Graduation Day

graduation dayIn the early 1980’s, after the success of Halloween and Friday the 13th, theaters were inundated with slasher films commemorating a specific event or day. In quick succession came April Fool’s Day, Prom Night, Mother’s Day and Graduation Day. Thankfully this trend died out before producers made a film entitled Tuesday (although I do think there may have been a “Hump Day” but that would have been in an entirely different genre.)

Graduation Day is a slasher that couldn’t be more by-the-numbers. The high note of the film is the opening athletic musical montage set to a discofied number by Lance Owg entitled “The Winner”. A film that starts with a montage is writing a huge cheque that Graduation Day just isn’t able to cash.  

Après montage, high-school track superstar Laura collapses and dies of a blood clot just as she’s victoriously crossing the finish line. Cut to Laura’s sister Anne, a navy officer returning home from Guam to accept a posthumous trophy on behalf of her sister to be handed out on, yep, Graduation Day. Anne accepts a ride into town from a lascivious truck-driver inexplicably wearing a white neckerchief who utters the lamest enticement for engagement in non-consensual coitus that these ears have ever heard. “C’mon. Give a guy a break…I’m a taxpayer!”

Cut to a girl running alone in the woods. She is being stalked by an unseen killer brandishing a stopwatch, and in true Italian Giallo fashion is also wearing a black glove. Just once, couldn’t a killer in one of these films be an Autumn? Slash, splatter, dead. Seems the modus operandi of the killer is to take out each member of the track team one-by-one. Soon the red herrings pile up at a furious pace as the number of team members gradually dwindle. Could the killer be the gruff and salty coach? How about Laura’s alcoholic stepfather? Maybe it’s the school principal. Or what about Anne herself since she’s described as “weird” by one of the school seniors despite not exhibiting any signs of weirdness whatsoever. Or how about none-of-the-above. In the biggest boneheaded move, the killer wears a fencing mask to conceal his identity which the filmmakers chose to shoot straight-on, rendering the killer’s face completely visible and recognizable about two-thirds into the film. Hitchcock would be proud.

Ultimately, there is zilch to see here as Graduation Day brings nothing new to the slasher genre. The film’s biggest innovation is employing a dog rather than a cat for the requisite animal fake-out scare. The suspense is nil, the grue is minimal, and the obligatory nudity is ever-so-brief  (only four breasts, although two of them belong to scream-queen Linnea Quigley so that’s always a treat).

For slasher completists only.

** (out of five)

The Legend of the Psychotic Forest Ranger

Legend_of_the_Psychotic_ForestHorror fans are a forgiving lot. We’ll forsake decent acting, storytelling, direction, special effects (hopefully not all at once), all for a few good scares. But if you’re going to mock the genre that’s closest to our hearts it better be done right.

Horror movies with laughs are great (think Evil Dead or Re-Animator) but generally, horror comedies stink big-time and The Legend of the Psychotic Forest Ranger is no exception.

As Voltaire put it, “This agglomeration which was called and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.” Horror comedies are frequently not funny enough to be comedies and offer nothing much in terms of horror.

Legend takes the classic “partiers get lost in the woods motif” and makes a hash of it. Sure the plot is limiting. Horror is a limiting genre (consider that about three quarters of them feature someone trying to kill someone else for no apparent reason). But in the hands of craftsmen, magic can be made (think how many hundreds of songs are 3-chord blues in structure). In the hands of morons, it’s a mess.

A ditzy blonde, her worrywart brunette friend, a jock in a letter jacket and his virginal stoner friend head out for a camping trip only to run out of gas near a house, whose occupants are on vacation. A forest ranger (and yes, he does say “only you can prevent forest fires”) roams the backwoods, bitter at having lost his job and takes it out on unsuspecting kids. The dialogue is campy, but obviously and ironically so. The tone is simply unbearable.

And if you’re going to adopt 80s conventions at least go Jackson Pollock with the gore. But Legend is tame. No nudity, no gore, the sine qua non of 80s slasher films. In fact it only hints at a bear trap murder, which would’ve been splendid.

Truth be told it’s a pretty killer premise. As Canadians familiar with Ontario parks, the notion of a psychotic forest ranger sounds pretty great, especially if the filmmakers had toyed with the idea of a lunatic hunter, taxidermist or survivalist as possible red herrings.

Still, anything that takes authority figures and makes them psychos ups the horror ante – see Maniac Cop. Or at least, it should. A counterweight to campy kids would’ve been a really horrifying protagonist, not some lumpen Ralph Kramden.

*1/2 (out of 5)