31 Days of Slashers: Graduation Day (1981)

It’s finally October! While I have been watching horror films regularly throughout the year, a lot of folks like to wait until spooky season to start viewing their favorite scary flicks. To help celebrate, I thought it would be fun to highlight a different slasher film every day for the month of October. Like everyone, I have my go-to slasher franchises that I like to revisit every year: Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and so on. Even if you’re not a fan of the sub-genre, these films and their iconic killers are deeply imbedded in the cultural zeitgeist. Everyone has heard of Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, and Jason Voorhees. As these films are discussed so frequently, particularly with their latest remakes and reboots coming out in theatres, I thought it would be fun to shed light on slasher films that are not so commonly consumed. So, I will be looking at slasher films outside of the main franchises.

The first slasher in the 31 Days of Slashers series is: Graduation Day (1981). Herb Freed’s film focuses on Anne Ramstead (Patch Mackenzie), a US Naval officer who returns home following the death of sister Laura. The film begins with Laura collapsing during a track meet resulting in her death from what seems like a heart attack. Anne arrives home two weeks later to help the school honor her late sister at the graduation ceremony. More track athletes begin to die in grisly ways and Anne finds herself in a dangerous situation. Who is killing off the track athletes one by one? Are they going to come after Anne too? You’ll just have to watch this fun slasher to find out.

Graduation Day makes great use of track and field equipment and settings to feature unique and fun death sequences. The genre is generally regarded as a showcase for practical blood and gore effects, and this film is no different. Freed was clearly having a good time staging these sequences. Anne is also a great addition to the genre’s history of Final Girl characters. She is a strong-willed military officer who obviously knows how to take care of herself and can engage in hand-to-hand combat when necessary, setting her apart from the younger Final Girl figures who are still discovering themselves. When she is introduced, Anne is already more than capable and determined to solve the mystery of how her sister died.

While the murder of the members of the track and field team may seem a bit formulaic and similar to many other teen slasher films set in high schools, Graduation Day sets itself apart through its technical merits. Martin Jay Sadoff provides the film with very engaging transitions and editing throughout the film, greatly heightening the tension in moments of violence and suspense. Many look past the film as nothing more than a continuation of the knock-offs of Halloween and Friday the 13th, but I think that is unfair. The look and editing of the film and the fun fencing costume of the film’s killer set this one apart from the generic fair that was frequently pumped out for a simple profit. Another fun thing that works in the film’s favor is the use of the killer’s stopwatch to build suspense and get the viewer to guess the identity of the murderer.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love an awkward dancing sequence in a slasher film, particularly when there is a live band playing. There’s just something so dated and charming about seeing these Disco scenes with their colorful lights and cheesy music. They really provide a fun timestamp to the films and ground them in the year that they were made.

Graduation Day can be rented on Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play. The excellent blu-ray/DVD set can be purchased from Vinegar Syndrome HERE. As always, the Vinegar Syndrome set features a wonderful restoration and fantastic special features. Graduation Day is an enjoyable slasher that provides fun death sequences that fit nicely into the track and field theme of the film, a solid and strong-willed protagonist in Anne, and innovative editing that sets the film apart from many of the generic slasher films of the time period. It is a great addition to your Halloween film list for the month!

Note: The trailer contains spoilers of the film’s death scenes. If you don’t want to spoil any surprises, just go ahead and watch the film first. That being said, this one has a really fun trailer.

I’ll see you tomorrow with another fun slasher film to check out in the 31 Days of Slashers series!


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