1981 was the year when Slasher films blossomed throughout American theaters. Notable films like The Burning, Happy Birthday to Me, Friday the 13th: Part 2 and Halloween 2 were added to the cannon of what was already one of the most popular filmic sub-genres. And even though Slashers’ popularity and ability to rake in cash was undeniable, it was these films that, even though they all followed a similar formula, set the tone of what would be considered classic Slasher. Graduation Day tries to do this, but falls short.
The story begins with young track star, Laura (Ruth Ann Llorens), dying from an embolism after being pushed to the limit by her coach (Christopher George) during a race. When her sister, Anne (Patch Mackenzie), comes back to town to accept a special trophy on Laura’s behalf, members from the track team start dying.
What’s great about the film are the kills. They are some of the most original kills set within a school setting. The pole-vaulting kill is by far the best. And what’s incredibly original about this film is that the killer literally times each of his kills with a stopwatch. On average, each kill lasts about 30 second, which is the same amount of time it took for Laura to run her race and die!
But what Graduation Day lacks is atmosphere and tension. Sure the film pays homage to 1960’s Psycho, the supposed granddaddy film that helped jumpstart the genre, and even has elements of 1980’s Prom Night (the 12-minute roller-disco scene was about 10 minutes too long). But what other films from the same year had was an element of surprise, suspense. And a five-minute slow-motion scene of a girl on the uneven parallel bars really doesn’t scream, “Tension!”
The film’s strobe effect editing is quite clever and appears at appropriate times, but is only used as a visual gimmick and a lot of the times looks more like a music video (1981 was the year MTV made its first appearance). And Anne, the supposed Final Girl, isn’t really in her proper element. She is not a teenager and she knows how to defend herself. In many ways, there wasn’t even a final girl.
In my opinion, Graduation Day has no re-watchable quality, the acting is absolutely terrible, and its formulaic storyline was dated before it could even be established. Notable kills, but other than that, leave it alone.
Reviewed by Eric Hatch