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.
Some months later in the days leading up to the graduation of the senior class, Laura's sister Anne shows up in town. Fresh from serving time in the Navy, Anne is back to receive a special award at the graduation event in honour of her late sister. Coinciding with her return is the systematic demise one by one of the remaining members of the athletics team. The athletes find themselves being picked off in rather inventive ways by a perpetrator sometime seen to be wearing a fencing mask. The killer also appears to have a link with the deceased Laura, each kill recorded on a stopwatch to exactly thirty seconds, the time Laura set in her final race.
Good points: *There is a nice whodunit feel to the proceedings with an effective job done of providing numerous suspects to set up an effective mystery. Chief among them is the overly tough team coach Michael, a man seen to perhaps push his proteges too far in the search for success. Laura's sister Anne is also someone we can't decide on as the killings only begin as she arrives in town. In addition 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 include a nasty campus security guard/policeman, the grieving boyfriend of the deceased Laura and the school principle Mr Guglione. So plenty of possibilities and red herrings to keep the audience on their toes.
*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 reasonably creepy parts to Graduation Day such as the scenes at Kevin's house with the deaf grandmother in attendance. Though only a very bit part player I found her a bit unnerving. More notably things can take on a creepy aspect on a couple of occasions when the killer is spying on potential victims beforehand such as a scene with Sally being watched in the locker rooms.
On the other side of the coin some light hearted fun has been injected into the script with the characters of both the school principle and a randy music teacher. Though ultimately not really going anywhere these moments added to the entertainment value IMO.
Bad Points: *I think the story would have benefited from being expanded upon a little more when it came to why the team athletes specifically were being targeted. 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.
They also didn't do a very good job of explaining that Coach Michael’s 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 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’s 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 it was handled lazily.
*There’s 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 soundtrack is overbearing making it tough to focus on the visuals.
On top of this I felt there were a few other parts that were too long such as the opening credits as well as a part where a student was leading a sing along with several of his class mates.
*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’d think they’d just go back and reshoot it with Linnea but they don't which makes it look amateur.
*Big spoilers: Laura’s corpse being thrown in for the finale was a good idea but it didn’t look that great with the special effects here decidedly lacking. I don’t want to whinge too much as I liked the end as I said but Anne’s final chase scene could have been better put together as well. As she’s running to the bleachers there’s no one coming after her only for the killer to later appear as if by magic. It would have been better I think to have her visibly being chased by the attacker.
Verdict: I wasn’t initially the biggest fan of this film awarding it a measly 4/10 rating in my review. After more recently giving it another shot however I ended up appreciating it a lot more second time around. The story could have been handled better in places while certain scenes would have benefited from being shortened or removed altogether but the positives outweigh the negatives. It’s good fun for the most part with the cheesy aspects maybe adding to that in some way. It’s no classic for sure but I’m glad I gave it a second chance.
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. Think this is off camera though with the severed head maybe being seen later.
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.
Review edited on the 28th of October 2020.