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“GRADUATION DAY” (Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray Review)

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It’s just another average, ordinary day at Midvale High… 

A gaggle of students taking a breather from decorating the auditorium ahead of the evening’s New Wave concert-slash-breakdance-and-roller skating party (!) suddenly burst into an impromptu foot-stomping, angsty guitar-and-harmonica jam session dubbed “Graduation Day Blues,” while outside the star quarterback is in a nearby patch of woods going long for his very last catch—i.e. a bladed football tacked straight onto the solar plexus.

Okay, okay. So perhaps the couple day span the 1981 cult slasher flick GRADUATION DAY captures isn’t exactly representative of business as usual at Midvale, but, to be fair, there are extenuating circumstances: Everything and everyone has gone a little nutty since track star Laura Ramstead mysteriously dropped dead during the 100 meter dash a couple weeks back.

And by “a little nutty,” we of course mean a sword and stopwatch-wielding murderer is picking off Laura’s friends and various authority figures one by one. A body count which may or may not—no spoilers!—include a smoldering, teacher-seducing bad girl named Delores, played by none other than legendary scream queen Linnea Quigley, and the mischievous ponytail-ed prep Doris who bears a striking resemblance to the letter-turning lady on Wheel of Fortune, Vanna White. (Mostly because it is her.)

Naturally, the story throws nearly as many potential killers at us as victims—the wayward sister who returns from Navy duty to mourn her sibling despite obvious disdain for the town as well as her family (an exquisitely fierce Patch Mackenzie); the grieving boyfriend who held Laura in his arms as she died; a sketchy cop; the little-too-amped gym coach; a school principal suffering from what appears to be a serious impulse control disorder; the scorned school secretary sick of it all…

It’s a premise with a lot of promise, obviously, though GRADUATION DAY both requires and rewards patience. There is some clunkiness early on as the film struggles a bit to find its footing tonally amidst a proto-MTV, too-kinetic herky-jerky editing style and awkward narrative threads briefly toyed with and then unceremoniously abandoned.

Still, GRADUATION DAY gains a decent head of steam in fairly short order, mercifully chilling out its execution as it barrels into its campier potential. The special effects, laughably weak in the first third, get much stronger as things progress; going on the ketchup-ish splash of the first kill, you’d never know a legit creepy flying mummified corpse clad in a flowing graduation gown would be launching a dude out of a window later on… The performances are almost all better than they need to be, frankly, and, as hinted above, there are several cool surprises in the cast.

Just in case it isn’t clear by now, we’re not talking an unheralded classic here or anything: GRADUATION DAY is a solid second tier, endearingly rough-around-the-edges early 80s slasher flick, no more, no less.

Which is to say, do not under any circumstances watch this film with anyone who places a higher premium on coherence and sensibility than trashy, corny fun.

Put together a crew of the latter and throw GRADUATION DAY on, though?

Voila! Instant hero moment.

The special features on this Vinegar Syndrome reissue boast sweet, nostalgia-tinged interviews with Mackenzie, director Herb Freed, producer David Baughn, and editor Martin Jay Sadoff, as well as a fascinating, crazy in-depth commentary track courtesy the folks behind The Hysteria Continues podcast.

Overall, this is a fairly lush presentation of an entertaining, very niche flick—definitely not for everyone, but maybe for you!

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About the author
Shawn Macomber http://www.stopshawnmacomber.com
The ravings of noted South Florida pug wrangler Shawn Macomber have appeared in Decibel, Magnet, Reason, Maxim, Radar, Shroud, and the Wall Street Journal, amongst other fine and middling publications. He also hosts the podcast Into the Depths and pens the metal-lit column Tales From the Metalnomicon for Decibel magazine.
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