The Film (3/5)
The slasher film as we know it today was essentially given it's blueprint with the 1974 double hit of Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Bob Clark's Black Christmas. However, the genre wouldn't really take off until John Carpenter made his independent film masterpiece Halloween 4 years later in 1978. After that the floodgates were opened, and until Freddy was dead, and Jason was in Hell it seemed the horror film belonged to masked killers with sharp weapons stalking teenagers on a variety of special occasions or isolated situations, the former of which we have here with Herb Freed's 1981 film Graduation Day.
Graduation Day is a 1981 contribution to the slasher genre made by Troma Entertainment in conjunction with Columbia Pictures to cash on on the already in progress slasher film craze. Considering the Troma brand as it exists today you might think that Graduation Day to be a wildly funny, violent slasher epic, however, that would be quite far from the truth. The film was produced before Troma themselves had entered the realm of violent cinema for which they would become known for, during this period Lloyd and co-conspirator Michael Herz were busy making trashy sex comedies such as Waitress! (also made in 1981) and the First Turn On, a few short years before the Toxic Avenger was even a concept.
So for better or worse we have what could be considered a sort of by the numbers slasher film in Graduation Day. The film opens with a track star dying of a blood clot while finishing up a race, all of a sudden a series or murders perpetuated by a killer in a fencing mask, usually involving sports start occurring around the high school where she died. The body count begins to pile up as does the number of red herrings.
The film has some decent effects, especially in the latter half of the film. These are provided by Jill Rockow who was just getting her start at this point, and has moved on to such mainstream fare as the TV show Angel and the Star Trek reboot movie from 2009. The film is also notable for being one of the first appearances of Linnea Quigley, and for an early appearance of Wheel of Fortune's Vanna White. Of course, the film co-stars Christopher George (Pieces, City of the Living Dead), who is seemingly always worth a watch regardless of the material he is surrounded by, and manages to make the material he is in quite entertaining.
Graduation Day is certainly no lost masterpiece of slasher mayhem, but it is not a lost cause of the genre either. It is a film best served a few drinks, and some tempered expectations.
If there is one area of praise I can offer Graduation Day it is the transfer of the film. Vinegar Syndrome is one of the best restoration houses for exploitation and horror content in the business right now, and if they put out a Blu-ray, you can be certain it will be the best that film can possibly look in that format. They have scanned in Graduation Day with a solid 4K 1080p transfer preserving the films 1:85:1 aspect ratio. The film looks natural, grainy, with nice colors, and decent blacks and flesh tones. There is some damage from the source material present, but that contributes to the film look of the presentation, and is never truly distracting.
The audio is presented in a DTS-HD 1.0 track in English. The track is quite good for what it is with dialogue coming through nicely, as do the effects, and the films score. I did not detect any issues with the track on my listen.
Vinegar Syndrome have put together an excellent package for their release of Graduation Day. The disc has 2 commentaries one with the films producer David Baughn, and the other with comedy group The Hysteria Lives. We also get 4 on-camera interviews with various members of the cast and crew including director Herb Freed. The disc is rounded off with the films trailer. There is a DVD copy included.
Graduation Day is a sort of slasher non-classic. It's an interesting watch, and can be fun with tempered expectations. Praise needs to be given, however, to the cats at Vinegar Syndrome for their excellent restoration work, and the excellent slate of extras they have packed this release with. RECOMMENDED.