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Monday, July 15, 2019

Graduation Day (1981)




The Slasher marathon keeps chugging along with Graduation Day. A masked killer picking off high school seniors the day before graduation seems like a logical continuation of the genre. I mean if they don’t get you at summer camp or on Prom Night then Graduation Day is the next logical milestone for murder. Plus, this one has Vanna “Wheel of Fortune” White in it!

The movie starts at a track meet where a young girl is being pushed by her coach to set a new personal best record and win a race. Her name is Laura and the good news is that she wins the race, the bad news is that she immediately drops dead from the strain and a blood clot! A couple of months later her class is graduating and her sister, Anne, has come back from the Navy to accept her diploma and trophy (she did win the race after all). Coincidentally at the same time a black gloved fencing enthusiast starts to murder everyone that was on the track team, hiding the bodies around campus.

Who is the killer? Well it could be the creepy music teacher, the coach who is being fired at the end of the school year, the sister, or the random weird cop. Hell, I haven’t even mentioned all the suspects yet! Eventually after a few twists and turns we do find out the identity of the murderer and I suppose it makes sense in a way. Though I wasn’t happy with how they reveal it as I felt it was anticlimactic.

Graduation Day is a movie that should be a hell of a lot better than it is. The cast is solid and filled with many familiar faces such as Christopher George as the angry coach and Michael Pataki as the principal are prime examples. These guys were legends in the seventies and could have carried the movie. Graduation Day also has Linnea Quigley on one of her earliest roles, and yes within seconds of appearing onscreen she is taking her top off! I even thought that the actress playing Anne, the older sister, is very good. There is a lot of talent in the cast of Graduation Day and they are all let down by a really bad script or maybe it was the editing. I’m honestly not sure so let me try and explain what I’m getting at.

Look kids it's Vanna White!
The story jumps around and ignores the established characters to establish someone else who then is also ignored. At the beginning I thought this was going to be about the older sister, Anne, returning to town and either becoming the killer or getting wrapped up in the killings. This seems to be what is going to happen until the twenty-minute mark when she disappears only to show back up at the end. Of the three that I’m going to mention this was the most frustrating as I sort of liked the character and was hoping she was our protagonist there to unravel the crime or in a shocking twist be the killer! But that doesn’t happen. Instead…

We have Christopher George’s coach Michaels who seems to have an unhealthy fascination with some of his female student athletes. This also goes nowhere as it is hinted at as a motive and then ignored. Then we have the principal, Pataki’s character, who is also a bit creepy and isn’t fond of the “children”. We spend some time with him and then ignore his storyline as well. With all three we get that scene with black gloves and a stopwatch appear in their possession, which we have seen the killer use. I guess the movie is just setting them up as suspects. But it does so in a way that feels choppy and disconnected. Again, I’m not sure if this is to be blamed on a script that is poorly written or maybe just crappy editing. While I’ve mentioned these three there are more characters that get introduced and then ignored to move onto someone else. So yeah, it gets really annoying.

Fencing and football don't mix well!
Since Graduation Day is a slasher movie, we need to talk kills and gore. They are unevenly spaced with two happening in the first forty-eight minutes and the last five happening in the last forty-eight minutes. Yeah this is a long movie, which might also point to the editing being the issue. We do get a cool sword thru the neck and another taking a head off. If you didn’t catch on with my fencing enthusiast comment earlier most all of these kills are sword related. The other kills happen offscreen and are only seen after the fact. Though for an early eighties Slasher it wasn’t bad. This of course only makes the story issues that much more annoying.

What we have here is a Slasher with a good cast, passable kills, and an interesting setup with the graduating seniors. All of this is ruined because they didn’t write a script and/or edit the individual characters and storylines together in a cohesive plotline that flows nicely. Instead this is a choppy flick that keeps jarring the audience by yanking them from one character to the next. I was very disappointed and can’t recommend Graduation Day.


© Copyright 2019 John Shatzer

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