Graduation Day (1981)
As soon as Lloyd “Troma” Kaufman’s name appears at the beginning, even if it’s not in any capacity other than “presenting”, you should know what kind of a film you’re in for. If you aren’t familiar with Troma’s output, well apart from the obvious “Call yourself a horror fan?”, then go check out some of their movies and see what you think. The Toxic Avenger (1984) or perhaps Class of Nuke ‘Em High (1986) are two good starting points, iconic in their own way and representative of Troma’s oeuvre as a whole, I’d say. Troma’s films tend to be in love them/loathe them territory, with very little room for sitting on the fence, catering as they do to a very select taste and well…perhaps the phrase “Trash Chic” ™ would be best to sum it up? It’s like a lot of what comes from the Corman stable of filmmaking – shoestring budget, cheesy, campy, slightly sleazy and juvenile, lowest common denominator fun.
So if that’s your bag and your expectations are set for this kind of schlock, then chances are you’re going to have some fun with Graduation Day; if, however, you’re expecting a high production masterclass in Hitchcockian suspense, might I suggest you give it a wide berth. As slashers go it’s derivative and proudly so – hell, it’s likely the plot was scribbled as an addendum to the title, a gimmick just so they could cash in on the popular trend for slasher flicks being associated with a holiday or event. Speaking of the plot, it revolves around the death of a college student who dies in front of spectators on the running track as she pushes herself beyond the brink of exertion because of the screams and jeers of her pushy, obsessive coach. The tragedy strikes just before the students’ graduation day and as the event approaches the rest of the track team suddenly begin disappearing one-by-one, stalked and murdered by a killer whose identity is unknown but motive seems to somehow be in avenging the death of the young female athlete. There are plenty of suspects – could it be her elder sister, toughened after a stint in the navy and returning to pick up her sibling’s graduation papers in her stead? What about the coach himself, compulsive to the point of cruelty in his desire to build champions, a man who will not accept failure on any level, not to mention his penchant for leering at the girls as they perform? Either way, the killer will clearly stop at nothing until these potential Olympians become worm fodder.
So whilst there’s no surprises in terms of the story, it still manages to be pretty entertaining because what it has going for it is tongue-in-cheek, occasionally bawdy humour (the music teacher is a very 70′s, medallion-wearing Vegas reject, like a cross between Englebert Humperdink and Austin Powers and tries his best to sleep with his female pupils, students screw the professors for grades, the head gropes his secretary. In fact most of the adult males are lecherous pervs, it’s all very Carry On…), and a playfulness that “straight” pictures wouldn’t, which even extends to the way the director often plays with the film itself in terms of cuts, overlays and music, some of which are genuinely effective and interesting, others of which are kind of trippy – one scene in particular that stands out is a double murder that’s overlayed by a rollerdisco with a gloriously 80′s band singing a song as the couple are killed…it’s quite catchy, until it reaches the seven minute mark and you’re beginning to go slightly bug-eyed wondering if it’s ever going to end and what the director was smoking at the time. But these kind of add to the goofy charm, along with the overacting, the cheesy death scenes and the silly plotting (the ending actually feels like several endings, throwing every cliché at you including the kitchen sink). Throw in a few excuses to show some nudity with the blood (fans of Linnea Quigley watch out for an early role where she was apparently cast as a last-minute replacement and yet still manages to…umm….bring her ample talents to bare), and you have a perfectly serviceable piece of trashy entertainment, no more and no less, which if you’re in the mood for will probably surprise you with its energy and sense of silly fun.
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