Graduation Day (1981)

NOVEMBER 24, 2008


One time I tripped and slammed my head right into a big wooden door. But that is nothing compared to the pain I feel when people try to convince me that “digital downloads” replacing physical media is a good thing. Ignoring the complete idiocy of trusting in a bunch of 1s and 0s to offer up your entertainment (“Hey guys, movie night is canceled, my hard drive is dead!”), the simple fact of the matter is that watching a movie via anything with the word “streaming” in the description is one of the absolute worst ways you can view a film or TV show. But unlike 99% of people on the internet, I back up my ranting whenever possible, so I decided to check out a “Netflix on Xbox” version of Graduation Day, one of the slasher heyday movies that had always passed me by. Now, to be fair, this movie could be on the most pristine Blu-ray disc of all time and still mostly suck, but even the worst movie ever made deserves a decent presentation, and this simply isn’t it.

For starters, a lot of Netflix “live” movies are full frame transfers (even when taken from a widescreen source!), which automatically degrades the overall quality. The only good thing about a fullframe transfer on an HDTV is that you can show some ignoramus EXACTLY how much of the film is being cut out for no reason. Plus, they are streaming off of low resolution sources – the Xbox will even allow you to watch the film at the stream’s native resolution, and you may be shocked to see how small it is before being blown up to your TV’s size. This results in hideously “smeared” images, not to mention the “droopy” effect (when the camera moves and still objects in the image sort of stay put for a second before “catching up” with the motion). Detail? Forget about it; you’re lucky if you can tell a person from a tree. Not to mention the fact that if your internet connection becomes slow, the movie pauses to rebuffer. And good luck with rewinding it; not only does it need to rebuffer, but instead of scanning like a normal device, it just shows you a series of frames that represent every 10 seconds, which is pretty much worthless. Yeah, this is the wave of the future! I’m not a fan of any sort of movie downloading, but Christ, at least if you download a full uncompressed rip of a DVD and burn it to a dual layer disc (congrats, you just saved, what, 6 bucks?) you are seeing a proper representation of the image.

Now, to be fair, they do offer “HD” streaming downloads, but as they are larger in original size, they take longer to startup and are more susceptible to re-buffering. Plus, it’s not even true HD – it looked about as good as TBS HD looks (i.e., not very).

In short – use your Xbox to play fucking Xbox games. It’s bad enough folks don’t want to go to the theater to watch a movie, it’s downright sickening that they will accept this type of presentation as a suitable replacement for DVDs as well. Stop being so fucking lazy.

Anyway, the movie itself wasn’t much better than its appearance. A lot of the slashers to come along post Friday the 13th (Halloween is often credited, but it wasn’t until after 1980, Friday the 13th’s debut, that all of the holiday/occasion based slasher movies began flooding theaters) aren’t exactly cinematic gold, but most have their own sort of charm and can manage a couple of interesting kills and/or killer look. But this one doesn’t even seem to be trying. There’s only one cool kill in the entire movie (the killer puts a bed of spikes under the “safety mat” thing for a guy practicing his pole vault), and the killer just wears a fencing mask for some reason (at least I know where the idea came from for Urban Legend 2’s equally inexplicable costume).

But worse, the killer’s motive is pretty clear right off the bat, and it’s a fucking stupid one to boot. In the opening scene, a girl dies of an aneurysm during a track meet*, and the killer clearly blames the rest of the team for her death and sets about offing them all. Despite the fact that this makes absolutely no sense, it also gives any potential investigation a pretty clear idea of where to start. So to get around that, screenwriters David Baughn and Herb Freed (who also directed) simply have no one notice and/or care that the kids are missing (it takes place over a couple of days, a rarity from this era). Parents call the school for some reason to ask why their son/daughter never came home, and the principal (Michael Pataki, aka Dr Hoffman from Halloween 4) just blows them off and spends screen time giving his secretary a lot of busy work. OK.

Worse still, the movie stubbornly refuses to have a main character! There’s a kind of cool twist early on where they start to set one girl up as the Final Girl (Denise Cheshire, Chrissy from Jaws and way hotter here as a brunette) and then kill her off, but after that the movie is pretty aimless. Our hero is a detective who doesn’t enter the movie until the one hour mark, and the dead girl’s sister, the closest thing the movie has to a center, inexplicably disappears for a solid half hour or so in the middle of the film. This bizarre screenwriting choice DOES pay off though, as the sister approaches the detective near the end and asks for his help. The detective has no idea who she is though (hell, she had been gone so long that even I almost forgot), and just replies “Who are YOU? What’s your stake in all of this?” Hahahaha, holy shit. It’s like Baughn and Freed wrote a shitty movie just so they could use this amazingly funny line.

It just gets dumber as it goes too. At one point the killer walks right by the sister as if she wasn’t a concern, only to chase her throughout the town a few minutes later. He is also killed both times (any movie slasher worth his salt has two “death” scenes) by his own playfully arranged corpses, which is kind of funny in a way - it’s certainly the only movie I can recall in which the “Find The Dead Friends” routine has any sort of dramatic payoff. He props a body up for no reason, and it ends up killing him. Awesome.

There is also a ridiculous amount of padding (more ridiculous when you consider that the movie is 96 min long – it’s not like they needed to get the length to a more acceptable running time). Linnea Quigley shows up to show her tits and use them to bribe a teacher into passing music class, but there was already some other nudity, and the teacher is never killed, so why bother? We know the killer is only going after kids on the track team, so a 5 minute sequence of a music teacher looking around a boiler room is completely unnecessary.

Speaking of the track team, there’s another really stupid moment when the detective sees a photo of the team (the killer has the same photo, and when he kills someone he crosses out their picture. It’s like a murderous version of The Terminal) and says “Who are they?” Well, gee, let’s look at the photo. There’s the track coach with his stopwatch, surrounded by 6 guys/girls in track shirts, standing on a track. Obviously, they’re the art honors society, you fucking twit.

The coach, by the way, is played by Christopher George, apparently on a break from Italian horror movies. He’s possibly the biggest asshole coach in the history of movies (he makes Jon Voight’s character in Varsity Blues look cuddly), and he’s also the woodworking teacher for some reason (it never pays off either – no one is planed or chiseled to death). The movie tries really hard to make the audience think he’s the killer, to the point where nothing he does actually makes any sense once you learn he is in fact innocent. Still, George is always fun to watch, and I almost wish he WAS the killer, since it would give him more to do (it was one of his last roles).

So in short, I would just skip this one. It’s not cheesy enough to be fun (though there is a ridiculous theme song called “Graduation Day Blues”, not a patch on the MBV theme but still entertaining), the gore is minimal, the killer’s outfit is dull (and barely seen anyway), and his identity reveal is anticlimactic since the character barely registered before that point.

Oh, P.S. – before the “Early Appearance Police” get on my ass, I should mention that Vanna White pops up as one of a pair of girls who always speak over one another and generally just annoy the audience.

What say you?

*This sequence reminded me of a story that scared me when I was younger, about a track star named Karen Ormsby who decided to kill herself during a race that she was losing. She did this by simply continuing to run straight off the track, over a field, and finally onto a bridge, which she jumped from. And she failed at this too, as she didn’t die but instead got paralyzed. Why this story scared me, I have no idea.


  1. I was actually excited about the whole Watch Netflix Movies on Xbox thing, but the quality is so goddamn awful, it makes them almost impossible to watch. And it freezes because my "internet connection slowed" every 5 minutes. I agree with you, it sucks.

  2. This movie is distinctly incoherent (and not in a cool, Italian film kind of way) and mostly pointless. Plus, the Linnea Quigley's death sequence is framed by the longest, most pointlessly repetitive musical number (the infamous "Gangster Rock") in my memories. That song haunts my really humdrum nightmares.

  3. Was planning on viewing this tonight via streaming til I read your note/rant here. If possible I buy the dvd/blu and stackpile before going through everything...I have over 2500 dvds and haven't gone through half even (although I've viewed a larger amount of these films in the past). Netflix makes it easy just to randomly view things I wouldn't typically be able to find in stores when I feel like watching. Considering I'll watch anything, I still have interest in seeing this...Looks like I'll either be waiting or caving in to crap quality. In the meantime, looks like I'll dig into my own collection.

    PS, sorry for the sidetracking on the film itself, but thanks for the heads up on the quality...Would have probably put a damper on my viewing pleasure!


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