Graduation Day (1981)

Marking the launch of 88 Films Slasher Classics Collection is GRADUATION DAY, a Californian shot horror which was banned after its pre-cert UK release on IFS under a Section 3 Seizure Order, although its content was reappraised to a 15 certification as early as 2003 for its budget Hollywood DVD release. It proved an unlikely hit for director and former Rabbi Herb Freed, who other than this slasher made little impact over his ten directorial outings; though having said that, as schlock-entertainment the John Saxon starring BEYOND EVIL (1980) is a gloriously awful haunted house flick that warrants a late night alcohol fuelled viewing.

GRADUATION DAY begins with a high school track race where Laura (Ruth Ann Llorens), encouraged by the crowd and coach is pushing herself to the limit, so much so that after she crosses the finishing line she collapses and is soon pronounced dead. Shortly after this tragedy her sister Ann (Mackenzie) moves back to the small town where she was born and begins to do some investigatory work around the school in an effort to uncover the killer. As she digs deeper, a spate of killings begin which see Laura’s former track team members murdered by an anonymous black-gloved killer in a fencing mask.

With a synth-laden slice of pop cheese in ‘The Winner’ playing over the opening credits, GRADUATION DAY announces itself as a child of the early eighties loud and proud. While flares and dated hairstyles are the understated aspects that date such peers as HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY 13th, here an antiquated musical score from the band Felony (no, me neither) as well as Bee Gees plastered walls and alternatively shaped headphones mean that GRADUATION DAY wears its year of production firmly on its sleeve.

Deliriously camp in appearance, GRADUATION DAY makes for a decidedly modest slasher. Murder sequences are at times eye-rollingly constructed with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, while the mystery of the anonymous killer never really intrigues to the degree that it wants to and comes with a somewhat disappointing payoff. That said this is a film impossible to dislike irrespective of its obvious shortcomings. With frequent forays into comedic territory; intended or otherwise, along with eye-catching performances from such folk as Linnea Quigley, Vanna White, Michael Pataki and Christopher George, it’s a movie that provides great entertainment, but released slap bang in the middle of the golden era of slasher movies – it’s firmly down the pecking order.

With a region free Blu-ray coming from Vinegar Syndrome five weeks prior to this release, the boys at 88 Films were always going to have to add something special to convince people to opt for this home-grown release. At first glance, the absence of any commentaries (the Vinegar Syndrome edition has two), and the glut of Troma related miscellany from Kaufman’s age-old DVD elicits a resigned sigh.

Thankfully though, the welcome addition of the superb Scream Queen documentary from High Rising elevates this Blu-ray to another level. This feature length extra is introduced by the lovely Debbie Rochon who makes way for a legion of Scream Queens to talk candidly about their careers – from the iconic Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens and Michelle Bauer; to the lesser known Forbes Riley, Patricia Tallman and Elissa Dowling; there’s many more too, all of whom make for fascinating viewing. What’s so refreshing is the concept of having a totally female perspective. It removes the distraction of a leering myriad of guys giving their predictably caveman-like reasons for their Scream Queen appreciation; leaving us instead with a relaxed, honest and informal analysis of the subject. With Jason Paul Collum’s SOMETHING TO SCREAM ABOUT being the last feature I remember on this topic, Waddell’s documentary easily eclipses it and could easily stand its own as a separate release.

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