Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
Released on: September 9th, 2014.
Director: Herb Freed
Cast: Christopher George, Patch Mackenzie, Michael Pataki, Linnea Quigley, Vanna White
Year: 1981 Purchase From Amazon
Directed by Herb Freed and released in 1981, Graduation Day was released years back on tape by Columbia and then on DVD by Troma in a fullframe transfer that looked like it was probably sourced from that same crummy old VHS tape. Regardless, it grew and maintained a cult following over the years and now the fine people at Vinegar Syndrome have breathed some new life into the picture with this fancy new Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack release.
The movie takes begins when a woman named Ann Ramstead (Patch McKenzie) returns to the small California town she grew up in shortly after her younger sister, Laura (Ruth Ann Llorens), died on the field during a track meet. Her sister’s coach, George Michaels (Christopher George), feels bad about it but continues to push the students as hard as he can, something that others feel he should maybe pull back on given what happened. Ann arrives just in time for Graduation Day and as Principal Guglioni (Michael Pataki) prepares for the big day and makes moves on his secretary, Ann starts digging around the school to see what’s really going on. She befriends her late sister’s boyfriend, Kevin (E. Danny Murphy) but soon someone in a fencing mask starts killing off members of the track team that Laura belonged to.
Meanwhile, with the end of the year fast approaching, a student named Delores (Linnea Quigley) puts the moves on her music teacher while Doris (Vanna White) and her friend antagonize the star gymnast. The cops move in to investigate but the killer seems to be able to stay one step ahead of them and the bodies begin to pile up as the ceremony draws ever closer.
Highlighted by a few gory and creative kill scenes and a bizarre musical performance from Felony (the same band that did the track ‘The Fanatic’ that wound up on the Valley Girl soundtrack!) who play ‘Gangster Rock’ inside a roller rink, Graduation Day’s strengths lay more with its odd cast than its premise. The story doesn’t deviate from the standard slasher movie tropes much at all what with its cast of randy teens and revenge driven main plot, but anytime you cast Michael Pataki as a (Italian?) school principal in a tight fitting leisure suit you’re obviously doing something right. As fun as Pataki is, however, he’s completely out acted by a scenery chewing Christopher George. As coach George Michaels he’s a determined and driven man, the kind who can and will push kids to their physical limits to bring home the gold and teach them to make something of themselves. This gives him ample opportunity to grimace and scowl at various teenagers as they run around a track or work the gymnastic bars and it’s pretty entertaining to watch.
Of course, more unusual than that is the presence of a young and remarkably long legged Vanna White a few years before she’d go on to fame as the hostess of Wheel Of Fortune and the star of the amazingly terrible made for TV movie The Goddess Of Love. She doesn’t have a whole lot to do here but it’s fun to see her pop up. Linnea Quigley is also in very fine form, she looks great and is pretty effective in her efforts to seduce her goofball music teacher. E. Danny Murphy as the grieving boyfriend is fine and Patch McKenzie, who would go on to star in Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive III: Island Of The Alive and work pretty extensively in television does just fine as the female lead. The middle stretch of the film is a bit slow but the last half more than makes up for it. And that cast? Amazing!
Graduation Day arrives on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome framed in a 1.78.1 widescreen aspect ratio in AVC encoded 1080p high definition scanned in 4k from the original 35mm negative. Like a lot of low budget eighties slasher pictures, Graduation Day was shot with some intentional softness but having said that, the detail you’d want out of a good HD transfer is definitely there. Skin tones look perfect, never too smooth or too waxy, while the increased clarity and resolution means you’re going to see every pore in George’s face and every shade of polyester in Patacki’s suits whether you want to or not. Color reproduction is very strong, the reds pop nicely without looking oversaturated or artificially boosted, and there are no issues with noise reduction or edge enhancement. Some mild print damage is present but it’s never overpowering. This feels like a ‘true to source’ transfer, a solid digital replication of the original film elements.
The only audio option on the disc is an English language DTS-HD Mono mix, there are no alternate language options or subtitles of any kind provided. As to the quality of the mix, it’s fine. It sounds like the low budget single channel track that it is but it’s got clear dialogue and properly balanced levels. There is the occasional pop audible in the mix but no serious issues with any hiss or distortion. Felony’s performance of Gangster Rock sounds quite good!
Vinegar Syndrome has included two commentary tracks for this release, the first one with producer David Baughn, moderated by Elijah Drenner. Baughn speaks about how the cast and crew were put together for the picture, the importance of the editing in the picture, some of the people who helped him out behind the camera, the locations used in the film and some of the challenges that took place during filming. The second track comes courtesy of the guys who do the podcast The Hysteria Continues and it’s more of a critical assessment of the movie and one done with a decent sense of humor at that. These guys know slasher films and are able to make some interesting points of reference, offer up some interesting trivia and provide a decent history of the picture along with some insight into what works and what doesn’t. They've also got a proper appreciation for Felony.
From there we move on to a few interviews, the first a nine minute piece with the film’s leading lady, Patch Mackenzie. She looks back on the movie pretty fondly as she talks about how she got into acting, her work for the silver screen and the small screen and her thoughts on Graduation Day all these years later and what it was like working with Herb Freed. It’s a fun and informative piece and she comes across as a very likeable person! The second interview is with the film’s director, Herb Freed, who spends just over twelve minutes talking about how he got into the low budget filmmaking world, the trials and tribulations of working on films without a whole lot of money, and what it was like working with the different cast members on the film. Freed has some good stories here and his admiration for what the cast brought to this picture is fun to listen to. The third interview on the disc is an eleven and a half minute long segment in which producer Dave Baughn talks about how he got into the industry, some of the characters he worked with over the years and how he was quite successful in his sales efforts with Graduation Day. He covers some of the same ground here as he does in his commentary track but it’s still an interesting piece worth watching. The fourth and final interview puts editor Martin Jay Sadoff in front of the camera for seven minutes or so to talk about how he got into editing, why he cut certain parts of the movie to emphasize mood and atmosphere and how he did what he did to keep the pacing of the film tight.
Rounding out the extras are the film’s original theatrical trailer, static menus and chapter selection. As this is a combo pack release, a DVD version of the movie with the same extras on it has also been included inside the Blu-ray case.
The Final Word:
Vinegar Syndrome has done Herb Freed’s Graduation Day justice with this special edition Blu-ray release, offering up the film in excellent condition and with some tantalizing extras as well. A very strong release and one that is all too easy to recommend to horror fans, slasher aficionados and Vanna White completists.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!