Starring: Christopher George, Patch Mackenzie, E. Danny Murphy
Director: Herb Freed
88 Films’ Slasher Classics Collection gets off to a promising start with Graduation Day (1981). It’s one of the most gialloesque of the original cycle of American slasher movies. After a girl drops dead at a track meet, a school athletics team find themselves being picked off by a killer with a fencing mask and épée, who times their murders with a stopwatch. Prime suspects are hard-talking, unsympathetic Coach Williams (Christopher George) and the dead girl’s martial arts-trained older sister, Ann (Patch Mackenzie), who has come back from overseas for the graduation day prize-giving.
A cool, collected outsider with a complicated home life, Ann hangs out with her sister’s distraught boyfriend Kevin (E. Danny Murphy) and goes about asking questions. Meanwhile, kids continue to get offed with a gory flourish, and eventually it dawns on the school principal that quite a few of them seem to be missing and unaccounted for … or maybe he’s got something to do with it too?
Eventually, Graduation Day dissipates itself in too many throwaway scenes, loud partying, inconsequential red herrings and serio-comic exchanges between men in horrible flat-fronted trousers (the Principal again, and a plainclothes cop who comes to look into the disappearances), and it pays the price for not cohering around a central character (Ann’s the closest thing we have to a protagonist, but the movie leaves too many questions about her unresolved). The first 50 minutes, however, stand up very well. You’d be forgiven for not expecting much from a man who was DP on a movie called Nude Bowling Party, but Daniel Yarussi’s cinematography is surprisingly sensual and atmospheric, as is the art direction by Chris Henry (Kevin has a particularly interesting living room, with a life-sized statue of a fat naked man in one corner and a senile old lady in another). As a result, Graduation Day has a dreamy, lyrical texture which director Herb Reed plays off ably against shots of the voyeuristically lurking, black-gloved killer. And even if it does slacken off for most of the third act, the movie picks itself up for a decent finale and it’s just a little more imaginative, deeply felt and exotic than the common run of stalk ‘n’ slash fare
The HD transfer is on the whole very nice, with a little grain in some of the darker scenes but plenty of depth and presence, capturing the bloom and shimmer of the visuals – the woodland scenes looks particularly dewy and crisp. The disc comes with a very informative 9-minute intro by Justin Kerswell, who talks about the director’s unlikely background in choreography, the film’s performance at the box office and the various members of the cast. On top of that, there are various facetious Troma bits and bobs, and the main attraction, a 77-minute documentary about scream queens hosted by Debbie Rochon. There are no great revelations and it consists more of soundbites that proper in-depth interviews, but it’s a chance to catch up with some familiar faces, including Michelle Bauer, Brinke Stevens, Linnea Quigley and Elvira. Topics under discussion include: the definition of the term scream queen, nudity (most voice regrets at having done it but said they had no choice, and only a few say they actually enjoyed it), crazy fans (Rochon reveals that when she had brain surgery, some of her admirers wanted to buy the tumour) and what makes a good scream (according to Linnea Quigley, it’s all about “being able to go from the diaphragm and just really let one out”).