Back in September, I went on opening night to see SORORITY ROW, a silly remake of a just-as-silly 1980s slasher. I really don’t like slashers in general, so why this lame remake inspired me, I’ll never know. But inspire it did, and I set myself to the task of reviewing a bunch of slashers, the first round of which were school-based. Several months later, I stopped stalling and actually committed myself to following through on it (hey, I told you I can’t stand slashers). Below is the sixth in this series of reviews.
There’s nothing quite like starting a school slasher flick with a bunch of track and field events set to a disco tune. A mixture of slow motion and regular speed shots of runners, pole vaulters and gymnasts set to a funky synthesizer sure makes for a unique opening not only within the subgenre, but within all of horror. Now that’s a feat. But it doesn’t stop with the opening. No, GRADUATION DAY does everything it can to be a flashy, extroverted entry that is sure to entertain in its goofiness, which includes all of the following: a disgruntled fencer; a burly, horny guy in a yellow ascot; a perverted music teacher in a powder blue suit; poofy haired teen idol Billy Hufsey, of the TV show FAME; the ever-wooden Christopher George and his letter turning, non-talent niece Vanna White; and a very interesting landing place for a vaulter.
Look beyond the absurd trappings, and the plot is pretty standard. After a track star dies in a race, a slasher comes to the campus. As graduation day approaches, the killer stalks and eliminates the athletes on the track team. When the track star’s sister arrives home from her military post in Guam, she tries to figure out the identity and motive of the killer. All common slasher fare, right down to the whodunnit and the black-gloved maniac crossing off his slaughtered prey in the team’s yearbook photo. But focusing on plot robs this movie of its greater glories. The real joy comes in watching scenes such as the one that intercuts a female athlete on the uneven bars with flashes of the first victim and slow motion footage of her coach watching on, licking his lips. Or that music teacher wooing teens as he croons and tickles the ivories, right before the most non-erotic seduction I’ve seen in ages as Quigley hits him up for a passing grade. Or even better, the creative use of a jock, a football and a fencing foil. Best of all, though, is the gratuitous use of a stopwatch. When a slasher sets out to beat his best killing times, he’s doing something special. Much of the credit for this inspired insanity goes to co-writer/director Herb Freed, who surely intended to make a film that would stand out in a glutted market; with GRADUATION DAY, he succeeded.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t special mention to Christopher George’s performance as Coach George Michaels. He may be the most bitter state employee ever committed to film. I inferred very early that here’s a man who was a stellar athlete back in his day. His past glories now faded, he’s poured his pathetic existence into coaching high school track. When everyone turns on him after his prize runner dies, he becomes a caustic bastard, spewing vitriol in all directions. I’m used to a stoic cardboard cutout every time George shows up in a movie, so watching pissed off George jazzed me.
If my facts are straight, Troma didn’t release the film in theatres, but they handled the DVD. And so the extras match the lunacy of the film itself, right down to the menu presentation as yearbook pages. Troma co-founder and creator of the Toxic Avenger Lloyd Kaufman introduces the film wearing graduation cap and gown, from in front of an inner city high school that he claims is his alma mater, Yale. Who but Lloyd would introduce a film and brag about how it beat out the Columbine killings by 19 years? Who else would schedule an interview with Linnea Quigley and arrange for the interviewer to be none other than… Sgt. Kabukiman, NYPD? Lloyd clearly has no shame, as he shills one of his many books during the demonstration of a Troma-style arm rip. There are also trailers for a number of films, the most fitting of which is a more modern school slasher, THE HALL MONITOR. And yes, it looks like a Troma movie. But that should be obvious from its tag line “Reading… Writing… Reloading.” Haven’t got your fill of Tromatic extras? Search around the “Detention” menu, and you’ll discover a music video that Lloyd directed for the song “The Cannibal Lesbian Hoedown.”
GRADUATION DAY is by no means a good movie. But it is schizoid entertainment at its best, gaudy, eye-popping fun that never ceased to entertain me from the first shot of a stopwatch. The accumulation of a series of insane scenes transcends plot, and manage to rouse Christopher George to act for a change. Credit Herb Freed for going above and beyond the usual slasher fare with panache. High school sports were never this fun.
–Phil Fasso
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