Well, writer David Baughn figured he had the answer with Graduation Day. The resulting screenplay from his story, written by Anne Marisse and Herb Freed (who also directed) is a somewhat trite and tried splatter tale that mines the horror cliches for a by-the-numbers slasher mystery.
That said, somehow Graduation Day works for what it is. Comparing this one to the usual harvest of like-minded Slasher Thrillers, this one ranks relatively high, especially among the less-known and more realistic features of its kind. Okay, by no means will this one be rediscovered by academic film historians and eventually change the world for the better or anything. After all, believe it or not, this is a Troma picture. But it's also a Troma Picture without the usual tongue-in-cheek comedy and silliness that they eventually became known for. This one is the real deal! Sick, twisted, interesting, able to keep the viewer guessing and... yes, it's flawed, too.
We start with an almost surreal sequence at a track meet where one of the greyhound-fast track stars wins her race and then promptly drops dead of heart blockage. The death of Laura Ramstead (Ruth Ann Llorens) sends the student body, not to mention her family, reeling. Now, instead of coming home for her graduation, Laura's big sister, a Military Officer named Anne (Patch Mackenzie) is coming home to mourn her loss. Leading up to the last day, Anne meets up with her dishrag of a mother (Beverly Dixon's Elaine), her jackass of a step-father (Hal Bokar's Ronald Corliss) and Laura's main squeeze and would-be Fiance-to-be Kevin (E. Danny Murphy).
Naturally around that time people at the school start turning up dead as bed knobs, each one at the hands of a silent killer with a knife in one hand and a stopwatch in the other, carefully timing each death down to the second.
So, the murdered girl's military-trained fighting machine sister comes to down RIGHT before the murders start! Obvious clue or Red Herring? I'm not telling. The truth is, the only ones who know that these murders are actually going on are the audience, the killer and the victims... and that latter group isn't talking! Therefore the recently canned gymnastic and track coach George Michaels (Christopher George) is losing his faith, especially after he's revealed to be both a total perv and the kind of coach who pushes his students to the brink and beyond. Meanwhile Principal Guglione (Michael Pataki) and his hot assistant Blondie (E.J. Peaker) are still setting about their task for a stressful graduation (amid their make-out sessions). Not to be undone, Music Teacher Mr. Roberts (Richard Balin) feels secure in seducing (or being seduced by) a few students before graduation. And, of course, this is why Inspector Halliday (Carmen Argenziano) and Officer MacGregor (Virgil Frye) have no idea they're on a murder case, thinking instead they're dutifully looking for some of their punk-kid denizens indulging in an extended party that their parents are completely unaware of!
The final identity of the killer is well-hidden, but it still makes good sense once it's finally revealed. Along the way, we get some interesting death moments, a few surprises and a few legitimate scares. Further, we end up with a requisite nude scene by the lovely and wonderful scream queen Linnea Quigley (who plays a doll named Dolores) and another much appreciated nude scene from Denise Cheshire (who plays sexy young gymnast Sally). While she doesn't grant us a nude scene, it's a rare treat to see young Vanna White in a small horror movie part (at one point she gets so freaked out she claims to have peed in her tight jeans... poor lady!).
Again, this is far from a perfect film, though it neither comes off as a joke, nor takes itself too seriously. While some of the death scenes are inventive, many of the gore effects seem rather obvious in hindsight. Further, this film is not without its continuity errors or big questions (partially due to the fact that Linnea Quigley replaced another actress who reportedly declined to bare her breasts... and Quigley's not shy), however, the ultimate result is strangely satisfying, in spite of its varied minus signs.
In short, if you're looking for your standard intentionally bad Tromavision Flick, look elsewhere, because Graduation Day simply is not the film for you. Further, if you're looking for a mindless blood-fest, with buckets of blood and hardly a brain in sight (save literally), Graduation Day is not your film. However, if you're a fan of the genre, understand that these are never going to be quoted in Mensa's Einstein Reader (it's not pure genius, nor are the actors Oscar-Worthy) and are interested in using your mystery-tuned head for a fun and somewhat scary ride, you might give Graduation Day a shot. I did and... as a graduate of both high school and college, I'm going to award it Three Stars out of Five on its diploma. In truth, there isn't all that much suspense or building horror here. It's less a truly dark film of terror than an R-Rated, big screen answer to a TV Movie of the Week, with the added benefit of a Red Letter Day in the title. However, it is an interesting story with a pretty solid mystery and a good bit of fun to boot. So until it's time for your College Exit Exams and the Dean Stalks you with a razor-lined Four-Point Cap, I'll see you High School Graduates in the NEXT REEL!
Your FINAL Exam is ready!
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And don't forget to use your HEAD!
It's bloody hard, but on the bright side, the payoff might kill you.