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Overall Rating

Awesome: 6.25%
Worth A Look: 6.25%
Average: 18.75%
Pretty Bad56.25%
Total Crap: 12.5%

1 review, 10 user ratings

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Graduation Day
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by Jack Sommersby

"Flunks Slasher-Flick 101"
2 stars

Some occasional well-milked humor is a saving grace, but this is still a terribly inept addition to the slasher sub-genre.

With a semi-saving grace in the form of some occasionally well-milked humor, the slasher flick Graduation Day manages to botch things so badly in the gore-and-suspense department that director Herb Freed should have been subject to a citizen's arrest. Of course, for anyone who managed to survive Freed's previous catastrophic contributions to the Horror genre, Haunts and Beyond Evil, this should hardly come as a surprise; but it nevertheless makes one question why someone as technically inept and bereft of a film sense as Freed would be selected to so much as direct traffic on Rodeo Drive, much less a motion picture from a major studio. Bearing an unfortunate resemblance to Paul Lynch's atrocious Prom Night, Graduation Day puts before the audience an array of unlikable, nondescript high-school seniors being methodically slain by an unseen psycho with an affinity for long, sharp instruments. There's an underlying motive driving the merciless killer, of course, and the screenplay is so carelessly non-dexterous in laying out the story components and presenting the characters that it's fairly easy to deduce whodunit -- just make yourself wise to who isn't being uncouthly adorned with red herrings and suggestively-menacing reaction shots, and you should have no trouble. So, hampered by its fatal absence of the element of surprise and lackluster suspense sequences, all that manages to keep the film from veering into one-star territory is its fair share of humorous moments, which isn't exactly the kind of sole redeeming feature one admittedly craves in a slasher flick yet is certainly preferable in light of everything else qualifying as a bona fide crash-and-burn.

The film opens with a cheesy montage of a championship track meet, with the vicious-bad song "Everybody Wants to be a Winner" playing over the forgettable images of discus throwing and the like. The main focus is on the running event, where pretty Laura Ramstead (played by Ruth Ann Llorens) manages to win the race yet lose her life soon thereafter right there on the track due to a blood clot. Fast-forwarding two years later, the story picks back up as we're introduced to the dead girl's sister, Anne (a wooden Patch Mackenzie), who has come all the way home to small-town Americana from a Navy stint in Guam to accept her sister's trophy and diploma on Graduation Day. Right after her arrival, though, soon-to-be-grads -- specifically, the very same ones on Laura's track team -- start getting picked off one by one by a very disagreeable someone who slays each of them while using a stopwatch to carry out the nasty deeds within the same thirty-second timespan that Laura's last race was run. With each passing victim, the objective is steadily being achieved: everyone in Laura's track-team photo having a red X drawn over them. Who's the culprit? Could it be Laura, who makes it known right from the get-go her rough-and-ready ability to defend herself against a touchy-feely truck driver who's given her a ride? Or is it the perfectionistic martinet in the imposing persona of Coach George Michaels (another hambone special by B-movie veteran Christopher George), who's viewed by the community as the reason behind Laura's untimely demise? Perhaps it's Kevin Badger (a mediocre E. Danny Murphy), Laura's former boyfriend who's never gotten over the loss?

These are the only three viable suspects, and, as aforewritten, they're presented with such thudding obviousness that the guilty party might as well be wearing a T-shirt with the devil embroidered on it. Furthermore, most of the ways in which the victims are dispatched are far from creative (a blade through the throat, etc.), and director Freed, like a quintessential killjoy, telegraphs the scares so blatantly as to make the audience privy to the soon-to-be-victim's unfortunate predicament as much as a minute ahead of time (though the demise of a pole vaulter is rather neat, because it's the only time when a victim isn't stalked beforehand, thus depriving Freed an umpteenth opportunity to telegraph the payoff from several zip codes away). And while the allotted budget wasn't likely a hefty one, it could have at least afforded enough passable fake blood to sate the gorehound crowd; alas, the beloved red substance is woefully shorted on, with the special effects -- ranging from wound-ridden corpses to a severed head -- distressingly sub-par. But, as evidence that Freed hasn't totally lost his marbles, there's a satisfying amount of nudity on three different occasions offered up by three different attractive females. While one can justifiably take exception to his depriving us of the sight of a certain character's derriere during a locker-room scene right after another character has made lewd reference to it, as well as his subsequent sufficing for a side view of her breast rather than a frontal view of both, he can at least be commended for gratuitously allowing another woman's C-cup breasts to be bared after her blouse comes unbuttoned while running from the killer in the woods. (Twigs catch on clothing, ya know.)

It's far from wise to allow one's audience to get ahead of the storyteller, and that's why adroitness in both editing and timing are necessary to effectively manipulate, to keep us enjoyably off-balance; yet when you have a director who's hopelessly all-thumbs at even the most rudimentary level of manipulation, there's precious little to glide over the detrimentals. Luckily, there's some compensation to be had here in the humor derived from the trio of winning performances by Richard Balin as a put-on-airs music teacher, Michael Pataki as the appallingly-dressed Principal Guglione, and E.J. Peaker as his exasperated secretary (with the latter two engaging in a fitfully funny scene where he tries to blow off the avalanche of hysterical phone calls from parents of the missing teens, and she keeps on putting the calls right on through to his office, despite his strict order not to); they're all possessive of a joie de vivre the rest of the cast sadly lacks. If Freed had made the comedy more precise and predominating and given the violence a playful tone, he might have had something as spiritedly campy as Rospo Pallenberg's Cutting Class and Ron Oliver/Peter R. Simpson's Prom Night III: The Last Kiss, but in his desire to appease on an unimaginative level the botched attempts at suspense are left glaring and overshadow the few standout moments. Graduation Day is far from being the worst slasher flick ever made -- that particular dubious honor will likely be forever bestowed upon either Stephen Carpenter's and Jeffrey Obrow's The Dorm That Dripped Blood or Robert Deubel's Girls Nite Out -- but I'd be hard-pressed in chalking up too many positives in separating it from the bottom of the cinematic barrel.

Check out "Cutting Class" (which features a pre-stardom Brad Pitt and the always-luminous Jill Schoelen) instead.

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originally posted: 05/04/04 01:09:50
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User Comments

6/07/13 David Hollingsworth An underrated, and surprisingly ungory Friday the 23th ripoff. 4 stars
5/14/12 keith miron Pretty good slasher flick 3 stars
2/25/11 mr.mike OK for Netflix 3 stars
1/06/10 art ALL SLASHER MOVIES then early 80's were riding on the FRIDAY THE 13TH bandwagon! 2 stars
6/27/09 art A PATHETIC COPY OF FRIDAY THE 13TH! 1 stars
10/20/08 Monster A Go-Go Awful--no diploma for this turkey. It FAILS miserably 1 stars
7/03/08 art A HALF-BAD CLONE OF FRIDAY THE 13TH 3 stars
10/31/07 art a mediocre psycho-killer movie 2 stars
10/14/05 Darren O Occasional style drowned out by too many subplots and filler that are nothing but padding. 2 stars
1/20/02 David A. Good slasher film. A very good adaptation of Friday the 13th. Underrated. 5 stars
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  01-May-1981 (R)
  DVD: 01-Oct-2002



Directed by
  Herb Freed

Written by
  Herb Freed
  Anne Marisse

  Christopher George
  Patch Mackenzie
  Michael Pataki
  Linnea Quigley

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