Category Archives: Reviews

GRADUATION DAY

GRADUATION DAY

3 Stars  1981/18/92m

“The class of ’81 is running out of time!”

Director/Writer: Herb Freed / Cast: Christopher George, Patch MacKenzie, E. Danny Murphy, Michael Pataki, E.J. Peaker, Richard Balin, Carmen Argenziano, Virgil Frye, Beverly Dixon, Hal Bokar, Linnea Quigley, Denise Cheshire, Billy Hufsey, Tim Hintnaus, Carl Rey, Linda Shayne, Karen Abbott, Vanna White.

Body Count: 10

Dire-logue: “You have lovely eyes. My sister had eyes like yours. She’s dead now.”


Back in 1996 I read a book called Games of Terror, one of only a few theoretical insights into stalker movies (as they were dubbed by the writer) and of the films briefed, I found all but Graduation Day within a couple of months – bearing in mind this is long before DVD back-catalogues. Hell, it was before DVD! Six gruelling months of trying to bag a copy, a local collector sold me his VHS tape for £9 (along with Madman) and I merrily skipped home for the premiere.

Graduation Day is one of those ‘meh’ films. Probably due to overexposure to lost classics of the period (Prom Night, Happy Birthday to Me, Terror Train), or possibly the fact that the film is just a bit crud, finding things to like about it is a bit difficult.

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Proceedings begin in the usual way, with a past event trauma that spurs on the killer at a later date and gives him something to talk to the final girl about. In this instance, over the groove-tastic disco stomper that plays through the credits, a female track runner – Laura – sprints to glory before falling down dead. We’re later told this is down to a blood clot, but everybody else blames the track coach for pushing her too hard.

A couple of months later, Laura’s military ass-kickin’ big sis Anne returns from abroad to collect a special graduation award in the dead girl’s memory. Meanwhile, a black-gloved killer is stalking and slaying the other members of the track team, clocking in all murders at just thirty seconds, the same amount of time it took Laura to win her death race. First to go is big-headphones jogging girl (throat slashing), followed by moody gymnastical-girl (sword through the neck)…

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In between kills, our killer stops by his gym locker and draws a big red cross over the face of the most recent victim, working his way across the picture from left to right.

At this time, some other, less important characters (suspects!) are introduced. There’s Delores, played by bad movie fixture Linnea Quigley, who will do anything to pass her music class, including seducing the face-like-a-slapped-arse teacher. There’s also an affair going on between the principal and his secretary, which contributes nothing to the slashathon we’re anticipating. Leery campus cop MacGregor likes to clamp down on the dope smokin’ students and creep around in the trees and the despised track mentor Coach Michaels, whom everybody blames for the accident. Lastly, is Laura’s grieving boyfriend, Kevin, who is all sensitivity and broodiness. Hmmm…

grad7<<< That’s Anne. Anne is our final girl, although she looks a bit like a final drag queen, don’t you think? That’s a lot of makeup for a military recruit. Gasp! Maybe she’s hiding something!!

I digress… While the boring characters talk about graduation ceremonies n’ shit, the killer offs a few more budding athletes. The third murder is truly that old classic of homicide: the football with the sword protruding from it. That’s an American football, by the way, and Mr Killer tosses it back to its owner who catches it sharp-end first. Watch in awe as the sword-ball spins in slo-mo through the air, defying all laws of gravity and credence as it goes! There’s some time out for a song about graduation and a roller-disco that boasts a seven minute nu-wave rock song while another couple of kids are chased and murdered outside. Although decapitation may be preferential to skating in circles and listening to Felony’s ‘Gangster Rock’ 12″ extended rollerboogie remix. Actually, when I re-watched the film recently, I noticed that they actually sing the song three times on loop.

Let’s take a moment to celebrate the interesting look that Felony employ:

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Fedora’s, lip-gloss, mascara and those double-guitar things. Yikes.

Morning comes and brings with it news of the missing teenagers, but the principal is more concerned with the logistics of the day and ignores it. A couple more deaths ensue and then a couple of squealy girls (one of them played by Wheel of Fortune letter-turner Vanna White; below) discover the body of moody gymnastical girl stuffed in a locker and blame falls on Coach Michaels, who’s just been given the boot over the whole Laura thing.

Vanna (right) as disco-clad squealy girl

Vanna (right) as disco-clad squealy girl

A right kerfuffle ensues and the killer’s identity is finally revealed, much to the surprise of nobody except the cast members and Anne is soon thrown into direct combat, which allows more corpses to swing out on doors, severed heads to be found on crash mats and the like…

Graduation Day is one mess of a film. There’s some nifty speed-cut edits thrown in but some simple shots are completed screwed up with demented high-speed zooming. It’s the film they should remake but probably never will. Amidst the bad scripting, some horrible acting and diabolical pacing problems, there are remnants of a good tale here, it’s just tangled up by the crowded supporting cast, many of whom aren’t required at all. If you wondered about the blonde girl who disappears early on without explanation (Diana), the actress was fired and replaced by Quigley for refusing to disrobe on screen.

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Director and scribe Herb Freed appeared in the 2006 documentary Going to Pieces to add a few tidbits about his film – the fact that he’s now a Rabbi may indicate he’s moved on. And if you’re wondering why I was so generous with my rating, I’m trying to justify the six months spent looking for the damn thing.

I want to be this person's best friend

I want to be this person’s best friend

Blurbs-of-interest: The make-up effects here were all courtesy of a woman (!), Jill Rockow, who later worked on Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter and Boogeyman 2. Editor Martin Jay Sadoff worked on Friday the 13th‘s Part III and VII. Christopher George was in both Mortuary and Pieces. Michael Pataki appears as Dr Hoffman in Halloween 4. Carmen Argenziano was Dr Mendrakis in When a Stranger Calls and later turned up in Identity. George and Quigley turn up all over the place. Denise Cheshire, who played moody gymnastical-girl (or Sally), was the swimming double for the famous shark attack victim Chrissie Watkins at the beginning of Jaws.

SAVAGE LUST

deadly-manorSAVAGE LUST

2 Stars  1989/18/86m

“A classic horror story.”

A.k.a. Deadly Manor

Director/Writer: Jose Larraz / Cast: Kathleen Patane, Greg Rhodes, Liz Hitchler, Jerry Kernion, Mark Irish, Clark Tufts, Claudia Franjul, William Russell, Jennifer Delora.

Body Count: 13

Dire-logue: “What’s next, Uncle Fester on the patio?”


Six teenagers embarking on a camping trip stop to pick up a hitchhiker who informs them they are off course and, when a heavy rainstorm sets in, they take shelter in a remote manor house that appears to abandoned. Closer inspection reveals that yesterday’s paper has been left out and the wreck of a car has been mounted in the garden. As night falls and the group wander aimlessly around the house, they are killed by an off-screen figure who might well have some answers concerning all the black and white photos of the same solemn woman that adorn every wall in the joint.

This clunky rarity is best viewed tongue-in-cheek as you will find it impossible to take lines like ‘a horn doesn’t just beep by itself’ seriously. Nearly a solid hour of crappy dialogue torments until the butcherin’ starts (bar an off-camera taster earlier on). Though shot in ’89, the film has not aged well and could easily be mistaken for something some ten years older, emphasised by the characters’ total lack of sense. The girls all say things like ‘maybe we shouldn’t be here’ and the boys reply ‘chill out, babe, there’s nothing here that can hurt us…’ Asking for it.

Allowably, there are a couple of creepy shots thrown in amongst the junk, but when the killer’s opening gambit to the final girl is a perky; ‘yes, it’s me!’ before even removing their mask, one must wonder who the script was approved by. When the heroine replies: ‘you’re insane – you’ve created all this madness in your head!’ you get your answer.

FINAL EXAM

FINAL EXAM

3 Stars  1981/87m

“Some may pass the test…God help the rest.”

Director/Writer: Jimmy Huston / Cast: Cecile Bagdadi, Joel S. Rice, Ralph Brown, Deanna Robbins, Sherry Willis-Burch, John Fallon, Terry W. Farren, Timothy L. Raynor, Jerry Rushing.

Body Count: 11

First-rate Fatality: A garrotting by weight machine cables.

Dire-logue: “It’s happening! The psychopaths are here!”


Awww… Final Exam. It’s the slasher film equivalent of that dim-bulbed kid at school, who wasn’t very good at anything, but was always nice. Some chose to ridicule them, while others looked upon them with a mix of sympathy and fondness. Such is Jimmy Huston’s cutesy little clone of Halloween, anything but the darling of horror fans, but there’s no denying the love that some slasher aficionados have for it – me included.

Being a slug of a movie, ‘events’ begin with that staple fixture of teen horror: the double-slaying of a parking couple, who are entangled in some campus romance. Along comes a shady maniac who slices through their soft top and pulls the guy out of the driver’s seat and knifes him to death on the bonnet of the car, while his squealy never-to-be conquest watches in what the actress intended to look like terror. Her death is off-screen, but we know she bites it as the ‘action’ shifts to nearby Lanier College where the murder is reported by one of our central characters, Radish (see below).

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So it’s the last few days of the semester and the campus is all but deserted. The remaining students are busy packing or studying for their finals, among them our pretty and likeable heroine Courtney (Cecile Bagdadi in her only role, like, ever), who has concerns over being boring in comparison to her bombshell roommate Lisa. Lisa, meanwhile, is carrying on with a married professor and intends to cram in one last ‘biology tutorial’ before she leaves to return to ‘the city’ (funny how they never mention which cities they come from in these flicks – see also Friday the 13th Part 2). Ditzy Janet (Sherry Willis-Burch who later turned up in fab Canadian possession slasher Killer Party) has been ‘pinned’ by frat pledge Gary, and takes this to mean they’re in love and have to spend every minute together, while he is being tormented by his frat brothers, neanderthalic Wildman and walking-bouffant president Mark, who want him to steal a test paper for them.

Last but by no means least is Radish, Courtney’s friend who rings so many bells on the gaydar that you’ll develop tinnitus. He’s short, he’s camp, and he minces around spouting factoids about the likes of Charles Whitman, a subject of which his knowledge serves him well when a black van cruises on to campus and opens fire. It turns out to be a prank, much to the chagrin of the local sheriff who later ignores an emergency call from Radish when the horror proper is discovered and we get to see him break into the gayest of gay sprints as he flounces off to warn Courtney.

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So anyway, exams are sat, test papers stolen, romances gabbed about and a slow-striding stranger appears behind bushes and watching students through doors and stuff. As darkness sets in, some sixty minutes after the initial double-killing, those foolish enough to be wandering the campus alone fall victim to a string of mostly off-screen deaths. The knife-toting nutter – alas, no mask – indiscriminately does away with Gary, Janet, Wildman, Mark, Lisa, and a couple of silent extras, until only Courtney is left. With an shot of Jamie Lee adrenalin, Courtney runs and hides from the rather dorky looking killer, culminating in a showdown at the campus tower before a satisfactory ‘yes, it’s over’ ending that leaves no room for Final Exam 2: You Fail.

The appeal of Final Exam for me lies in it’s purity. It’s cheap and cheesy, with no pretensions or gimmicks – straight down the line killer-kills-kids stuff. Its shortcomings around pace and lack of bloodshed are joined by the uninteresting killer. Strangely, there’s a possible motive crowbarred into an earlier conversation, when Courtney relays that a girl threw herself from the campus tower sometime previously because she didn’t get into her chosen sorority. There was I expecting a speech from her dad/brother/boyfriend about avenging the death but nothin’ comes out of this dude’s mouth at all until his final meeting with Courtney’s unleashed warrior princess – spoiled by the old UK video box (right).

Sadly, this is the type of film that will be forgotten in years to come, appearing on lists with a bunch of other also-rans with nothing to recommend it to the casual viewer. For the other twelve of us, Code Red are working on a DVD remaster due out across the pond in late September 2008! No news on any extras yet but the distributor managed to reunite some of the cast and crew (including Cecile and Joel Rice, who played the cult figure of Radish) so there’s hope on the horizon for good times with this one.

Yay!!!

Yay!!!

Blurbs-of-interest: Wanna know what happened to Lisa’s curly-haired professor-cum-lover? Apparently, the budget was such that some of the actors and bit-parters’ original raison d’etre’s had to be curtailed. Hopefully there’ll be a more thorough explanation on the DVD.

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