Graduation Day (1981)
Back of the box...
“Taut suspense, heart stopping shocks and mystery are all awaiting in Graduation Day. It’s just weeks before high school graduation and members of the track team are being mysteriously and gruesomely murdered, one at a time. When the team’s star runner, Laura Ramstead, falls dead at the end of a championship meet, her sister Anne (Patch MacKenzie) comes to town and a series of grisly murders begins. Is Anne responsible? Or is it coach Michaels (Christopher George) who has been fired because of Laura’s death? Perhaps it’s the campus policeman who is disliked because of his over-zealous drug investigations. Or is it Laura’s boyfriend, Kevin (E. Danny Murphy), who can’t reconcile himself to Laura’s death? You won’t want to see this one alone!”
Director: Herb Freed
Starring: Christopher George, Patch MacKenzie, E. Danny Murphy
Watch the Trailer
It’s that time again! The school year has come to an end and high school seniors across the country are getting one last moment in the spotlight before discovering that everything they believed to be important is actually totally meaningless. Some will be relieved to see the slate cleaned while others will desperately cling to the glories of those four short years. To help celebrate the first devastating blow to childish idealism we watched Graduation Day, where the graduating class of Midvale High face something slightly more terrifying than an uncertain future: certain, violent, death.
Released in the infancy of the slasher genre, just three years after Halloween and one year after Friday the 13th, Graduation Day is often cited as an example of how quickly the genre began resorting to cliches. For slasher fans, this criticism never really hits our ears quite right. After all, cliches are the building blocks of all genres and slashers are a highly formulaic kind of film. Of course Graduation Day is packed with overused horror cliches! Why would you expect otherwise? It’s a formulaic clone of Prom Night that was then done better a year later in Pieces, but that’s no reason not to like it.
Shortly before graduation, track star Laura Ramstead collapses dead on the other side of the finish line after completing a 100 meter race in record time. Her older sister Anne returns home from the military to collect Laura’s trophy (because that matters). Shortly after her arrival, members of the track team start meeting their untimely deaths at the hands of a mystery killer and the suspects build up as quickly as the body count.
Graduation Day features a noteworthy cast but leaves you constantly wondering where exactly they all are. Vanna White (Wheel of Fortune) comes crashing into scenes now and then but she’s little more than an echo in the school halls as she and friend shout lines over each other and rarely turn to face the camera. Linnea Quigley (Return of the Living Dead, Night of the Demons) appears out of nowhere to show off her boobs. Apparently, the girl who originally got the role and appears in the track and field scenes (#46) was fired after refusing to go topless and that’s when Linnea’s agent got the call. The film features another B-movie icon Christopher George (Pieces, City of the Living Dead) as the track and field coach. He, just like all the other men in the film, is a total piece of shit but somehow still manages to be likable. The film’s lead, who also manages to elude the camera through most of the film, is played by Patch MacKenzie. Yes, that is actually the name of a human woman and not a sibling of the original party animal, Spuds MacKenzie. She plays Anne, the sometimes tough and always creepy military sister who waltzes into town like John Rambo in First Blood.
As far as slashers go, Graduation Day is a perfectly adequate addition to the genre. If anything, the film’s failure is that it lacks the star power of 1980’s Prom Night and the gore of 1982’s Pieces. Sandwiched between those two slasher greats, it’s no wonder Graduation Day falls short. Regardless how the film stacks up to its peers, it’s still recommended viewing for all fans of the genre and the decade. It’s got all the right ingredients of a slasher, and maybe a little bit more. We were guessing the identity of the killer pretty late into the film, which is rare for these kind of movies. If for nothing else, watch Graduation Day for the mystery element...and to see Vanna White do something other than turn squares with letters on ‘em.