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Graduation Day (1981) (US Blu-ray review)

Specs

Specs

Details

Director: Herb Freed
Writer: Ann Marisse and Herb Freed
Cast: Christopher George, Patch Mackenzie, E. J. Peaker, and Linnea Quigley
Year: 1981
Length: 97 min
Rating: R
Region: A/1
Disks: 2
Label: Vinegar Syndrome
Release Date: September 9, 2014

Video

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Type: Color

Audio

Audio:  English: DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0
Subtitles: English

Extras
  • Audio commentary with producer David Baughn
  • Audio commentary with podcast Hysteria Lives!
  • Interviews with David Baughn, Herb Freed, Patch Mackenzie, and Martin Jay Sadoff
  • Theatrical Trailer
gradday_CovWhile the subgenre did experience a brief resurgence in the 90s—thanks to Wes Craven’s Scream—, overall Slasher films lived and died between the 70s and mid-1980s. There are a handful of examples that, of course, could be discussed outside this guideline, but the strongest output, the biggest period of commercial viability was during this era. So abundant were the releases, that it is not uncommon for a title to fall through the cracks, failing to receive the attention it deserves. Recovering and representing these old, forgotten gems is exactly what Vinegar Syndrome’s mission statement is, and they’ve outdone themselves with their latest acquisition, Graduation Day. Presented in HD, from a 4K scan, Herb Freed’s 1982 high school Slasher Graduation Day is an absolutely must-see for all Slasher enthusiasts.

Film

The film is marked by a very chaotic cinematic style. The editor on the picture, Martin Jay Sadoff, must receive special praise, because the film is edited in a very unique manner that really adds to the overall distanced, uncomfortable feeling. Using a rapid succession of cuts, the shots cascading into each other forms the level of excitement at the opening track meet—tension and enthusiasm are in the air, as the crowd prepares for the big race. However, it only takes 30 seconds time for their lives to alter forever. In 30 seconds, track star Laura Ramstead wins the race, collapses, and dies. Cut to sometime shortly after, Anne Ramstead (Patch Mackenzie), Laura’s sister, is returning home from Naval duty in Guam. The film is quick to highlight a strangeness in Anne’s behavior; she seems unable to converse with others in a normal way, as if she is hiding something. Meanwhile, Laura’s team members begin slowly being picked off, one-by-one, by a javelin-wielding, fencing masked killer. Who is the killer? Is it the overzealous and demanding Coach George Michaels (Christopher George); the awkward sister, home from duty, Anne; or is it Laura’s boyfriend, Kevin Badger. No spoilers here, you’ll have to pick it up to find out.

Herb Freed's Graduation Day (1981) [click to enlarge]

Herb Freed’s Graduation Day (1981) [click to enlarge]

Despite an attempt to mask the killer’s identity, it is not terribly hard to figure out the film’s mystery. With that said, the real charm of the film does not come from its ability to fashion a engaging whodunit, but rather Freed’s take on the subgenre. There is a lot of creative innovation in the film. One of these elements comes with the killer’s use of a stopwatch. Each kill lasts exactly 30 seconds (timed by the killer), the same amount of time it took Laura to finish her race. Further, after each kill, the killer draws a red X over the deceased’s face on a picture of the track team. It wouldn’t seem that Freed was too concerned with the mystery aspects, but there is still a reasonable enough amount of doubt cast on each of the principle suspects to make the reveal pleasurable.

Herb Freed's Graduation Day (1981) [click to enlarge]

Herb Freed’s Graduation Day (1981) [click to enlarge]

While the film’s story is far from unique, it is not the plot that will really keep viewers enticed. The film is complimented by a strong visual flair. One shot in particular—that is also highlighted on the Hysteria Lives! Commentary—is a tracking shot of Sally walking through a locker room. As she walks past a window, which pears out into a dark room, you can see the menacing figure of the killer stalking her every move. Upon an initial view this detail is easily missed, but it is moments like that this that comprise Graduation Day.

Graduation Day features a number of memorable, unique kills, but there is not a ton of blood to go around. Freed’s lack of interest in the genre itself is put on display, but, while the film is not overly gory—even for its time—we think there will be just enough blood and violence to satisfy even the biggest gore hounds. That, matched with performances by the always entertaining Christopher George and horror favorite Linnea Quigley (as well as an early performance by Vanna White), make Graduation Day a great little horror flick.

Herb Freed's Graduation Day (1981) [click to enlarge]

Herb Freed’s Graduation Day (1981) [click to enlarge]

Video

The 4K transfer of Graduation Day, from the original filmic evidence, is proof of Vinegar Syndrome’s absolute dedication to their craft. While other companies struggle to present laughable Blu-Ray prints of easier to access films, Vinegar Syndrome tracks down these lesser-seen gems and present them in a fashion that is leagues beyond most of their competitors. The AVC Encoded 1.78:1 transfer has faithful colors, a dynamic depth, and is free from distracting digital enhancement. The film is a bit soft and grainy, but these are most likely the result of the film’s low budget and not a result of the transfer it  There is definitely a decent amount of age related issues on display, but you have to expect a bit of grit with your schlock and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Herb Freed's Graduation Day (1981) [click to enlarge]

Herb Freed’s Graduation Day (1981) [click to enlarge]

Audio

The audio, while not poor, is not quite up to the same standards as the video. The DTS-HD Master Audio mono mix is a bit thin in places and slightly hot in others. With that being said, the mix is, overall, well balanced and dialogue is clear and crisp. The mix is free from age related issues and the thinness doesn’t really distract from the viewing experience, which leaves an adequate and enjoyable final product.

Herb Freed's Graduation Day (1981) [click to enlarge]

Herb Freed’s Graduation Day (1981) [click to enlarge]

Extras

Vinegar Syndrome really did Graduation Day a great service with this release. The first two features come in the form of two separate audio commentaries; one with producer David Baughn and, the second, a fantastic piece with the crew of the podcast Hysteria Lives! While the former is what you’d expect to hear, the latter commentary is really special and, with hope, will start a new trend in distribution tactics. Having a podcast handle the audio commentary is nothing short of brilliant. The dynamic between the group is strong and they are used to long form discussion of film, making it a real listening treat. By and large, one of the more enjoyable commentaries to grace any Blu-Ray release we’ve assessed. In addition, Vinegar Syndrome has commissioned a set of interviews with principle members of the cast and crew—including, director Herb Freed, actress Patch Mackenzie, producer Dave Baugh, and editor Martin Jay Sadoff. The interviews are short and to the point, and more than justify a view. Video quality could be a bit better on these interviews, but they are in no way shot poorly. The original theatrical trailer—actually highly entertaining—is also included in this release.

Herb Freed's Graduation Day (1981) [click to enlarge]

Herb Freed’s Graduation Day (1981) [click to enlarge]

Bottom Line

Unless you are die-hard Slasher fan, there is a good chance this film may have went under your radar. Not a title generally discussed at length, Vinegar Syndrome’s release gives a new generation of horror fans, as well as previous fans of the film, a chance to see it in a new light. The stellar 4K scan and wealth of features really makes this one of the most unique and worthwhile titles of the year. Vinegar Syndrome is quickly moving up to the top of the ladder of distributors to keep an eye on—and a glance at their upcoming releases only solidifies that belief.

Herb Freed's Graduation Day (1981) [click to enlarge]

Herb Freed’s Graduation Day (1981) [click to enlarge]

While the subgenre did experience a brief resurgence in the 90s—thanks to Wes Craven’s Scream—, overall…

Review Overview

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Video
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About Joe Yanick

Joe Yanick is a writer, videographer, and film/music critic based in Brooklyn, NY. He is the former Managing Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Noisey.vice.com, and Stagebuddy.com. In addition, he has worked with the Cleveland International Film Festival as a Feature reviewer. He is currently a Cinema Studies MA Candidate at New York University.

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