Thursday, 9 October 2014

Graduation Day (1981)

Coming in the wake of movies such as John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN and Sean Cunningham's FRIDAY THE 13TH (and especially the latter), Herb Freed's GRADUATION DAY was one of many, many films that rode the wave of the success of those ground-breaking slashers. To paraphrase Stefan Jaworzyn writing in an early issue of The Dark Side, the fact that the ground they broke quickly became as fertile as a stretch of the Ho Chi Minh trail after it had been doused with Agent Orange did nothing to stop everyone from churning out a slasher picture with titles that incorporated dates (NEW YEAR'S EVIL, MY BLOODY VALENTINE), don'ts (DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE, DON'T GO IN THE WOODS) and disastrous school events (FINAL EXAM, PROM NIGHT).  

Despite that fact that it's not as well known as some of the bigger studio slashers of the time (HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE), GRADUATION DAY isn't bad at all, and fans of these movies will no doubt be delighted to learn that it gets crazier as the running time progress.

We open with disco music, school track events, and Christopher George shouting at everyone. He's playing coach George Michaels, but before we can stop to wonder what he does to Bad Boys, where he was Last Christmas, or if anyone has to Wake Him Up Before He Go Gos, in fact even before the titles are barely over, bright young school running hopeful Laura has dropped down dead from a heart attack after winning what turns out to be her last race. Laura's sister Anne (Patch Mackenzie) returns from her stint in the navy to claim her sister's sporting award at the imminent school graduation day, staying with her rampantly alcoholic father and apologetic mother until the event. Meanwhile, members of the track team are being despatched in a number of creative and sometimes rather daft ways, including a flying football with a meat skewer on the end of it. Who is responsible?

Is it Anne? Is it Careless Christopher? Or could it be someone else chasing topless Linnea Quigley through the bushes to a delightfully demented rock and roll song performed by a band composed of goth versions of Kid Creole? I won't give away the ending because you deserve to see it for yourself, but I was extremely pleased at how daft the denouement turned out to be.
88 Films have released GRADUATION DAY on Blu-ray. This is a far better treatment than this or any other grotty early 80s slasher really deserves, and fans should revel in the opportunity to see this film in this pristine presentation. Extras include an insane introduction by Lloyd Kaufman, plus other Troma bits and pieces that those of a more ‘sophisticated’ disposition may find of interest (including a Cannibal Lesbian Hoedown Music Video directed by Kaufman) ported over from a previous Region 1 DVD release.       
        Most impressive of all the bonus bits is a feature length documentary entitled Scream Queens. This consists of as many female stars of horror movies from the 1980s onwards as High Rising Productions could find waxing lyrical on the subject, and was made especially for this 88 Films release. Scream Queens starts off threatening to concentrate on the stars of Fred Olen Ray films and worse, but it quickly settles down to feature a surprising number of actresses, many of whom have interesting contributions to make regarding the phenomenon of which they have all played a part. There’s also a short excellent talking head piece by Julian Kerswell about the making of GRADUATION DAY, lots and lots of trailers for other 88 Films releases, a reversible sleeve and booklet notes.
88 Films’ Blu-ray release of GRADUATION DAY, with its fine transfer of a crazy 1980s slasher film and its wealth of extras, represents a terrific package for fans of exploitation cinema. A lot better than I was expecting and well worth checking out.

88 Films are releasing Herb Freed's GRADUATION DAY on Blu-ray on October 13th 2014

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