Graduation Day (1981)
WRITERS: Written by Anne Marisse and Herb Freed
Story by David Baughn
DIRECTOR: Herb Freed
STARRING: Christopher George as Coach Michaels
Patch Mackenzie as Anne Ramstead
E.J. Peaker as Blondie
E. Danny Murphy as Kevin
Michael Pataki as Guglione
Richard Balin as Roberts
Carmine Argenziano as Halliday
Virgil Frye as MacGregor
Beverly Dixon as Elaine Ramstead
Hal Bokar as Ronald Corliss
Linnea Quigley as Dolores
Denise Cheshire as Sally
Billy Hufsey as Tony
Tom Hintaus as Pete
Carl Rey as Ralph
Karen Abbott as Joanne
Vanna White as Doris
QUICK CUT: A Navy ensign returns to her childhood home to celebrate her sister's graduation, and the impending wedding with her high school sweetheart.
Anne - A Navy ensign, pretty kick ass, clever, and has some anger issues. She's returned to town in the wake of her sister's death, on what would have been Laura's graduation, to accept her accolades posthumously.
Coach George Michaels - He's gotta have faith in his track team, because after Laura dies, he gets blamed for it in some small way, and he also has anger issues, and is a prime suspect in what's going on today.
Kevin - Laura's boyfriend and fellow member of the track team. He's got a weird grandmother, in a weirder house, and he plays harmonica. He's charming and friendly, and misses Laura something terrible.
THE GUTS: Welcome back, Triskelions! It's the end of May, and here at Trisk that usually means I look at some school related slasher movie, and this year is no different. I am wrapping up the school year with the appropriately titled, Graduation Day!
NO, Ricky, shoo. I said GRADUATION Day, not GARBAGE day. Go back to Christmas! Ahem. Before Ricky comes back, let's get Trisking.
Right off the bat, I kinda love the opening titles? They've got the 80sest of 80s music playing, it's got a GREAT pace and energy to it, as you watch a track and field competition between high schools. It flows, but also is maybe a bit over edited, with TOO many shots, many years before the MTV video would make split second editing cool. But it sets a tone, and like I said, it has some energy to it.
The credits come to a tragic end however, when Laura seems to be doing great, but suddenly her heart gives out and she falls down dead right then and there. The good news is, you won! The bad news is, you dead!
We immediately jump to several months later, as the town prepares for graduation, and Laura's sister, Navy ensign Anne Ramstead is getting a ride into town by Pervy McTruckdriver. The driver hits on her, grabs her bare leg, and eventually she returns the favour and grabs his balls and threatens him.
I am not gonna lie, starting a horror movie right off by having a woman confront and headbutt sexism right in the face? That's a great way to win me over.
Anne sees one of Laura's fellow athletes running across the street on a morning jog, and has Pervy drop her off right there, and she stares off at her intently. As the girl runs, we see her stalked by PoV cam, and someone with a stopwatch. That someone eventually catches up with the girl, and kills her, splashing the camera with blood.
Boy, Anne sure does look guilty after staring after the girl so hard, doesn't she, upset over the loss of her sister, and blaming the track team?
After a nice helping of muuurder, we jump to the school where the kids are getting ready for their summer of freedom, and the track team is getting ready for a photo op. But they don't want to start without Paula! Hoo, you guys are in for a long wait.
Anne finally makes her way back home, and we meet her parents, including a very drunk and angry dick of a father. Hmmm, maybe HE is our killer, upset over the loss of his daughter?
Or maybe it *is* Anne, because she has the same grey sweatshirt and black gloves as the killer!! Oh yes Triskelions. Brace yourselves for an endless stream of red herrings. Everyone is a suspect! MAYBE IT WAS YOU!!
We get a bit more PoVcam as the killer heads off to the locker room to mark off his latest victim on a photograph of the team, using...LIPSTICK. It MUST be Anne!!
After that, we find Sally wandering the woods, and being chased by the PoVcam. I'll tell ya, this movie possibly has an overreliance on that. But just as she's about to be killed...Anne shows up to act really creepy, and just chat. OR DOES SHE?
We stop by briefly as the rehearsal for graduation ceremonies is going on, and we at least meet the principal Guglione, and his long suffering secretary, Blondie. Anne bumps into Laura's boyfriend Kevin, and they agree to meet later.
Anne heads to Kevin's house, and finds he has a book dedicated to his girlfriend, and an epilepsy warning should be included, because the editing goes wild. Shots of the book get intercut with shots from Laura's final run, mixed in with sharply cutting sound, and while it's jarring, it does make this movie something unlike anything you've ever seen. It truly has a visual style all its own.
Oh, there's also Kevin's grandmother who is shouting and reclusive, and wants nothing to do with nobody. She's also probably not all there. Maybe...maybe SHE is the killer!
Back at school, Sally is in the locker room getting ready for some gymnastics, while PoVcam returns to stalk her following the earlier interruption, and turns off the lights. Just as she's about to get killed, she finds...two other typical students who give us a fright.
Once we realise she's safe, for now, the movie pads out its runtime with the three girls chatting in horribly adlibbed dialogue. I hope it was adlibbed, because if it was scripted, oh the pain. But it is clearly there just to drag things out.
And just in case that didn't pad things out enough, we get treated to Sally's whole gymnastics routine, for more photoshoots with the paper, and being pushed into it thanks to the coach. The coach is a real hardass, and maybe HE'S the killer, because he sure seems capable of it! AND he's watching Sally with a little TOO much interest. Even the photographer notices!
If you needed any more reason to suspect the guy, the movie intercuts with the murder checklist photograph some more while Sally's face is crossed off as she screws up her dismount.
Sally runs off to the bathroom to get changed and such, when the dreaded cameraman murderer returns to grab a fencing foil, and do her in. Even if uh, foils don't work that way.
There's a brief scene of more padding in the music room, with the teacher meeting with Linnea Quigley, and where Linnea is, you know her breasts can't be far behind, as she tries to sex her way into a passing grade.
NO RICKY! You already killed Linnea in Silent Night Deadly Night! Go! Get back to your own movies!! Give someone else a turn!!
We get Even More Padding as the principal gives his secretary a mountain of work. And while she's never a suspect, I am adding her to the list because all this work and her treatment is enough to drive anyone to murder just to ruin her boss.
Or maybe...maybe it's the principal himself! He has a staggering amount of knives, can't cut an apple like a normal person, AND has a stopwatch like the killer! WHO COULD IT BE??
Meanwhile, after the music teacher has his fun, he's fiddling around with his piano and hears some strange noises, and goes to investigate. In the boiler room. Well, this never goes well, does it? Except, all that happens, is more padding and some kids trapping him down there for funsies before graduating.
We move on to Dolores with another guy, after she has her fun with the music teacher, and they're smoking some dope in the woods, when the PoVcam stalks them. But it's not the killer, just one of the school's local policemen...OR MAYBE HE'S THE KILLER. I honestly don't know. At this point, just assume everyone is killing everyone else.
But again, it's just more padding things out and dropping more red herrings all around. This movie drops in way too many people just to keep things going, who then completely fall off the face of the plot. They don't even have the courtesy to add to the body count, half the time.
Speaking of which, remember Anne? Well, the movie finally remembers she's in this movie, as she goes to visit the coach in his classroom.
The pair have a nice confrontation where we find out the town blames Coach Michaels for Laura's murder, and he's getting away with it. Save for losing his job, but otherwise...so he has motive for revenge because of that, and Anne has motive because she feels he's getting off easy.
Meanwhile, actual interesting stuff is happening in the woods, finally. One of the other track team members is running around playing with a football when the girls from earlier show up to play keep away with him, and toss it into the woods.
The killker finds it, sticks it onto a sword and throws it at the kid, running him through the gut, and...um...that... Uh..
It may be completely implausible, but it is also kinda awesome in it's utter absurdity.
Kevin wanders back into the plot as a bunch of kids are chilling and singing "Graduation Day Blues" and he plays the harmonica. After like, a third of the movie of wandering around, the plot finally drags its two stars back into this.
The coach runs into the rent-a-cop MacGregor, and the two face off, continuing to cast suspicion all over the place.
Nighttime comes, and the kids party at a roller rink, where the movie drops in an Actual Band "Felony" to liven things up a bit. On the one hand, we just HAD a musical number. On a similar hand, this is more padding.
But on the other hand...the music is actually pretty good, and it's good intercutting between the kids partying and relaxing, while more murdery goodness goes on in the woods at night. I mean, it's a LONG song, where nothing much goes on except for the music, but for quality soundtrack? Yeah, I'll allow it.
Finally, the killer wanders by and Highlander's off the head of one of the kids, leaving Linnea Quigley to find it in the woods.
The killer pops out of the woods, and chases Dolores, while the music STILL plays on. And the chase eventually ends as it must, in Dolores also losing her head. With more epileptic editing to the mix.
With kids now going *ahem* missing, the parents are starting to notice, and pestering the principal about it until he does his best to try and hide in his office. Which is really just more padding as the wheels kinda spin until more stuff happens.
And that's when the cops finally decide to wander into the plot, this deep into the third act. And let me tell you right now, the cop doesn't do anything. He wanders around, he asks a few questions, he disappears from the plot.
While MacGruber and Officer Selmak search the campus for the missing students, they're about to have another one 'go missing' as one of the track team is practicing his pole vault...right into a bed of spikes.
The cop pays a visit to the coach to ask his questions, but he doesn't know anything...OR DOES HE?? As the cop leaves, the coach goes into his desk and pulls out black gloves and a stopwatch. You know, either everyone is the killer, or some store selling black gloves made a *killing* that year.
Meanwhile, the two blondes that keep drifitng through the plot wander into the locker room, and actually manage to notice some blood splatter on the lockers.
They open up the locker, and Sally's dead body falls out. So, they're not so missing after all. This is not a good year for the track team.
After some screaming, the girls see the coach standing there in the dreaded grey sweatshirt, and assume he did it, because he's already killed someone, supposedly. He pulls out the murder weapon, just in time for Kevin to wander back into the movie, and assume he's found the killer.
The girls run off, screaming for the police, and Anne seems to have also wandered back into the movie, so follows the commotion.
Officer Selmak finds the photograph with the marked off faces, and asks Anne if she knows who they are. Well yes, it's the track team!
Kevin runs after Coach Michaels into the woods until they find Ralph's body still skewered on the football sword like he's a Super Bowl Sunday snack.
The pair fight it out, and we learn that Kevin blames the coach for Laura's death, he blames the whole team and ooooh there we go. Kevin's our killer. For realsies this time!
As they fight, the cops run in, see the coach, already not looking great, standing over one dead body, and attacking another student. So he gets shot and killed before he can deny any of it.
Well, that's all wrapped up in a nice neat package, and we can all move on, as Kevin esc...what? No? There's still more? Okay fine.
Anne goes to the principal's office to pick up her sister's posthumous trophy, but hears Kevin already grabbed it, and Anne heads off to investigate because there's still more movie left.
So she swings by Kevin's crashpad, sneaks around, and heads upstairs to his room and oh. Ohhh no, we're not...is this movie going to go full...
Yeeeah, Kevin's lost it, dug up Laura's body, has kept it upstairs in his room of weapons, and still thinks she's alive and they're getting married.
And about that room of weapons, you actually see some of the murder weapons here and there. It's like a reverse Chekov.
Kevin at first thinks Anne's gonna be cool with this, but um, she's NOT, for obvious reasons, and that makes him angry. As the two struggle, Anne pushes over Laura's chair, knocking her and her fiance right into a defenestration.
Anne runs off, and watches as Kevin calmly carries his corpse bride-to-be back over the threshold like it ain't no thing and he falls out the window all the time.
She runs, she runs so far away, while her sister's final fatal run is intercut with her escape. She ends up running back to the school's field, where Kevin is right behind her. Well...he WAS on the track team, so I guess that makes sense.
They chase some more, and fight some more, and I'm torn. Anne actually fights back, which is nice, but she's also running a lot, and you would think with her military training, she MIGHT have a better shot here. It just goes on too long. But still! Female fighting back in an early 80s horror movie, that's pretty good!
Oh, and while they fight, we also find the poor pole vaulter stuck up to a convenient spot, for the sole purpose of Kevin being pushed back and impaling himself on his own murder weapons. See, people? This is why we properly dispose of our victims, and don't leave them hanging around to surprise people later!
So after 90 minutes of red herrings, endless suspects, and more grey sweatpants than any one town should own, the killer is defeated, and after one last gratuitous scare where Anne mistakes her drunken stepfather for an undead Kevin in the shadowy night, she hops in a cab and drives off into the sunset to live happily ever after...
And so Trisk has survived another school year, so there's only one thing left to do...let's head off to summer camp! See you in June!
Video: It's pretty solid for an early 80s indie slasher, with a decent amount of restoration done. It looks great, for what it is.
Audio: A nice mix all around.
Sound Bite: "The world is my toilet"
"Laura's still with me. She'll always be with me. That'll never change." This is the most amazing line of foreshadowing, by Kevin, very early in the movie.
Body Count: On the one hand, they had so many people wandering in, there could be a lot more. But on the other hand, the killer had focus, and achieved his goals.
1 - Four minutes in, and Laura dies from a heart attack at a track meet.
2 - Paula gets slashed by our killer.
3 - The killer foils Sally in the neck.
4 - Ralph gets...gets a sword football to the stomach.
5 - The killer shows up and removes Tony's head.
6 - And then does the same to Dolores.
7 - Another kid comes to an untimely pole vault end by a bed of spikes.
8 - Coach Michaels gets shot by the cops mistakenly.
9 - Kevin ends up killed by his petard.
Best Corpse: It's gotta be Ralph inexplicably hilarious creative death.
Blood Type - C+: There's a decent amount of blood, and some creative deaths to go along with it.
Sex Appeal: Almost every female character gives us a little bit.
Drink Up! Every time someone is revealed to have something associated with the killer; grey sweats, black gloves, a stopwatch. If you see more than one, take a drink for each!
Video Nasties: The pick is clear this time, and it's Ralph's untimely demise at the end of the inexplicable football sword.
Movie Review: This is surprisingly decent. Yes, it is way too padded with plotlines and scenes that could be cut down. Yes, it has too many characters that go nowhere. Yes, it has WAY too many red herrings. But the killer's motivation, once we get there, is clear and understandable in its own way. And you can actually track the plotline fairly well. It's clearly cribbing from other, better movies, but this is well made, and has a solid enough plot. Three out of five football swords.
Entertainment Value: The sheer number of red herrings is a blast in and of itself. The movie bends over backwards to make literally everyone a suspect, to the point of disbelief. The deaths are fun and creative, and just wildly bonkers. When Kevin loses at the end, it's *great*. Guglione is a trip in his weasley ways. Carmine Argenziano's character may have been pointless, but there's some great silliness, and he's a sudden random good actor. This movie may be a convoluted mess of red herrings and padding, but it has a LOT of charm and fun to it, and is one of the more notable slashers, if not one of the better ones. Simply because it borrows too much from other sources. Four out of five stopwatches.