DIRECTOR: Herb Freed
STARRING: Christopher George, Linnea Quigley
IN SHORT: Herb Freed’s classic slasher gets the deluxe treatment.
I’d either forgotten or never fully noticed before that GRADUATION DAY is an exceedingly stylish picture, displaying much more flair than the slasher subgenre exactly has a reputation for, and boasting more than style alone upon which to rest its laurels. Herb Freed’s exemplary slasher film is an unassuming little picture but big and full of personality regardless. It conjures the smiles of adolescent verve, it captures the angst of teen tragedy and it nails the adrenaline rush of a good killer thriller – you know, one of those swankified P.I.-meets-bodycount late night cable classics – all wrapped up in the whodunit variety of slasher filmmaking. Beyond these treasures, Freed’s film is filled with characters who have a little personality – they’re not as dull as dozens of dud characters I’ve watched trudge through substandard slasher fare. Summons up a little more in the way of aw-too-bad emotions when they start to die off. And as for the dying off part, GRADUATION DAY delivers a series of hyperbolic murders that range from stylishly over-the-top (a pole-vaulting death a la spikes in the landing pad) to outlandishly absurd (a thrown football with a slender blade), all the while keeping a (mostly) straight face – and somehow making it work! There is a steady supply of energy on tap in GRADUATION DAY, a fear film with two climaxes, sort of, anyway. In a captivating cameo, a badass bit part, if you will, is the band Felony, whose driven boogie rock tune “Gangster Rock” serves as the soundtrack to a kinetic stalk-and-kill scene which interplays with scenes from the concert thanks to GRADUATION DAY’s stellar editing – which also contributed, along with the film’s generous but judicious use of slow-mo, to the pivotal motive-making accidental death of a track team member. (Felony also contributed a couple other songs to the film.) The sequence plays like the longest music video in the world, but not the most boring, by any stretch. It’s an exciting scene, with great tunes playing out over an extended, suspenseful and gory chase sequence. It’s an invigorating blast and we have just enough time to breathe, and to get to know another important character who enters in the second half of the film. This policeman is one of the most genuine, robust characters in the film, though even auxiliary comic relief characters like the principal and the school secretary have more fervor and depth than they could have. They are entertaining and another over-the-top thing GRADUATION DAY gets away with. Between murder mayhem, humorous hijinx, Christopher George and a dash of melodrama, the film has a lot of great things going on. The denouement, the final (second) climax, so to speak, is a chilling one that borrows from one or two previous classics. These are garnishes to a fairly original – especially in 1981 – slasher whodunit. Freed set a pretty high standard here (also check out his film Haunts if you get the chance) and it’s too bad so many subsequent slashers failed to live up to it.
Notify me of follow-up comments by email.
Notify me of new posts by email.