moments were he uses quick flash editing, but his other camera work is off-putting. I particularly got annoyed with a tracking shot showing a person running alongside a moving camera that seemed to make them look like they were on a treadmill, or going unnaturally slow in order to not outrun the camera. This is done several times throughout the film with different characters and the result is very artificial looking. He also features a band named Felony that sings a long seven minute song called ‘Gangster Rock’ that almost turns this thing into a music video. A scene showing a woman being chased by the killer is intercut between the band playing and this takes the viewer out of the film completely and kills what little suspense there already is.

The killings themselves are unimpressive. The scene showing a victim getting beheaded looks too much like it is a mannequin and it is highly doubtful that any sword could make that type of precise and quick cut. Another death features a pole- vaulter  being impaled by a mat full of sharp spikes, which is pretty much ruined when we can clearly seeing that the victim is still breathing even as he lays there with the spikes having gone right through him.

There is logic loopholes as well including having the killer store the Laura’s dead body inside his bedroom and pretend she is still alive, which is too reminiscent to Psycho to be effective or interesting. I also didn’t know how somebody could dig up a dead body from a cemetery and not have the victim’s family, or the cemetery workers not notice. The make-up used to try to make her appear decomposed instead made her look more like she was a member of the KISS rock group.

Michael Pataki hams it up nicely as the school’s beleaguered principal and becomes a scene stealer in the process. Christopher George is so irritable and belligerent with anyone who makes contact with him that he becomes fun as well. Linnea Quigley has a nice topless scene as the horny Delores and Virgil Frye who is the father of Soleil Moor Frye of Punky Brewster fame has a few goofy moments as the school’s incompetent security guard. The funniest though is Patrick Wright as a grungy, overweight truck driver who feels that he is entitled to take liberties with Ann who is returning home from the service simply because he is a ‘taxpayer’.

Sources list Vanna White as the character of Doris, but I didn’t spot her and I don’t feel like going all the back through this cardboard thing again just to see if I can.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 1, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated R

Director: Herb Freed

Studio: IFI

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube 

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