Graduation Day (1981) Review

I’m going to start this review by stating that I love Christopher George. I mean, I really love him. The ruggedly handsome actor, who had a chin you could open a can with, made so many wonderful low-budget genre films, it boggles the mind. Working with everyone from Lucio Fulci (Gates of Hell) to Jean Picquer Simon (Pieces), he was the king of the B’s until he died suddenly from a heart attack in 1984 at the tender age of fifty-four. And while his appearance in Graduation Day is little more than a glorified cameo, he helps liven up an already fun slasher.

Approximately nine months after Laura (Ruth Ann Llorens) dies during a high school track race (apparently from natural causes), the dead girl’s sister, Anne (Patch Mackenzie), arrives in town to accept a posthumous award on her behalf. But just as sis shows up, Laura’s fellow track runners begin to disappear. Could it be the school coach (Christopher George) who is being fired? Or is the scheming Principal Guglione (the wonderful Michael Pataki) who seems more preoccupied with trying to get down his secretary’s skirt than finding a few missing students? Perhaps it’s Ann herself who seems a bit obsessed with her little sister’s death.

Graduation Day is a solid ninety minutes of campy fun. Everything from the effeminate music professor who has the hots for Linnea Quigley to Vanna White playing the most obnoxious high school student ever makes for great amusement. But hands down the best scene in the film takes place at a roller skating rink where the almost-famous 80s rock band, Felony, belts out the wonderfully poppy “Gangster Rock”. This scene not only marks the best death (Linnea runs around topless from a guy in fencing gear) but look closely and you’ll see that some of the roller rink patrons don’t have any skates on. It’s absolutely hilarious to watch the extras running around the band!

And what about Christopher George, you ask? Well, as I stated earlier, you’ll catch him in about three scenes and I’ll be damned if he never takes off that friggin’ sweat suit! He’s still the king and makes quite a wonderful possibility for a killer.

Thanks to Herb Freed’s frenetic direction and a great soundtrack, Graduation Day is a wonderful throwback to a time long since past. It still receives some undeserved flack from fans of die-hard horror but why begrudge a movie whose opening song declares, “Everybody wants to be a winner”. A winner, indeed. Highly recommended for the nostalgically inclined!

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