Director: Herb Freed
Troma Team Video

The slasher film’s peak year of 1981 had its share of fan-favorites (THE BURNING) and stinkers (HOME SWEET HOME). Herb Freed’s GRADUATION DAY falls somewhere in-between.

Someone is killing off the athletes of the Midvale High track team, and the events seem to have something to do with the tragic death of a star track runner after she crossed the finish line during the big race mere weeks before. Is it her grumpy coach (Christopher George) or perhaps her surviving sister that’s doing in the team? Often compared to 1984’s FATAL GAMES, GRADUATION DAY is leaps and bounds the better of the “track team slashers.” Of course, that doesn’t necessarily say a whole lot.

The “cheese factor” on GRADUATION DAY is unusually high for a slasher: We get a cheesy inspirational opening song (that sounds like the kind of song Survivor would have done if they were considerably less talented and been into the disco scene), cheesy characters which are barely believable (check out the perverted truck driver with the purple shirt and yellow scarf at the beginning), an appearance by the rock group Felony, roller-skating, and the ending is an eye-rolling hoot. Like many slashers, this film is largely made by the music. A truly excellent, and spooky strings and synth score accompanies the stalking as well as the slashing. Despite a little over-acting at times, the cast is generally good. The kills in the film are pretty creative (for example, a high-jumper is killed by a well-placed bed of spikes). While not a gore-fest, we do get a fair amount of blood from this “Director’s Cut.” Though, to be fair, most of it looks pretty fake. I did like the novelty of the killer timing each kill with a stopwatch, and the fact that the killer wears black gloves gave some sequences sort of a giallo feel.

Before DVD, I never got around to seeing GRADUATION DAY. However, I really can’t imagine the old VHS having much worse of a transfer. Very little, if any, restoration has been done to this full-screen DVD release. Considering this has always been a studio title (Columbia), I was confused as to how Troma ended up with it. Turns out, they were just able to snag the video rights. They had no hand in GRADUATION DAY’s production. I do wish Columbia had kept the film, though. Even if Columbia’s version had been full-screen, like many of their other horror titles, I’d be willing to bet the transfer would at least be a little better than what Troma has given us. The disc’s sound quality also leaves quite a bit to be desired. To its credit, the disc does include English subtitles.

Being my first experience with a Troma disc, but hearing about them over the years, I was somewhat prepared for a barrage of material and extra features that have very little to do with the film. I wasn’t disappointed. The only GRADUATION DAY-related extra feature is an interview with star Linnea Quigley, conducted by Troma’s own Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D, of course. One extra feature shows how a gory arm-rip special effect is done… well, the Troma way. It’s not as informative as you’d think. In fact, it’s pretty worthless. Another shameless extra is nothing more than self-promotion for Troma studio-head Lloyd Kaufman’s book “Make Your Own Damn Movie.” What purpose does it serve GRADUATION DAY? None. It merely exists to hock more Troma merchandise. It may seem like I have some sort of Troma hatred, but I really don’t. I don’t even mind Troma putting a bunch of useless self-promoting junk on the DVDs of films they actually produced. However, on films which they picked up from other studios and filmmakers, the very least they could do is show a little respect toward the film and its presentation instead of cheapening it for the sake of the Troma name.

Now, I appreciate people who aren’t afraid to say what they mean. I enjoy many comedians that are considered edgy. However, there is a big difference in being edgy and being just classless. Lloyd Kaufman proved beyond a shadow of doubt where his class level lies during his cap-and-gowned introduction to the film. Among other rambling remarks, Kaufman mentions GRADUATION DAY as one of the greatest of all high school massacres and that it preceded “the Columbine High School massacre” by 19 years. I think that speaks for itself.

Also included are trailers for Troma titles SUPERSTARLET A.D., THE HALL MONITOR, CHOPPER CHICKS IN ZOMBIETOWN, CITIZEN TOXIE: THE TOXIC AVENGER IV, and ANGEL NEGRO. I had the misfortune to also stumble on an Easter egg on one of the menu screens: A music video called “Cannibal Lesbian Hoedown,” directed by Lloyd Kaufman. I don’t really know what to say about this, except that it’s Troma and that it’s exactly what the song title describes.

On the positive side of things, the DVD’s menu screens are neat (made to look like a Midvale High yearbook, a chalkboard, a quiz, etc.) The DVD’s cover is a new design, but does use the iconic “axe-to-the-graduate’s head” that adorned the original 1-sheet and just about every VHS release of the film over the years. With the exception of the presence of not one, not two, but three different Troma logos on the front, I like the cover. However, the high school’s name “Midvale” is misspelled “Midvile” on the front.

When all is said and done, GRADUATION DAY is a fun, certainly watchable entry in the early 80’s slasher craze. It aims to be nothing more, and well, I’ve definitely seen my share of worse ones. At the price you can find this for online, I’d say it’s a definite purchase. Be warned however, that unless you’re a fan of Troma, you might want to only watch the film, and stay clear of most of the added features. (Wes Ray)