Sunday, July 16, 2006

On the five-year program: 'Graduation Day'

Well, here it is, the 200th post. And what better way to celebrate spotty updating than the latest installment in the Bad Movies From A to Z series? We're up to G, and our pick is the 1981 horror film, "Graduation Day," with Christopher George, Patch MacKenzie and brief appearances by Vanna White and Linnea Quigley.

The movie in a nutshell: After a high school track star dies from a heart attack at a meet, a mysterious figure starts bumping off other members of the team. Who is it? To prolong the "suspense," everyone acts creepy for no reason other than to look suspicious.

The story: Less than two minutes into the movie, and it's pissing me off already. There's a track event in progress. The action cuts damn near every second. I guess it's supposed to build suspense or curiosity.

I was practically raised on the so-called "MTV-style" cuts, but those at least have some kind of focus. This is just cut here, cut there, back to here, over there, etc. It's very distracting, especially when there are shots of a gymnast (indoors, no less) intercut. Sloppy.

What I almost missed: Laura Ramstead, a runner for Midvale, runs herself to death, prodded in part by her coach, George Michaels (played with Shatnerian ferocity by Christopher George).

Some time later, a woman in a Navy uniform (Patch MacKenzie) hitches a ride to town. She's holding an article about the girl's death and ignoring the driver's feeble pickup lines.

"What's the matter? Cat got your tongue? It's okay, I got plenty tongue for both of us."

We only see her legs initially, but when she tires of his talk, she first grabs his manberries and then his Ralph Furley castoff neckerchief. He calms down.

She sees a girl running down the street and asks to get out of the truck. She watches the girl cross the street and jog through a park.

Uh-oh. We see a mysterious figure (henceforth to be referred to as TMF) who holds a stopwatch in a black gloved hand. TMF catches up to the runner and slits her throat. He stops the watch at 30 seconds. This will happen at every murder, so it must be important.

The camera lingers on the dead girl's behind for no apparent reason other than it's there.

Back at school, the track team is preparing to get a picture taken for the newspaper. They're waiting for Paula, who I assume is the park victim. While they're waiting, one of the team members makes a crack about how many of them were supposed to make it through the year alive. Coach Michaels tells him he's out of line. They take the picture without Paula.

Navy Girl visits her mom. Turns out she's Anne Ramstead, Laura's sister. Anne is met with nothing but cartoonish disdain from Ronald, her stepdad.

Up in Laura's room, Ronald says that since he raised Laura like his own, he ought to be getting the award that is to be presented to Anne. To make sure we get that Ronald doesn't like Anne, he calls her names and threatens to slap her.

At this point, the captioning locked, so I had to actually listen to people. Seriously, this is the worst captioning I've ever seen on a DVD. Even when it's working, things are misspelled, and the punctuation is horrible.

TMF crosses Paula off on a picture of the track team that he has in a locker. The captioning seems to have caught up again.

Sally walks through a park, possibly the same one Paula was in. She runs into Anne, who is looking for the school auditorium. Anne notices the necklace Sally wears -- she got it as a track award -- and then she tells Sally that she has lovely eyes. "My sister had lovely eyes like yours. She's dead, though."

Not too creepy, is it?

In the auditorium, the principal, Mr. Guglione, is trying to gain control of the graduation practice. While he prattles on, Anne -- and her impossibly thin waist -- walks in. He introduces Anne as a special guest and mentions that during the actual graduation, there will be a moment of silence for Laura.

Anne meets Kevin, who was Laura's boyfriend, who was also a high school senior, despite pushing 30. They talk, but not about much.

Sally heads to the locker room, where she gets changed into a leotard. The lights go out, and she does the requisite walk slowly and ask who's there thing. She's startled by two other girls. She tries to tell them that a door just closed (TMF, perhaps?), but she sees no one there.

One of the girls is Vanna White, letter turner extraordinaire. Something I didn't know: According to IMDB, Vanna's uncle is Christopher George. Coincidence or psychic phenomenon? You be the judge.

Coach Michaels is also the gymnastics coach, apparently, as well as a grade-A asshat. He bullies a reluctant Sally into doing her routine for a newspaper photographer. She falls. Coach Michaels first chews out Sally for screwing up, and then yells at the photog for defending her. Sally does her routine again while the coach appears to be leaving eyeprints on her butt. The photographer seems skeeved out by the coach's expression, but he continues to snap pictures.

Elsewhere, TMF crosses out Sally's picture. Sally falls again and the coach throws out the photog.

TMF lurks about while Sally shaves her legs at the locker room sink.

"This is for you, Coach," she says into the mirror with a sneer. "Sit on it and rotate."


She sees TMF in the mirror, and he's holding a fencing foil that he thrusts through her neck.

Cut to the music teacher, Mr. Roberts. From the way the girls are acting, he's supposed to be Joe Cool, but he looks like Jerry Lewis midway through a Labor Day telethon in 1976. He tells Dolores (Linnea Quigley) that she's not going to pass. She tries to change his mind by popping her top. So far as I've seen, none of the girls at this school wears a bra.

Not a complaint, mind you. Just an observation.

In the principal's office, Mr. Guglione calls in his secretary, Blondie. He dumps a bunch of crap work on her and tries to gloss it over by macking on her. After Blondie leaves, he cuts an apple with a switchblade, one of many that he keeps in his desk drawer.

Mr. Roberts is singing by himself -- I guess Dolores "passed" already -- and he hears an odd noise that he feels compelled to investigate. He bumps into the coach, who doesn't hear the strange tapping noises.

Roberts goes into the boiler room, which is dimly lit to comply with the Creepy-Ass Boiler Room Act of 1971. Someone plays a tape of him "tutoring" Dolores. Roberts finds the tape player and sees two kids running out.

Dolores and her pal are hanging out on a bench smoking some ganja. They get caught by Officer McGregor, who asks them if they want to get in trouble a week before graduation. Since someone else already established that graduation is the next day, I'm a bit puzzled.

McGregor decides to surreptitiously light up his confiscated reefer with matches from 7-Eleven. This isn't important to the plot, but the matchbook design matches (no pun intended) my beloved 7-Eleven smock, which I guess gives you an idea of how old the thing is.

According to the nameplate on his door, Coach Michaels is also the woodworking teacher. Anne goes into his office, but it's empty. Some of the equipment in the woodshop starts up by itself. Michaels runs in and turns the machines off.

Anne accuses him of killing Laura by pushing too hard. He tries to defend himself, to no avail.

"We'll meet again, Roberts."

No. 32 is practicing while running through the park by the school. He bumps into Vanna and her friend. His football gets tossed into the trees. TMF spikes the football -- he puts a giant spike on the front, no lie -- and passes it to the football player, who catches it blade-first right in the gut. TMF crosses him out of the track picture.

Kevin is playing backup harmonica at some hootenanny going on. Kids these days and their hippie music. Out in the halls, which are decorated with pictures of the Beatles and Prince John from the Disney version of "The Jungle Book," kids are hanging out and talking.

Coach Michaels gets in a tiff with some weirdo who tells him not to treat him like crap because "I can hurt you bad if I put my mind to it."

What, like he's going to wish him to the cornfield or something?

Nice transition, eh?

It's time for roller boogie at the school, where they managed to get Felony to play. Oh God, this just smacks of late-70s crapitude. It almost physically hurts. The members of Felony wear makeup, which is supposed to make them rawknroll.

This is a good time to take a break and grab a snack. Hope I don't miss anything.

Okay, I've got some sustenance. Looks like Dolores and her pal Tony are making out in the park outside. The guy breaks away to take a leak and is beheaded in almost total darkness. I had to look again to see if that's what happened. TMF hops out of the bushes in full regalia -- sweatsuit and fencing mask. He chases Dolores with his giant sword and catches a break when she falls. Bye-bye, Dolores.

Tony's mom calls the principal and says that Tony hasn't come home. Guglione reluctantly takes the call. Some other kids didn't make it home either, but they're good kids -- all from the same track team.


Inspector Halliday comes to talk to Mr. Guglione about the missing kids. Guglione says they're probably out raising hell. Guglione: "Why are their parents so upset?" Halliday tells McGregor to make his report -- and hurry because he's claustrophobic. Or Closter phobic, if the captioning is to be believed.

A pole vaulter for no apparent reason decides to get in some practice and lands on a bad of spikes. Oh noes!

Halliday (or Helliman, sez the captions) asks Coach Michaels if he knows anything about the missing kids. He says he doesn't. He's also been fired, so he has to pack. After Halliday leaves, we see a picture of the team on the coach's desk, and in the drawer, there's a stopwatch, black gloves, and a track medal. You don't think...

Okay, if you don't want to know how the movie ends, stop reading right here. The killer is eventually revealed, and while it doesn't go exactly the way one might expect, it's still pretty dumb.

Last chance.

Still want to know, eh? OK, here's the rest:

Vanna and her pal Joanne are in the locker room talking about something when Vanna sees blood oozing out of a locker near hers. A dead and bloody Sally falls out of the locker. Michaels sees this and pulls a foil out of the locker. Just when you think he's going to do some slicing and dicing, Kevin comes in to stop him.

Michaels escapes Kevin's grip and runs off. The cops arrive with Anne in tow. She's concerned about Kevin. Halliday holds up the picture of the track team. He asks Anne if she knows who they are.

"Yes. It's the track team." Who'da thunk, what with them posing on the track and everything.

Michaels bolts off into the park, and Kevin follows him in despite getting outside too late to see him go in. Oddly, he not only catches up but gets ahead of him enough to ambush him. By this point, Anne is there, dutifully minding her purse and telling Kevin that he can't do this by himself.

The coach trips over the football player, and Kevin catches up to him. Coach says it's all a mistake. Kevin tells Michaels that "you killed Laura. You all killed her! And now you all have gotta be punished."

Kevin goes on to explain that his life was changed in 30 seconds. He and Laura were going to marry after graduation. A fight ensues. Halliday catches up to them and, thinking Michaels is the culprit, shoots him dead. Kevin has gotten away with it.

When Anne goes to the school's office to pick up the trophy for Laura, she finds out that Kevin already came to claim it. Anne goes to Kevin's house to see what's going on. Up in his room, she sees a girl wearing a graduation cap. She begins to apologize, but when she walks in front of the girl, she discovers that it's her sister, dug up and dressed in cap and gown.

Kevin has apparently taken a nasty spill off the reality wagon. Maybe he's having his midlife crisis or something. He says they're still going to get married. A scuffle ensues.

Oh, you've got to be kidding me.

After Kevin takes a swipe at Anne with a knife, Laura's spring-loaded body knocks Kevin out the window. Anne goes to check on him, and he walks back in the house, carrying Laura's body. Anne runs away, and we're treated to intercuts of Laura's last race.

Anne's on the field. She's at the 40, the 30... in heels, no less.

She sits on the steps to the stands. Kevin has caught up to her, and Anne busts some horribly fake looking martial-arts moves on him. Under the bleachers, Stabby McStabberson keeps on trying to kill Anne. She kicks him in the nads in slow motion and bolts.

Oh, for crap's sake...

She pushes him away, and he impales himself on the spikes sticking out of one of the victims he stashed down there.

Later, Anne's packing up. She's got a plane to catch the next morning. While Anne sleeps, the door opens. Is it Kevin is back to finish the job? Looks like it, but as the lights go on, we find that it's just Ronald, drunk off his Heineken. False alarm. She was just hallucinating.

In the morning, Anne takes a cab and as she passes the sign that says "Happy Graduation Day," the movie ends.

Afterthoughts: Oy.

You know, for all the complaints, it's not that horrible. There are some things you just accept as conventions of the genre. I don't expect Oscar-caliber acting, lavish production values or a thought-provoking story. If you get them, great. But I don't get too disappointed.

Better gore effects would've been nice, but I understand that there are budget constraints. I guess what really makes me wonder, not just about this particular movie, but B Cinema in general, is what exactly the people who made this thought they were bringing. Was it just to make money? Was it a love of movies? Sometimes, you just don't know.

"Graduation Day," with a few tweaks, could've been much better. Just off the top of my head, even one change would have been a great improvement.

When the cop shoots Coach Michaels and asks Kevin to make a statement, just end the scene with a closeup of the deranged Kevin and dissolve to the next shot, which could've been a closeup of Kevin holding someone's hand. Pan up to show that it's Laura in either cap and gown or wedding gown. Show the back of the car, which has cans tied to the back. Across the back window, it reads "Just Married." They drive off into the sunset and the movie ends.

For that to really work, Kevin needs to be shown to be nuts a little sooner, but it would be a memorable ending. "Sleepaway Camp" was a mildly interesting horror flick, but it's the ending that everyone remembers. If you haven't seen it, go rent it.

Another problem I had was the arbitrary decision as to who the killer was. It really could've been anyone based on what we were given. It's like they flipped a coin or drew straws to pick the killer.

The DVD presentation is pretty lackluster; there aren't many chapter stops, and the picture looks pretty muddy, especially in the darker scenes. As I mentioned before, the captioning on this was laughable. But if you're not expecting archival quality and just want something to watch while you inhale some pizza and beer, you're all set.

If you grew up renting movie like this, you'll appreciate it. It would do pretty well for a group viewing/mocking. I've seen worse.

Heck, I own worse.

No comments:

Post a Comment