For the last four years, Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson has hosted a late-night horror movie celebration called Terror Tuesday and if you are a lover of horror, both esoterically brilliantly and obscurely awful, this night was invented just for you. The Terror Tuesday Report will dissect the movie shown as well as provide a barometer for the audience's reaction; as many of these films demand to be seen with an audience, this proves a vital component to the evening.
This week's film: Graduation Day, directed by Herb Freed, 1981
Graduation Day is the story of a high school cross-country team competing in one of the biggest tournaments of the year. Their star sprinter, Laura, is visibly exhausted as she nears the finish line and certain victory, but with the prodding and verbally abusive love of her coach, she wins the race. And promptly drops dead. Months later, as the school year is winding down to its last days, the seniors are all preparing for, you guessed it, graduation. But someone has decided to systematically off each member of the track team by fairly impolite means. Because track-and-field is murder...apparently.
Wow, this thing is stinky. This is my least favorite film of the second half of this year's Terror Tuesday lineup so far. The first thing you will no doubt notice, apart from a tidal wave of incompetence, is that Graduation Day desperately wants to be Prom Night. I'm not just talking about the look and feel, which is more a product of the zeitgeist of the early 80's, but the plot and even entire shots are unrepentantly stolen from Prom Night. When you get to the end of the film, the plagiarism becomes more and more apparent.
But where Prom Night featured giallo influences and sinfully nasty kills, Graduation Day has...fencing. Indeed the kills in Graduation Day start at unforgivably chintzy and "graduate" to mediocre by film's end. The only time I had to tip my hat to the bloodshed in Graduation Day was the decapitation featuring an impressively realistic faux head. Beyond that, it was abysmally dull; squandering the one hope for this thing being watchable. And while the killer in Prom Night got a little too glittery in certain scenes, nothing compares to the unabashed stupidity of the Graduation Day killer running through the woods in a fencing' mask; running like a duck I might add.
And remember how Prom Night got a little wrapped up in the last fleeting breaths of disco and had that musical number in the middle of the dance featuring its goofy theme song? Graduation Day thought it had Prom Night beat by putting multiple musical numbers in the film and featuring one such number that went on for something like 20 minutes. It is some bad knockoff of a Steve Miller Band song played by dorks in zoot suits who refuse to pipe down long enough for us to hear the dialogue going on in the scene...outside! It's like a montage except people are trying to have a conversation over it. It was torturous and a half. But then again it was nothing compared to the amateurism of the "fight choreography" of the supposedly trained martial artist or the bloated scene lengths at the end. I was praying for this film to end long before it actually did.
The one positive thing I can say about Graduation Day is that it stars none other than Terror Tuesday mainstay Christopher George. This year has been more or less a crash course in Christopher George; Graduation Day marking his fourth appearance. He has made a name for himself by playing characters that just do not give a crap about anything. What's funny about his character in this film is that he's defined by having the exact opposite approach to life; he gives an inordinate amount of crap about high school track. He's such a remarkable dick in the film and I loved every second of his scenery-chewing.
Tonight was a bit of a deviation from the normal proceedings. Our beloved Grand High Horror Guru Zack Carlson was uncharacteristically absent and a fellow frequent attendee introduced the film. I feel it unethical to critique the MC skills of this kind stand-in, but the lack of Zack's familiar brand of professional-grade comedy and irreverent, on-the-nose jokes at the film's expense altered the audience response. At the end of the film, where normally even the worst films illicit a hearty applause from the room, there was a smattering of claps and uncomfortable groans. Zack definitely knows how to prepare us for even the schlockiest garbage.