A fairly typical if admittedly unspectacular entry into the often overcrowded slasher genre of its day, Graduation Day, like many slashers of the era, is notable chiefly for its retroactive stunt casting, featuring an early role for 80’s-90’s “scream queen” extraordinaire Linnea Quigley, exploitation standbys Christopher George (City of the Living Dead, The Exterminator, Mortuary, Enter the Ninja, Pieces) and Michael Pataki (Grave of the Vampire, Halloween 4, the Amazing Spider-Man ) as well as a rare film appearance from airheaded game show letter turner and pretty vacant audience greeter Vanna White.
George is his usual crusty self, though he’s less boozily likeable here as prime suspect Coach Michaels than he is in more ostensibly “heroic” roles for Fulci, Piquer-Simon and so forth. Being a product of the disco era, everyone here appears much seedier and more sex obsessed than generations weaned on a far more puritanical American culture might expect.
In light of the sort of post-1980’s conservatism and paranoia that gave rise to parents put on trial for failing to drive their kids to school, ‘Megan’s Law’ and suchlike inanities of personal behavior governance through official ‘authorities’, to look back and be forced to recall the general zeitgeist of a far easier, more liberally minded time comes as something of a shock – there’s such a disconnect it’s almost hard to believe what we’re seeing.
Principal Guglione (Pataki) is on the make, the very Jerry Lewis-like music teacher Mr. Roberts (Richard Balin) is easily coerced into passing non-attendee Dolores (Linnea Quigley) after she offers him sexual favors, campus security Officer MacGregor (Virgil Frye) harasses an amorous couple for the sole purpose of copping their joint for himself, and that’s just the icing on the cake.
It was a different time, and one where people were a lot easier going and willing to take personal responsibility for their actions and any consequences those actions brought, rather than suing everyone in a 10 mile radius and demanding sweeping legislation to prevent whatever bug gets up one’s ass from ever happening again. Yeah, I’m looking at you, don’t deny it.
There’s a halfway decent gimmick band (Felony), Quigley’s Italianate boyfriend does a goofy dance that’s half John Travolta and half breakdance, there’s some really crappy gore effects and a killer who keeps a corpse in their attic.
It’s fun if predictable.
There are no less than four interviews in the extras, but don’t expect surviving “names” like Linnea or Vanna to show up here. You do get director Herb Freed, who informs us that he was formerly a rabbi (!) before entering the world of exploitation horror, and that once he experienced a rabid horror audience cheering on the death sequences, he decided “that was it, the last time I ever came near a horror film,” which shows him to be a far more thoughtful and evolved human being than you’d expect to encounter in the world of bottom feeder exploitation…
“Patch” McKenzie also spends a few minutes delivering the now standard bewilderment at being recognized and remembered for what she thought was a one off in the world of low budget horror, before informing the viewer that she only took the film for the opportunity to grab a guy’s balls on camera (!)
There’s a more standard, nigh-Disney extra interview with producer David Baughn, and even editor Martin Jay Sadoff gets dug up to chat a bit about the (rather annoying) choppy editing that appears at certain points in the film (generally revolving around character memories or during death scenes) and how it was just like editing on Woodstock. Yeah, keep telling yourself that, buddy.
While the disc is, as might be expected, a tremendous improvement over the earlier, acceptable but unspectacular Troma DVD, it’s far from a perfect one. There are noticeable instances of prolonged sprocket damage (check out just about the entire locker room and gymnastics scene(s) around the half hour mark), which means a whole lot of jittery camera for the viewer. There are also grain issues that pop up here and there (see also the aforementioned gym sequence), and Freed himself presents concerns with all that slo-mo, hazy film through cheesecloth and vaselined lenses nonsense the film was plagued by from initial release.
Despite all this, Vinegar Syndrome has given its best shot, with contrast striking and a far more vibrant color palette than the earlier release could ever have hoped for. While hardly among the upper echelon of “must see” slasher pictures, I always enjoyed this one and can recommend it to more committed fans of the genre: the sort who still love the more divisive offerings such as Final Exam or Killer Party, among which company Graduation Day more than holds its own.