Graduation Day (1981)

When you get to the month of May, and you’re in school (especially high school), you’re all about getting the hell out of there for a summer of goofing off and sleeping in. So, with this week’s B-Movie Enema review, let’s celebrate the impending graduation of the class of 2023 with a look at the 1981 slasher horror film Graduation Day.

This comes from director Herb Freed who made only about ten movies. In 1976, he made Haunts with everyone’s favorite B-movie star, Cameron Mitchell. Then, in 1980, just before making Graduation Day, he made another horror film called Beyond Evil. Now, what’s interesting is that Beyond Evil starred Linda Day George. when he made Graduation Day a year later, he cast Linda’s husband Christopher George as his lead. Interesting how that comes around. Then, in 1985, he made another kind of cult classic 80s film, Tomboy, starring Betsy Russell. However, by the end of the decade and into the 90s, it seemed that Freed then mostly made video store and cable type movies that have a bit of a reduced budget and lesser marketing.

So, yeah, we have Christopher George in Graduation Day. Now, we saw him previously in City of the Living Dead. This is definitely at the end of his career. He would die in 1983 from a heart attack at the age of 52. He’s not the only character actor to be found here in this movie, as we also have Michael Pataki. Pataki appeared in the Spider-Man TV movies of the late 70s as well as bit parts in Rocky IV and Halloween 4 where he appeared as Dr. Hoffman. Additionally, we have an appearance of Linda Shayne who as in classics of B-Movie Enema lore like Humanoids of the Deep, Screwballs, and Lovely But Deadly. Not only that, but we have Linnea Quigley who has been in too many of B-Movie Enema alumni films to list. Finally, we have the queen of gameshow letter flipping, Vanna White, in one of her seven feature and television film appearances.

In addition, another great thing is that Graduation Day was made on a budget of only $250,000, and raked in nearly $24 million. That’s what you call a massive success. Think about it, it made 96 times its production budget! That’s amazing! What’s much less amazing is that, surprise surprise, Graduation Day got some pretty bad reviews. Many critics in major cities refused to review it in protest against the onslaught of slasher horror films that came along in the wake of the Halloween and Friday the 13th successes at the box office. The few who did review it blasted it for being fairly subpar and even kind of sophomoric in quality, including one review even making the conjecture that the film was shot using different film stock. Now, there are seven reviews on Rotten Tomatoes with four of the seven giving it a positive, but it’s helpful to remember that RT can only pull what’s available to retrieve from current reviews or from archives of the original publications that published the reviews over 40 years ago.

But that never stops us around here at B-Movie Enema, does it? Nope! We power through bad reviews of old horror movies. If the movie is as bad as some of these summarized reviews say it is, then it will reveal itself as such, but between Linnea Quigley, Vanna White, and Linda Shayne appearing in this, I think it will at least give us something good to look at. So, let’s get into Graduation Day and see if the movie makes a passing grade!

The movie hits the ground, er… track running. Looks like a track meet is going on where Green Tank Top High School is competing against White and Blue Poly Technic in hurdles and shot put and all sorts of other stuff. Also, Linda Shayne is there rooting on the school from the girls team while another of the guys’ team looks particularly angry.

All this is set to some sweet late 70s/early 80s style rockin’ soundtrack. The editing is also insane. It cuts from track and field to the crowd to coach Christopher George to gymnastics to a member of the boys track and field team and a member of the girls track and field team making out. I… I think it’s a member from each team. Style of hair and body shape during this era can sometimes make it hard to tell if it’s truly a hetero group or if this movie is shockingly progressive for 1981. The editing, the music, the curly hair and feathered hairdos are nuts. I think we’re in for a treat here, folks.

So one of the girls competing in the track meet wins a race but collapses in a pile of ragdoll human physiology just after crossing the finish line. Her name was Laura Ramstead and she’s dead now. I know this because it made the paper and we get a shot of it. However, if you read the article the headline and picture are placed with, it’s about people getting their trucks stolen in San Diego where they then show up in Mexico to be stripped for parts. Which then makes me think that perhaps Laura’s body was stripped for parts after she died.

The paper is being read by a woman in the Navy hitching a ride with a guy who wants to chat her up, but she won’t respond. He’s asking about the girl in the newspaper article. He then asks her about a pair of lesbian Naval officers. She doesn’t want any of it. He then puts his hand on her leg, and she grabs him by the balls and tells him to leave her alone. They arrive in town where she gets let out and free from this pervy guy’s hands. When she gets out of the truck, she watches Linda Shayne doing her jogging thing. The lady from the Navy is Laura’s older sister, Anne. We’ll come back to her momentarily.

Back to Linda Shayne running and training. She runs through this park where a person with black leather gloves and a gray sweatshirt and a stopwatch begins chasing her. Soon, this assailant catches up with her and slashes her with a knife and kills her. Next we see Coach George Michaels, played by Christopher George. He’s wearing a gray sweatshirt and has a stopwatch around his neck. He wants to take a picture for the newspaper, but Linda Shayne is late… because she’s dead. Seems as though this coach is a bit of a hard ass. He’s all about punctuality and the kids being in line. One of the guys on the team makes reference that not everyone on the team was expected to live through their senior year.

Anne comes home where her parents are weirdos. Her mother seems to be almost overly happy despite her other daughter being dead on a track just some months ago. Her father is a fuckwit who bitches about her being home from the Navy after she sticks up for her mother when he says something shitty to her. Turns out that Laura had insurance money that paid out to Anne. She also left her with a trophy that is going to be given to her at graduation, but she doesn’t want to keep either. A couple things of note, her suitcase has a gray workout sweat suit and black gloves. She also smashes a picture of her sister’s track and field team. Also, there is a giant, sweet ass poster of the Bee Gees on the wall of Laura’s room.

That’s pretty fuckin’ awesome.

We have at least TWO possible killers, Coach Michaels and Anne. Now, Coach always wears a sweatsuit because he’s a coach. He also always has a stopwatch. That was a big part of the opening when he pushed and pushed Laura to beat her best time, and he wears it because track is a thing where timing is important. All he’d need is to get a pair of gloves. Anne is in the military, and as she explained to her stepdad who was going to slap her around she’s learned some things in the military. Her suitcase has the same sweatsuit and gloves. So all she needs is a stopwatch.

On top of that, Coach Michaels appears to be a real jerkass. He’s hard on the kids. There is at least some thought that he is to blame for her having a cardiac embolism. Anne seems to be from a kooky family. She also seems to have some frustration with the track and field team. She also speaks to one of the girls on the team and kind of acts oddly around her and scares the girl off. Also, in the locker room, the killer is marking out the faces of the members of the team with lipstick. So… I think we’re supposed to think Anne is our killer. She is a little weird and seems quite angry about her sister.

Anne goes to the house of Laura’s boyfriend, Kevin. Kevin’s kept a book of photos of Laura as a sort of shrine to her. She gives him a necklace she bought for Laura for graduation. The scene is brief but it actually is the first time we’ve seen Anne act like a normal person who is processing her sister’s death.

After Anne leaves, we see another classmate of Laura’s, and the girl that got spooked by Anne’s behavior earlier when Anne was looking for directions to the school, named Sally. She’s a gymnast and getting dressed in the locker room to get her picture taken like the track team had. We know someone is stalking her, but she gets spooked by a couple classmates who go into the locker room without her hearing them. Apparently, Coach Michaels is also the gymnastics coach. She is asked to do a small example of her routine but she doesn’t want to. Coach Michaels berates her and makes her do the full routine, but her concentration is shot from being spooked earlier. The photographer gets his shots, but can’t help but notice how Coach Michaels looks at Sally. It’s a strange mix of pride and scrutiny with a little bit of old gross man admiration mixed in for good measure.

Sally wipes out again after her routine and runs off angry and embarrassed. While she is in the locker room shaving her legs and getting dressed again, the attacker grabs a fencing sword. The killer approaches Sally wearing the mask to hide their identity. The killer runs the sword through Sally’s throat and kills her.

Elsewhere in the school, the music teacher is approached by Dolores, played by Linnea Quigley. He’s gotta fail her and force her to take summer school. But she locks the door to the music room and shows her tits. After getting his head crammed between those titties, I think she might just get by with a passing grade. In the principal’s office, it turns out that Michael Pataki has a whole drawer of knives, one of which was the one used to kill Linda Shayne. Back with the music teacher, he hears some strange banging in the pipes. He goes down to the boiler room to investigate. Someone plays the tape of him screwing around with Linnea Quigley. He sees a boy and a girl running off.

Speaking of Linnea Quigley. She’s outside with her boyfriend smoking a doobie. Her boyfriend is one of the teammates on the track team. So he’s probably not much longer for this movie. It looks like someone is sneaking up and around them. When Linnea tries to unbuckle his belt because she tells him she’s really horny, the person sneaking up on them is a cop named McGregor. I like that McGregor is a character that doesn’t even have a badge on his shirt. He’s got some sort of patch on his sleeve, but he’s just wearing a beige shirt with a gun holster. That’s some low-effort cop costume for this movie.

Anyway… Anne is inside the school and she’s in the shop room looking for Coach Michaels. The room is dark but suddenly tools start turning on by themselves. She screams in shock, but Michaels comes in and blames her for playing games with precision tools. She basically blames Michaels for killing Laura. His defense is that she loved her and therefore wasn’t intentionally trying to harm her. He says that everyone in town and in the school has blamed him for killing her by pushing her too hard, but he laments that when he wins meets and championships, everything loves him, but one girl has a medical condition and it’s enough to turn everyone against him.

Anne is unimpressed.

Anne leaves telling him she got the answers she was looking for and that they will meet again. Out in this path in the park next to the school, one of the football players is suited up and tossing a ball around to himself. This kid, Ralph, is approached by a couple girls, who have shown up multiple times before victims are attacked, one of which is Vanna White, and mess with him. They throw the football he was carrying into the trees. The killer has put a blade into it and throws the ball back so it impales him in the stomach.

I think sword football has been the weakest of the kills so far. It’s just a dumb thing. It wouldn’t make much sense for it to be able to be thrown back easily. Nor would it have much umpf on it to really impale and kill a guy.

The rest of the school, of the people who haven’t died yet, are gearing up for the big graduation day festivities, but before we can get to the big day, we gotta have a rockin’ party. In back to back scenes, we have some students jamming out and then a big party goes down with a full on rock band and a roller rink and everything. I feel like I was born a little too late. We didn’t roller skate around in circles at a big graduation party as a class. We were lucky to all get along across socio-economic lines.

Sigh… to be young again.

Anyway, I kind of feel like we have to be getting pretty close to some big deaths and a reveal of who’s the killer. Clearly, our suspect list is meant to have Anne and Coach Michaels at the top. However, Michael Pataki with his drawer full of knives is probably the next best suspect. The fourth suspect is emerging with that goofball cop being a bit of a weirdo. He has issued a warning that he could make Coach Michaels’ life hell and hurt him real bad if he gives him reason to. He also has begun snooping around and has followed Linnea Quigley and her boyfriend, Tony, when they ditch the party to go fuck in the park.

Also, can we just bask in the beauty that is Linnea Quigley? I feel like I have to take this pause every time we watch one of her movies. She’s just the quintessential 80s horror babe. She’s got a cuteness to her that is also a little scuffed by a dirty side to her and gosh… She’s just swell.

But you know what’s not doing so swell? Tony. He has to stop with the fuckmaking to take a whiz. There’s a line Linnea gives about being jealous that guys can just piss wherever they want. Tony responds by saying that the world’s his toilet. Now, there’s someone creeping up behind him to kill him, and that’s kind of a bummer for sure because Linnea is likely next, but I love Linnea Quigley’s lines with Billy Hufsey as Tony. Their lines feel like natural people’s lines. They don’t feel scripted. They flirt and they chide and they joke around with each other, but they also seemingly really like each other too. In any pairing of two characters, they seem like the two who really do seem like actual friends. Maybe they were, or maybe they just had good chemistry together. Either way, it’s noticeable and it makes this pair one of the highlights of Graduation Day.

Well, at least until Tony loses his head and the killer in the fencing gear and sword chases after Linnea Quigley.

It looks like Linnea did the right thing by running back toward the big graduation party, but she gets cut off by the fencing killer who then cuts off her head. The next day, the parents of the kids who have died are starting to recognize that they never came home and today is graduation day so they have lots of questions and no answers about where their kids are. The principal tells one of the parents that it seems like not all the kids got home and they are all from the track team.

An inspector shows up because these missing kids seem to have racked up and the parents have now gone to the cops. That adds a little extra pressure to the principal who is hoping to get through today and ship this class out the door and move on with life. So this inspector starts to mill around and the cop that is always at the school who I mentioned earlier doesn’t have a badge on his uniform asks what the haps are and probably trying to get some help. The inspector, someone with an eye as keen as mine, noticed the same thing I did. This goofus cop doesn’t have a badge. He asks and McGregor tells him that he must have lost it.

Mystery solved.

Outside, for some reason, pole vaulting practice still has to happen. The pole vaulter makes his jump, and lands on spikes the killer placed there instead. Cool death, but we barely knew the kid getting killed and it happens so fast in an insert scene while the inspector is snooping around. It’s just a so-so moment when this movie has done some stuff so much better.

The inspector goes to speak to Coach Michaels who reveals he’s been fired and he’s packing his things. As he cleans out his desk, we see that he does have a pair of those gloves just like Anne did. The two girls who keep finding themselves involved with a victim just before they were killed find Sally’s body in Laura’s locker. They see that Coach Michaels sees this. He checks Sally’s body and finds the fencing sword in the locker as well. That’s when Laura’s boyfriend, Kevin (remember him?), sees the coach with the sword and thinks he’s attacking the girls. Anne arrives with the inspector. Kevin tells them it’s Coach Michaels who has been killing everyone. The inspector finds the picture of the track team with the faces x’d out with the lipstick.

Coach Michaels escapes into the park next to the school with Kevin, Anne, and the inspector close on the trail. The inspector finally asks who Anne is and what her stake is in all this. That’s kind of a new one, isn’t it? An inspector asking who the hell someone is. Kinda novel. Anyway, Michaels pleads his case that Kevin doesn’t understand. But, it’s Kevin who is the actual killer. He blames everyone on the team, Coach Michaels the most, for killing Laura. The stopwatch is to kill people in 30 seconds, the time in which Coach Michaels began pushing her down the track up to the time she died.

Michaels wrestles a weapon from Kevin’s hands and that’s when the inspector shows up. He shoots the coach and Kevin tells Anne that Michaels was to blame for everything.

Now, you might think that the killer’s gotten away with everything and Michaels is dead and taking the blame, right? It’s not that simple. There are still 15 minutes remaining in this movie. Anne goes to see the principal’s secretary to ask for Laura’s trophy so she can make sure she has it before leaving for the Navy. That’s when she finds out that Kevin has already picked up her diploma and trophy and did so, supposedly on Anne’s orders. That leads Anne to go back to Kevin’s house to snoop around and get that trophy and some answers. When she goes into his room, Anne finds that Kevin’s been keeping Laura’s corpse in his room, and he’s dressed her in a graduation gown and cap.

Anne’s learning that Kevin is a little cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. You see, the death of Laura really really messed up Kevin. They were planning on getting married just after graduation. She died, and it shattered his entire life. He didn’t care much for how they just buried her and no one ever wants to talk about her again. They clearly don’t care about her. So, he’s kept her taken care of in his room and he plans to marry her tonight after they graduate, just as they always planned. When Anne is a little put off by this, Kevin says she’s as bad as everyone else and she has to die too.

In a series of events, the corpse of Laura falls forward and when it runs into Kevin, he stumbles back and crashes through his window and falls to the ground. She escapes his house only to see him bringing Laura’s body back inside to set her back up again. Anne runs to the school where she plans to reveal that Kevin is the actual killer. She only gets to the track and is winded so she has to sit on the bleachers for a moment. Kevin catches up. He plans to slash her with a knife, but remember Anne has learned some things thanks to the military. What did she learn? Fuckin’ kung fu! She defends and attacks with some sweet kicks and chops. As she tries to fight off Kevin, the other bodies of the killed seniors show up in their various hiding places. The one guy who died by spikes in the pole vault landing mat? Well, he still has those spikes sticking out of him. She pushes Kevin backwards into the spikes and Kevin dies.

That night, Anne says her goodbyes to her mom and packs for her flight first thing in the morning. As she sleeps, her door flies open and Kevin stumbles in and plans to attack. However, when her mother comes in and turns on the light, it’s her stepfather. He’s not holding a knife up to attack, he’s holding a bottle of booze. Her mom has to come and usher him back to the bedroom. When morning comes, Anne gets a cab and heads back to the Navy and I guess everything is honky dory now.

Graduation Day is not that bad. I would definitely give it a passing grade. What’s most interesting about this movie isn’t the death scenes. Those are really hit and miss, though the scene with Tony and Dolores getting killed when they went off to have a fuck sesh during the graduation party is pretty darn good for a lot of reasons.

The most interesting moments in this movie take place in between the kills. You have a principal who hates his students and messing around with his secretary. They come off like they’re in a comedy. The music teacher is a giant dork but also pretty successful at getting the girls in his class to swoon over him. Anne’s home situation with her mother and stepfather is bizarre. These things don’t exactly fit that well within the confines of a serious slasher. But I do think that there couldn’t have been that refined of a script. Maybe the plot was there, but a lot of lines do not feel scripted at all. Maybe Herb Freed gave context and just let the actors in front of the camera say what they would typically say. That would make sense with the two girls that always show up before a big moment happens or the interaction between Linnea Quigley and Billy Hufsey. That’s where the real charm of this movie is.

Remember, this movie came out just about a year after Friday the 13th hit big and really launched the slasher subgenre in horror. The formula and the way these types of movies are constructed wasn’t really in place yet. So this might have been a situation where Herb Freed was going to make a movie that was part of a rather popular genre at the time, but he didn’t really have dozens of examples of how to make a movie like this. He just winged it and the result is this movie with all its oddities baked into it. I don’t know if Graduation Day is particularly memorable, but I would say that it is probably in the top half of the genre of the 80s.

Alright, the bell is about to ring, so I think we should look forward to what’s in the syllabus for next week. Considering Memorial Day is fast approaching, let’s do something similar to what we did this week and make some hay around it. Join me back here in one week as I take a look at Memorial Valley Massacre!

Until then, remember, commencement is not a conclusion, just the start of something new, so let’s go out there and change the world!

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