Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Graduation Day (1981)

Slasher films have always been at the forefront of a good deal of my horror viewing, especially in the mid to late 80’s during the video rental days and the churning out of franchise sequels each year to millions of movie goers the world over. You would think that as into the genre as I was and have been, I have probably seen all there is to offer. Alas titles always slip through the cracks only to be discovered years later. Graduation Day is one of them.

Graduation Day stars Christopher George, a genre veteran from such great films as Pieces (1982), City of the Living Dead (1980) and The Exterminator (1980). He portrays the hardnosed track coach and woodworking teacher George Michaels (no not that George Michaels). One of the coaches star track team members, Laura, has died of a blood clot in her heart during a track event. He is of course accused of pushing her too hard to try and run the race in under 30 seconds. That will be a time frame that comes into play throughout the film. 
I hope I make the cover of the Wheaties box........errggggg!

Laura’s sister Anne comes to town on leave from the Navy to try and make sense of it all. She visits both Laura’s boyfriend Kevin and Michaels but nothing seems to be clear as what actually happened. We only learn of the blood clot later on in the film. Meanwhile track team members are starting to disappear. A black gloved and gray sweat suit clad killer is on the loose and marking off team members one by one. Several are attacked at different times along the wooded path behind the school. The area seems to be frequented by students so I’m kind of surprised anyone can get away with anything but hey it’s a slasher film so. Team members find their ends in several different ways and several are pretty inventive. One has their throat slashed, another is run through the throat with a fencing sword, and another is impaled on spikes hidden in the landing pad at the pole vault. One of the most inventive deaths involves a football with a long blade sticking out of one end and delivered into the gut of one of the track members who is also a football player. Of course there is a good ole decapitation too. You can’t have a slasher film without one of those. I think it comes standard. All of these murders are timed with a stopwatch by the killer. His mission is to kill each track team member in less than 30 seconds each.  I thought that was a pretty original idea and I give the writers kudos for coming up with it.
Jogging can be messy

Both Laura and Coach Michaels are implicated to the viewer as being the killer since the movie does go out of its way to make sure we see that both own gray sweats and black gloves. Hell even the principal (Michael Pataki) is implicated because he has a switchblade in his desk……well several actually and they were probably confiscated from students at one point. 

Ladies and Gentlemen....Felony!
One of the high points of the movie is the roller skate party scene. Here we get to boogie down with music provided by hard rock band “Felony”. 
They got their own special mention in the opening credits and were actually an up and coming band. The song performed in this movie was “Gangsters of Rock”. Just remember when you are watching this movie that is was filmed in 1981. The whole song is performed in this sequence but is also accompanied by the decapitation death of a track member. His girlfriend, played by Linnea Quigley (yes the naked chic from Return of the Living Dead), is also murdered. 
Linnea.....doing what she does best.

The police finally show up at the school after six team member s have disappeared. You would think after maybe the second missing person someone would have inquired but again, this is 1981 slasher film logic. The police question Michaels but he’s out on his ass after being fired by the principal. The bad publicity surrounding Laura’s death has finally gotten the best of his career. One of the bodies is discovered by two students in the girls’ gym locker room. The coach comes to investigate and finds a fencing sword in the locker. Laura’s boyfriend Kevin also shows up and believes the coach is the murderer. They struggle and Michael’s runs out of the school. Kevin chases him into the woods behind the school and here we discover that it’s not the coach but Kevin who is the real killer. Kevin’s reasoned that the coach and the team members were all responsible for Laura’s death and all would die in the same time frame as her. A struggle ensues and Michaels is able to disarm Kevin. He picks up the knife but is then shot by the police thinking Coach Michaels is trying to kill Kevin.  
Why I outta....

Later Anne visits Kevin and discovers that Kevin has been keeping Laura’s corpse in his room. The body is decomposing and Kevin has dressed it with a graduation gown and set the corpse in the rocking chair facing the window.  After a quick struggle Anne pushes the rocking chair which empties Laura’s corpse into Kevin making them both fall through the window. Laura runs out of the house and is followed by Kevin who didn’t die from the fall. He chases her to the track field at the school where Anne finds the hidden bodies of several track team members. Anne fights off Kevin and pushes him into the body of one of the victims who was impaled on spikes. Kevin is then impaled as well and dies.
Never shave your legs in the sink...it can kill you.

Even though Graduation Day has its moments of 1981 goofiness it is still able to deliver pretty well. It doesn’t have a great deal of character development but it does have a pretty interesting story line for a slasher flick. It’s never really boring but it never really creates a lot of suspense. I think it succeeds solely based on the twisted storyline which is something that I have come to realize about many of these films from the early era of the genre. Even though they were modeled off of films like Halloween and Friday the 13th, sometimes you find one that actually tries to be a little different. Graduation Day does that and succeeds in some areas but falls a little flat in others. Still worth a view though!

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