Director: Herb Freed
Year of release: 1981
Country of origin: USA
Running time: 96 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: Both
Tagline: "There are 200 seniors at Midvale High and seven days until graduation. The class of 81 is running out of time".
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: Our story begins with the death of champion sprinter Laura, a star of the successful Midvale High athletics team. Seconds after winning a race she mysteriously drops dead which we later learn was due to a blood clot. She leaves behind distraught boyfriend Kevin who himself is a member of the athletics team. Some months later in the days leading up to the senior class and indeed the athletics teams Graduation Day, Laura's sister Anne shows up in town. She is fresh from serving time in the navy and is back to receive a special award at the graduation event on her late sister's behalf. Coinciding with her return is the systematic demise one by one of the remaining members of the athletics team who are being picked off by a mysterious individual clad in a fencing mask. The killer seems to have a link with the deceased Laura as each kill is recorded on a stopwatch to exactly thirty seconds, the time Laura set in her final race.
Good points: There is a nice mystery feel to the proceedings with an effective job done of providing numerous suspects as to who the killer might be. Chief among them is the overly tough team coach Michael who looses his job during the film. Laura's sister Anne is also someone we can't decide on as the killings only begin as she arrives plus she is seen following the first victim and acting creepy towards the second but at the same time she is being set up as our final girl. Other possibilities are campus policeman MacGregor, overly nice and sensitive and still grieving boyfriend Kevin and the school principle Mr Guglione. So plenty possibilities and red herrings to keep us guessing.
Although it didn't go as in depth as I would have liked or wasn't told as well as it could have been beneath some of the dross there was the backbone of a typical slasher story which I appreciated. Starting with the traumatic accident obviously upsetting someone to the point they become unhinged, the Prom Night style crossing out of the faces on the photograph, the mask and mystery surrounding the killer and little bit of a dark twist at the end, many of the standards are upheld. They are perhaps not presented to us as well as they could have been but they are still there propping things up.
The last parts of the film were easily the best for me with there being quite an exciting dramatic sequence of events unfolding once the killers identity is revealed. It takes a slightly darker turn at this point which I liked with many of the bodies of earlier victims also popping up which is always fun.
There are some creepy parts to the film such as the scenes at Kevin's house with the deaf grandmother and more notably on a couple of occasions where the killer is observing the next victim like for example when the blonde girl near the start with the headphones is being pursued and later the scenes in the school with Sally being spied on in the locker room.
Bad Points: I think the story would have benefited from being expanded upon a lot more when it came to the athletes on the team that the killer was targeting. Presumably they were being blamed somehow for Laura's death but as this wasn't really elaborated on we didn't know why it was they were being held responsible. One idea I had which could have explained things better is to have the athletes feeling guilty and then in flashbacks maybe have scenes where they were pressurising Laura into making sure she won her race and trained extra hard. Like maybe the school team winning the state championship or whatever could have hinged on points they would have gained from Laura winning her race. This way the killer could have been seen to be targeting those who put too much pressure on her to perform which could have led to her working too hard and becoming ill. Instead though they give us subplots involving the principle getting frisky with his secretary and a horny music teacher which don't go anywhere or ultimately add anything significant to the story.
They also didn't do a very good job of explaining that Coach Micheals was fired. You would have thought he would have been fired shortly after Laura's death if he was the one carrying the can for it but he still seems to be in the job two months later when Anne shows up in town. We see him giving Sally a hard time at one point seemingly still employed and then the next thing we know he has apparently been fired despite us not seeing it happen or being given any concrete reasons for his dismissal. They wanted him to be in a disgruntled state I know so that we would suspect him as the killer but the way it was done was lazy, confusing and didn't make much sense.
There is an awful scene involving a roller disco that has a band playing that seems to go on forever. The same song seems to be playing on a loop for well over five minutes. The band drone on in the background while we see a couple of deaths but the music is so bad it is hard to concentrate on what we are seeing.
The Dolores character is played by two different people in the film. The first actress who appears when the coach wants to take a group photo didn't want to do nudity so they later replaced her with Linnea Quigley. Seeing that the original actress was only in the one scene though you would think they would just go back and reshoot it with Linnea but they don't which makes it look amateur.
For me Anne didn't get enough screentime in he middle of the film as after her introduction she only really crops up again for a significant role at the end. In the middle though we barely see her which gives us no final girl or likable character to root for. They wanted to have her off camera to set her up as a suspect I guess but would have been better served establishing her more as the final girl in my view with just a hint of uncertainty about her. Also regarding Anne her final chase scene could have been better. I liked the ending but when she is running to the bleachers there is no one coming after her only for the killer to later appear as if by magic. Would have been better I think to have her visibly being chased by the attacker.
Verdict: This one was disappointing for me and a bit of a let down. Had potential to be better than it was but just came across as too lazy and sloppy writing wise with a few annoying cheesy bits like the roller disco part. I didn't like the killers outfit either though evidently someone did as it was mimicked years later in Urban Legend 2. The kills to be fair were okay, not good enough to be listed as a positive but not bad either though the special effects at the end for Laura's corpse weren't good. She didn't look to me as if she had been decomposing for two months. Overall it could have been worse I guess but also a lot lot better so I wasn't very impressed and couldn't really recommend this.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1) Laura: Dies of a bloodclot after collapsing after finishing a race.
2) Blonde cross country runner: Throat slit.
3) Sally: Poked in the throat with a fencing sword.
4) Football playing jock: Impaled with a football attached to some sort of spike or javelin.
5) Boyfriend of Dolores: Decapitated with a sword whilst he urinated.
6) Dolores: Also decapitated with a sword after a chase scene with the killer.
7) Pole Vaulter/High jumper: Killed after landing on a crashmat covered in spikes.
8) Coach Micheals: Shot by Inspector Halliday who wrongfully thinks he is the killer.
9) Kevin: Stumbles into the corpse of number seven and is thus impaled on the same set of spikes.