To make up for my recent dereliction of blogging duties, I've decided to spend the next few hours writing a brand spanking new Sunday Horror Movie Index featuring three different slasher films I picked up in the last few weeks. Lest you think I chose these films at random, take a look at just a few of the elements today's subjects have in common:
All three are set in places of learning and feature actors far too old to convincingly portray students.
Two of the films feature early performances by future cultural icons.
Two of them feature performances by attractive blond television stars playing characters very different from the ones that made them famous.
Two of them feature climaxes in which the killer is revealed through the removal of alarmingly sophisticated latex masks.
Two of them take the rare step of portraying their Final Girls' as suspects, only to chicken out in the end.
Two of them feature death by sports equipment.
Two of them feature shocking twists that they completely fail to justify.
First up is--as far as I know--the only slasher movie in history to have been directed by a rabbi.
I am, of course, talking about:
Set in an unnamed high school (actually it is entirely possible that the school is given a name in the movie, but I'm too lazy to search for the reference and like to think that leaving it nameless adds a nice existential quality to the work), Graduation Day tells the story of what happens when gym coaches push their students too far--namely lots of impalements and decapitations.
It all begins at the year end track meet, where different schools from around the unnamed town (see "unnamed high school") compete in contests of athletic achievement. It soon becomes apparent that all of our unnamed school's hopes for glory are focused on one young woman named Laura Ramstead and her ability to run a race of unnamed length (once again see "unnamed high school"). As her school and teammates cheer her on from the sidelines, Laura runs her little heart out. Literally, it turns out, since she collapses to the ground mere seconds after winning the race. Having been pushed past the breaking point by the demands of the school's unrelenting Coach Michaels, Laura's body fails her and she dies in the arms of her adoring boyfriend Kevin.
Everyone at the school is upset by this tragedy and, in the furor that follows, Coach Michaels is fired. To honor Laura, the school asks her sister, Anne, a naval officer currently stationed in Guam, to come and accept her posthumous trophy and cash prize at their year end graduation ceremony. Anne agrees, although her return home is not a happy one, as it means facing her alcoholic stepfather and codependent mother--not to mention the leering advances of groping truck drivers. Clearly affected by the loss of her sister, Anne's strange behaviour manages to disturb one of Laura's former teammates when the two of them meet on the cross country running path where the track team often trained.
But as disturbed as Anne is, it remains to be seen if she is the person who has taken it upon themselves to avenge Laura's tragic death by killing her former teammates--always to the accompaniment of a ticking stopwatch, just like the one Coach Michaels was holding during her final race. Donning a fencer's mask, the killer dispatches his/her victims using a variety of swords, knives and tricked out sporting equipment until finally only the three chief suspects--Anne, Coach Michaels and Kevin--are left to figure out what is truly going on.
As a whole, Graduation Day is a very mixed bag--one filled with equal measures of disappointment and promise. In some respects it's a surprisingly well made movie, while in others it is amateurish to the point of embarrassment. It's chief virtues come from its editing and use of music, which predate the fast-paced musical montages brought upon by the influence of MTV in the years that followed its release, while its major flaw is an unfocused, meandering script that devotes far too much time to unnecessary (and ultimately unresolved) side plots involving characters with no obvious connection to the plot. For a long stretch of the movie it seems to forget that Anne is its obvious protagonist and it isn't until the end that she finally returns and takes on the Final Girl role that was hers from the start. But then during that same stretch director Herb Freed and editor Martin Jay Sadoff (whose only other non-underground editing credit would be Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood) include a bravura sequence in which the dude from TV's Fame and future Scream Queen Linnea Quigley are both decapitated to Felony's New Wave epic "Gangster Rock" (a song whose appeal will probably prove elusive to many, but which had me going to Google as soon as I first heard it). It's a thrilling moment, made all the more memorable by the time period in which it was made--years before such sequences had become clichéd.
The end result then is that rare breed of movie: the interesting failure--one worth watching, even if it ultimately fails to satisfy.
Slasher Movie Statistics
Body Count: 10 (five women and five men)
Shower Scenes: 0
Instances of Nakedity: 3 (2 courtesy of Ms. Quigley)
Obligatory Has Beens: Christopher George as Coach Michaels
Instruments of Death: Unreasonable demands, knife, epee (aka fencing foil), booby-trapped football, broadsword, bed of nails and hand gun
Creepy (and therefore suspicious ) Old Guys: 4 (The principal who cuts his apple with a confiscated switchblade, the campus cop who smokes confiscated pot, the pervy music teacher who thinks he's Marvin Hamlish and, of course, Coach Michaels).
References to Pot: 1 (Tony and Delores smoke up, before their joint is taken and enjoyed by the security guard mentioned above)
Amount of Time Required to Correctly Identify Killer: Thanks to DVD freeze frame you can tell who it is immediately during the second murder.
Cheesy References to Other Horror Movies: You're not allowed to make this kind of movie and not reference Psycho at least once. This one features a reference more direct than most.
Unnecessary, But Nonetheless Entertaining Musical Sequences: 2 (including the Felony sequence mentioned above and another impromptu sing-a-long in the school cafeteria)
Relevance of Titular Event to Actual Plot: 15%
Unusually Memorable Dialogue Exchange:
Dolores: It must be nice to be a boy and be able to piss wherever you want to!
Tony: The world is my toilet.
Utterly Pointless Trivia: Graduation Day features the motion picture debut of a young actress/model who would go on to become a household name and a true cultural icon. Can you guess who she is? (Hint: She's in the pink shirt)
Look here to find out who she is.
Final Girl Rating: 5 out of 10
(And here's the part where I admit I bit off more than I could chew. Due to my urgent need to sleep, I shall discuss the next two films sometime tomorrow)