Back to School #30: My Tutor (dir by George Bowers)


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It’s the house.

I was recently trying to figure out what it was exactly that I enjoyed about the 1983 teen comedy My Tutor and I finally realized that it all came down to the house.  Like almost every other teen film released in the 1980s, My Tutor is about rich people.  The main character, recent high school graduate and frustrated virgin Bobby Chrystal (Matt Lattanzi), lives in an absolutely gorgeous house.  There’s a huge pool in back and even the guest house appears to be bigger than any place that I’ve ever lived.  Bobby lives in the type of mansion that I’ve always wanted to live in.  For me, the best parts of My Tutor are the scenes that simply follow Bobby as he walks around the grounds of his home.

I just like seeing where people live.

I first came across My Tutor about two years ago when I got the Too Cool For School DVD box set from Mill Creek Entertainment.  My Tutor was one of the 12 movies included in the box set and it was one of the first that I watched, just because the title seemed to promise all sorts of sordid fun.  Looking back on the first time that I ever watched the film, my main impressions were that the film’s central plot — the affair between Bobby and his French tutor, Terry (Caren Kaye) — was actually handled with a surprising amount of sensitivity, that the great Kevin McCarthy was ideally cast as Bobby’s wealthy but sleazy father, and that the house was really nice.

Is that really proper teacher attire?

Is that really proper teacher attire?

When I rewatched the film for this review, I quickly discovered that I had either forgotten or managed to block from my mind about 5o% of the movie.  Because, before Bobby and Terry take the fateful midnight swim that leads to their affair, the movie largely focuses on the efforts of Bobby and his friend Jack (the reliably weird and nerdy Crispin Glover) to each lose his virginity.  The first half of the film is pretty much dominated by cartoonish scenes of Bobby passing out drunk at a brothel and Jack and his brother Billy (Clark Brandon) trying to pick up two female mud wrestlers.  (If you have bondage fantasies about Crispin Glover, I guess this is the film to see.)  At one point, all of the film’s action stops so that Bobby can have an elaborate fantasy about having sex with a girl that we’ve barely seen before and will never see again.

Bobby has problems beyond just his virginity.  A recent high school graduate, he still has to retake and pass a French exam if he’s going to have any hope of getting into Yale.  (Yale was where his father went to college.  Bobby says he wants to go to UCLA and study the skies, even though he doesn’t ever say anything about astronomy beyond that he wants to major in it.)  Bobby’s father hires him a tutor.  Terry is only ten years older than Bobby and has just recently broken up with her boyfriend.  She enjoys nude midnight swims, riding on motor scooters, and aerobic exercise.  Before you know it, Terry and Bobby are having an affair, Bobby’s father is hitting on Terry, and Terry’s ex-boyfriend keeps coming up to the house searching for her.

The perfect couple

The perfect couple

And what’s surprising is that, once Bobby and Terry become lovers, the film changes.  Well, it changes a little.  Don’t get me wrong — it doesn’t suddenly turn into a great (or even a good) movie or anything like that.  But the film really does make an attempt to realistically deal with the relationship between Bobby and Terry.  Terry doesn’t suddenly abandon her dreams or her plans just because she’s now secretly sleeping with Bobby.  Instead, Terry remains just as independent as before and, unlike a lot of films of the period, the film doesn’t condemn her for wanting a life of her own.  If anything, the film chastises Bobby whenever he gets overly possessive of her.  In the end, the movie suggests that the most important lessons Bobby learned weren’t about sex but instead, were about Terry’s right to live her own life.

Oddly enough, hiding within this typical teen comedy, there’s a surprisingly bittersweet film.  Perhaps less surprisingly, this film — like The Young Graduates, The Teacher, Trip With The Teacher, Coach, and Malibu High — was yet another teacher-student-sex film produced by Crown International Pictures.  Nobody handled potentially icky exploitation with quite the wit and grace of  Crown International.

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Back to School #29: Private School (dir by Noel Black)


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In my previous two Back To School reviews, I took a look at two classic teen comedies.  Fast Times At Ridgemont High and Risky Business both used and manipulated the standard teen comedy trappings to tell unusually nuanced stories about growing up.  These are films that used the audience’s familiarity with the genre to tell stories that ultimately challenged the viewer’s preconceived notions and expectations.  Having considered those two films, let us now consider Private School, a film that used all of the standard teen comedy clichés to make a very standard teen comedy.

According to the film’s trivia page on the IMDB (how’s that for an authoritative source!?), Private School was “”was supposedly market researched from stem to stern in order to ensure mass teen appeal”.  And it’s true because there’s literally nothing in Private School that you couldn’t find in almost every other teen comedy released in the 1980s.  In fact, Private School often feels like a compilation of clips from other teen comedies.

For instance, the film tells the story of two groups of three.  There’s the three girls who attend Cherryvale Academy: good girl Christine (Phoebe Cates), bad (and rich) girl Jordan (Betsy Russell), and vaguely asexual tomboy Betsy (Kathleen Wilhoite).  And then there’s three guys who attend Freemount Academy.  There’s a fat guy named Bubba (Michael Zorek), a short guy named Roy (Jonathan Prince) and a nice guy named Jim (Matthew Modine).  Bubba is dating Betsy.  Christine is dating Jim.  Jordan is dating no one because she’s too busy trying to steal Christine’s boyfriend.  Roy is also single, largely because adding a fourth girl would throw off the film’s group-of-three dichotomy.

There’s also a lot of boobs, largely because Private School was made to appeal to teenage boys and you really have to wonder how many of them left the theater thinking that all they had to do to get a girl to disrobe was spill some fruit juice on her dress and then suggest that she take it off.  There’s even a scene where Jordan rides a horse naked because — well, why not?

And then there’s an extended sequence where each of the three boys puts on a wig, a red dress, way too much lipstick and then sneak into the girl’s dormitory because cross-dressing is always good for a few easy laughs. Despite their best attempts to speak in falsetto voices,  Jim, Bubba, and Roy make for three of the least convincing women that I’ve ever seen but, to the film’s credit, that’s kind of the point.  It’s a stupid plan that leads to stupid results.

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Of course, the film is also full of terrible adult authority figures.  And why not?  It’s not like anyone over the age of 18 was ever going to watch the film.  So, of course, Jordan’s father is going to be lecherous old perv with a trophy wife.  And, of course, all of Cherryvale’s teachers are going to be a collection of spinsters and alcoholics.  In the end, the only adult who isn’t a raging hypocrite is the friendly town pharmacist (played by Martin Mull) who, of course, is mostly present so he can make Jim feel nervous about buying condoms.

And, ultimately, Private School is one of those films that wants to be racy and dirty (in order to appeal to teenage boys) while also being sweet and romantic (in order to appeal to teenage girls).  The main plot revolves around Jim and Christine’s plans to go away for a weekend so that they can have sex for the first time and the film actually handles this pretty well.  Matthew Modine and Phoebe Cates both have a really sweet chemistry.  They’re a really cute couple and you hope the best for them.  But there’s just so many complications, the majority of which could have been avoided by Jim not being an idiot.  It never seems to occur to Jim that maybe he’d finally be getting laid if he wasn’t always doing things like dressing up in drag and trying to sneak into the girl’s dormitory.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Private School is a terrible film.  As far as boob-obsessed teen sex comedies go, Private School is actually pretty well-done and watchable.  The cast is likable and director Noel Black keeps the action moving.  Even the film’s nominal villain is likable, with Betsy Russell playing Jordan as being more mischievous than spiteful.  But, ultimately, what makes Private School memorable is the fact that it is so predictable, that it does literally contain every single cliché that one would expect to find in a teen comedy.  This is a film so determined to not bring anything new to the genre that it becomes an oddly fascinated study in how to maintain a status quo.

In fact, perhaps the most innovative thing about Private School is the song that plays over the opening credits.  The song — which is called You’re Breakin’ My Heart and is performed by Harry Nilsson — starts with: “You’re breaking my heart/you’re tearing it apart/so fuck you…”

That’s about as close to being subversive as Private School ever gets.

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Back to School #28: Risky Business (dir by Paul Brickman)


Risky Business

“It was great the way her mind worked. No guilt, no doubts, no fear. None of my specialities. Just the shameless pursuit of immediate gratification. What a capitalist.” — Joel Goodson (Tom Cruise) in Risky Business (1983)

So, this is the film where Tom Cruise — playing a high school senior named Joel, who has been left at home on his own while his wealthy parents go on vacation — ends up dancing around his living room in his underwear.  It’s a scene that has shown up in countless awards show montages and which has been parodied, imitated, and recreated to such an extent that even people who have never seen the movie know the scene.

Risky Business is about a lot of different things.  It’s a coming-of-age film.  It’s both a celebration and a satire of material excess and greed.  It’s a time capsule of the 80s.  It’s a comedy.  It’s a drama.  It’s a somewhat twisted romance.  It features good performances, clever dialogue, and an excellent soundtrack.  It’s a film that does for “Sometimes you just go to say, ‘What the fuck?'” what Dead Poets Society did for “Carpe Diem.”

But ultimately, for a lot of people, Risky Business is always just going to be about Tom Cruise dancing in his underwear.

And why not?  It’s a great scene, one that deserves its fame.  I’m not just saying that just because I happen to love dance scenes in general.  When Joel celebrates having the house to himself by dancing, he’s also celebrating his independence.  He’s celebrating the fact that he can do whatever he wants.  He’s celebrating freedom.  It’s true that sometime you just got to say, “What the fuck?”  But some other times, you just have to dance.

And you can’t deny that Tom Cruise is at his most appealing and spontaneous in this scene.  Actually, he’s at his most appealing and spontaneous throughout the entire film.  Up until I watched Risky Business, my main impression of Tom Cruise was that he was the creepy guy who forced Katie Holmes to abandon Catholicism for Scientology and chop off her hair.   I knew he was an okay actor but his greater appeal was lost on me.  I think that if I had gotten to know the Tom Cruise in Risky Business before I got to know the Tom Cruise who jumped up and down on that couch and who is rumored to be the secret leader of Scientology, I might have a different opinion of him as an actor.

Anyway, with all that said, here’s that famous scene:

As I said, as famous as that scene may be, there’s actually a lot more to Risky Business than just Tom Cruise dancing in his underwear.  In fact, you could remove that entire scene and Risky Business would remain one of the defining films of the 80s.  It tells the story of Joel Goodson who lives up to his name in almost every way.  He’s a very good son.  He gets good grades in high school.  He’s a member of the Future Enterprisers of America.  His father has decided that Joel is going to go to Princeton and Joel isn’t one to argue.  When his parents leave him alone at the house, they also leave him with a long list of rules and they have every reason to believe that Joel will follow every one of them.

But then Joel meets a prostitute named Lana (Rebecca De Mornay) and he makes an enemy out of Guido the Killer Pimp (Joe Pantoliano) and then his father’s car ends up rolling into a river and, next thing you know, Joel is partnering up with Lana to turn his house into a brothel and they’re making $8,000 in one night.

And really, as good as Tom Cruise is, Rebecca De Mornay is even better because she has a tougher role to play.  As written, Lana is essentially a male fantasy figure.  (And there’s still a part of me that suspect the entire film was meant to be Joel’s daydream.)  But, as played by De Mornay, Lana actually becomes a real human being and someone who definitely has something important to say.  If Cruise gives the film its energy and its heart, De Mornay gives the film a brain. It’s no coincidence that Joel is the one who dances in the living room while Lana is the one who sets up business deals.  With her no-nonsense approach to life and her love of money, she comes to symbolize the film’s own conflicted views of wealth and success.  It’s not by chance that the American flag appears on TV while Joel and Lana are fucking in the living room.  Together, Joel and Lana are the perfect American success story.

Joel Goodson, Super Pimp

Back to School #27: Fast Times At Ridgemont High (dir by Amy Heckerling)


Mike Damone

Mike Damone

Mike Damone, you little prick.

I’ve watched the 1982 high school dramedy Fast Times At Ridgemont High a handful of times.  I’ve reached the point where, every time I watch it, I know exactly what’s going to happen.  I know when stoner Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) is going to order pizza.  I know that Charles Jefferson (Forest Whitaker) is going to go crazy during the big game against Lincoln High.  I know that when Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) kisses the sweet but shy Mark Ratner (Brian Backer), he’s going to end up panicking and scrambling for an excuse to go home.  I know that Brad (Judge Reinhold) is going to get caught masturbating.  I even know when Anthony Edwards, Nicolas Cage, and Eric Stoltz are all going to appear in early performances.

Nicolas Cage, 30 years before he would agree to star in a remake of Left Behind.

Nicolas Cage, 30 years before he would agree to star in a remake of Left Behind.

In other words, I know exactly what’s going to happen.

But, Mike Damone (played, very well, by Robert Romanus, who is only an actor and shouldn’t be held responsible for the actions of a fictional character) — every time, I find myself hoping you’ll do the right thing and every time, you let me down.

Oh sure.  I know that you tried to raise the money to help pay for Stacy’s abortion.  I saw the scene of you on the phone in your bedroom, begging people to finally pay for the tickets that you’d sold them.  I know that you tried but when you couldn’t get the money, where were you?  When Stacy had to ask her older brother, Brad, for a ride to the clinic, where were you?  After Stacy left the clinic, she found Brad waiting for her.  Brad agreed not to ask Stacy who had gotten her pregnant.  He agreed not to tell their parents.  Brad was there for his sister.  Where were you, Mike Damone?

What really upsets me is that, up until you abandoned Stacy, you were one of the more likable characters in Fast Times At Ridgemont High.  I mean, sure — you didn’t get to deliver any classic lines like Spicoli did.  And you weren’t adorably shy like Mark.  But, Mike Damone — I believed in you!  We all believed in you!  (Imagine me doing my best Tyra Banks imitation here.)  You were a cocky guy who spent all of your time selling concert tickets at the mall but you know what?  We all assumed that, underneath all of the attitude, there secretly lurked a good guy.  I mean, we could tell that you sincerely cared about your friend Mark and, because we’re all fools apparently, we even thought that maybe Stacy could bring out the real you.  When Stacy sat there writing “Mrs. Stacy Damone” on her test paper in history class, we understood.  Because, after all, we’ve all had a Mike Damone in our life.

Rat and Mike

Rat and Mike

But then, what happened?  Well, first, you had sex with Stacy despite the fact that you knew Mark liked her.  Of course, for all your bluster and talk, it turned out that sex with Mike Damone amounted to 2 minutes of squirming followed by that classic line, “I think I came.”  And then you left, saying those words that every girl dreams of hearing from someone she’s just been with: “I’ll see you around.”  (Or maybe you said, “I’ll give you a call,” or “I’ve got to go now.”  Either way, it was a pretty shitty thing to say, Damone.)

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As you may have guessed, Fast Times At Ridgemont High is not your typical teen comedy.  In fact, over three decades since it was first released, it remains one of the best and most perceptive films about teenagers ever made.  Over on the A.V. Club, Keith Phipps refers to Fast Times as being “a Trojan horse of a teen comedy that balanced lowbrow gags with subtle humor, genuine insight .. and pathos,” and that’s such a perfect description that I’m not at all ashamed to repeat it word-for-word here.

Don’t get me wrong.  Though Fast Times At Ridgemont High has a lot more drama than you would expect from a film with the words “Fast Times” in the title, it’s also an undeniably funny film.  It’s just that, unlike so many other teen comedies, the comedy comes from a very real place.  This is one of those rare films where the characters are funnier than the situations that they find themselves in.  You laugh because you relate to the characters.  (Admitedly, you might also laugh at what some of them are wearing.  Mike Damone’s keyboard print scarf comes to mind…)

Hey I Know That Guy

Spicoli and Hand

Like many classic teen films — American Graffiti, Fame and Dazed and Confused, to cite just three obvious examples — Fast Times At Ridgemont High is an ensemble piece that follows several different students as they survive a year at Ridgemont High.  Sean Penn’s Jeff Spicoli is the character that everyone always mentions as a favorite and indeed, he does get the best lines and his battles with Mr. Hand (Ray Waltson) are definitely a highlight of the film.  People also always mention Linda (Pheobe Cates), who has a boyfriend in college and who walks in on Brad while he’s fantasizing about her.  And yes, Linda is a memorable character and not just because she bares her breasts during Brad’s fantasy.  She’s also Stacy’s best friend and I think we’ve all had a friend like Linda, someone who we looked up to and assumed had all the answers.  For that matter, Brad is also an interesting character and there’s something undeniably fascinating about watching as he goes from being a carefree, popular teen to being a guy working behind the counter at 7-11.

(If only Brad had not gotten Arnold that job at All-American Burger…)

Agck!

Agck!

However, for me, the film will always be about Stacy, if just because she’s the character to which I relate.  I know when I was 15, I felt a lot like Stacy and, every time I watch Fast Times, I feel like some of Stacy’s experiences could have been taken straight out of my diary.  I had the same combination of confidence and insecurity and the same questions about why boys could talk like men but never act like them.  Stacy, of course, is played by Jennifer Jason Leigh who gives a remarkably brave and vulnerable performance in this film.  Off the top of my head, I can’t tell you who won the Oscar for best supporting actress of 1982 but it doesn’t matter.  Jennifer Jason Leigh should have won it.

Jennifer Jason Leigh in Fast Times At Ridgemont High

Jennifer Jason Leigh in Fast Times At Ridgemont High

Fast Times is often referred to as being a Cameron Crowe film, largely because Crowe famously went undercover at an actual high school while writing the book that served as the basis for his script.  And yes, Fast Times is filled with scenes and characters that feel undeniably Cameron Crowe-like.  However, Fast Times was directed by Amy Heckerling and thank God for that.  Heckerling brings a sensitive touch to material that a male director would be tempted to play solely for exploitation.  Cameron Crowe may have written the script but it’s definitely an Amy Heckerling film.

And, sorry, Mike Damone — you’re still a little prick.

Mike Damone, a.k.a. Little Prick

Mike Damone, a.k.a. Little Prick

Back To School #26: Class of 1984 (dir by Mark L. Lester)


“I am the future!” — Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten) in Class of 1984 (1982)

In many ways, the classic exploitation film Class of 1984 feels like an update of Blackboard Jungle.  An idealistic teacher Andrew Norris (Perry King) takes a job teaching at a crime-ridden inner city school.  There are a few differences.  For one thing, the teacher in Class of 1984 teaches music.  The graffiti-covered school in Class of 1984 looks a hundreds times worse than the one in Blackboard Jungle.  Sidney Poitier is nowhere to be seen in Class of 1984 though Michael J. Fox does show up as one of the good students.  Bad student Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten) and his gang are a lot more colorful and flamboyant than Vic Morrow ever was in Blackboard Jungle.

And, of course, the main difference between Blackboard Jungle and Class of 1984 is that, in the former film, teacher Glenn Ford’s liberal idealism ultimately defeated the forces of juvenile delinquency.  Ford may have been tempted to turn violent but, ultimately, he appealed to the better instincts of his other students and the world was better for it.

In Class of 1984, Andy Norris may start off as a liberal idealist but, ultimately, he reveals himself to be just as violent as his students.  And again, the world appears to be better for it.

(I imagine that, when this film was originally released, a lot of teachers probably watched it as a form of wish-fulfillment.)

Now, Andy’s actions may be extreme but he has his reasons.  Just consider everything that happened to him after he started teaching.

First off, his best friend and fellow teacher Terry Corrigan (Roddy McDowall) was driven insane by the school’s students.  Terry eventually ended up teaching while pointing a gun at his entire class.  (The scene where McDowall finally gets his class to pay attention is one of the best in the film, largely due to McDowall’s excellent performance.  The look of happiness that crosses his face when a student finally gives him the correct answer is both disturbing and funny at the same time.)

Secondly, his best student (that would be Michael J. Fox) ended up getting stabbed in the cafeteria by one of Stegman’s goons.

And finally, Stegman and his gang assaulted Andy’s wife.

Can you blame Andy Norris for taking the law into his own hands?

Now, me,  I have a tendency towards being a bleeding heart when it comes to those living on the fringes of society.  I’m against the death penalty.  I’m against the war on drugs.  I’m against violence.  I believe in compassion.  I believe in understanding.  I believe in love.  But even with all that in mind, I couldn’t help but enjoy Class of 1984.  Some of that is because the film is surprisingly well-acted.  You find yourself really caring about the characters played Perry King and Roddy McDowall and you also find yourself really hating Peter Stegman and his goons.  I don’t care how compassionate you are, there’s something very cathartic about watching Andy finally get back at his tormentors.  And then there’s the fact that, of all the directors to work in what has been termed the “exploitation” field, Mark Lester is one of the best.  He’s one of those directors who knows exactly how to tell a story and what buttons to push to get the proper emotional respect.

But mostly, the film works because of Timothy Van Patten’s performance as Peter Stegman.  Van Patten makes Stegman into one of the definitive teenage psychos.  As intimidating as Van Patten is, his best moments come when the film reveals the type of person that Stegman could have been if not for the fact that he’s a total sociopath.  At one point, when Andy tries to kick him out of music class, Stegman responds by sitting down at a piano and playing a beautiful piece of music.  Perhaps my favorite Stegman moments comes late in the film, when he’s seen sweetly talking to his devoted (and clueless) mother.

Not surprisingly for a film that was released over 30 years ago, Class of 1984 is undeniably dated.  But it doesn’t matter because Class of 1984 captures a universal and timeless truth.  There are always going to be frustrated teachers and dangerous students.  The only thing that changes is how society deals with the frustration and the danger.

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Back to School #25: Rock: It’s Your Decision (dir by John Taylor)


Rock It's Your Decision

MUSIC!  Kids love it, parents hate it!  Or something like that.  I don’t know what that means.  I’m just trying to figure out a good way to introduce the obscure 1982 film, Rock: It’s Your Decision!

Rock: It’s Your Decision is an hour-long film about a teenager named Jeff (played by Ty Taylor, who I assume is the son of the film’s director, John Taylor).  Jeff and his mom have been fighting about the music that he listens to.  She thinks that it’s way too secular and therefore, a bad influence.  She turns to her church’s youth minister and asks him to talk to Jeff.  The very earnest (and kinda creepy, to be honest) minister challenges Jeff to spend two weeks only listening to Christian music and actually researching what the lyrics of his favorite songs are actually saying and what other people his age get out of those lyrics.  Jeff agrees and then, at the end of the movie, gives a ten minute sermon to his youth group in which he reveals what he has discovered.

What’s interesting is that, up until he delivers his sermon, Jeff comes across like not that bad of a guy.  Sure, he takes himself too seriously and he’s kinda boring and I know that, when I was in high school, he was exactly the type of nonentity that I would dread having to sit next to.  But other than that, he seems almost reasonable.  Stupid but reasonable.

But then he gives his sermon and — OH.  MY.  GOD.  It’s as if stepping up to the pulpit unleashes Jeff’s inner douchebag.  Suddenly, he’s pacing around the stage and talking about how musicians are all homosexual drug addicts.  He talks about how, when he listened to secular music, he would actually get possessed.  Even worse, when he talks about listening to that terrible music, Jeff acts it out for us.  He turns on an imaginary stereo.  He talks about how much he used to love hearing a good “get down beat.”  He starts physically dancing to the music in his head.  Scornfully, he reminds us that modern songs have titles like, “One of These Nights” and “Let There Be Rock.”  He points out that even so-called “safe” singers still sing about sex.  His audience, of course, sits there in rapt attention.  The youth minister watches from the back of the room and you can tell that he’s mentally high-fiving himself.  Jeff goes on and on until finally, he shatters a vinyl record on a church pew.  (Amazingly evil demons do not immediately fly out of the remains of the record….)

What makes all of this especially amusing is that the songs and musicians that Jeff so vehemently condemns are basically the same songs and bands that my parents used to listen to back before I was even born.  (And they continued to listen to them even after I was born, regardless of how many times I begged my mom not to sing along to the oldies station while driving me to school.)  The next time I find myself arguing with my Dad, I’ll know that it’s AC/DC’s fault.  (Or maybe I’ll just blame Captain and Tenille because, according to Jeff, they’re all equally bad…)

According to Mike “McBeardo” McPadden in the book Heavy Metal Movies, this film was specifically made for showing in churches and Christian schools.  As such, it’s a very low-budget film that mainly features amateur actors.  Instead of using idealized sets or costumes, it was actually filmed in someone’s house and at a real mall and in a real church and everyone pretty much wore their own clothes and, as a result, the film does have some anthropological value.  Having watched Rock: It’s Your Decision, I at least now kinda know what some people were like in 1982.

Anyway, for those of you who just want to jump to the good part, you can watch Jeff’s “sermon” below.

And, for all of my fellow history nerds who want to get the full 1982 experience, you can watch the entire film below.

 

Back to School #24: Graduation Day (dir by Herb Freed)


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For the past week, we’ve been doing Back T0 School here at the Shattered Lens: 76 high school and teen film reviews, all posted in chronological order.  We started with two films released in 1946 and now, we’ve finally reached the golden age of teen films: the 1980s.

You really can’t take a look at 80s teen films without reviewing at least one slasher film.  With the twin box office successes of Halloween in 1978 and Friday the 13th in 1980, there were literally hundreds of slasher films released in the early 80s.  Since those films were specifically targeted towards a teen audience, it’s not surprising that quite a few of them took place in high school.  And, since the majority of these films were also low-budget affairs, we also should not be surprised that the majority of them were filmed in Canada.  In other words, this would appear to be the perfect opportunity for me to review my favorite Canadian slasher film, Prom Night!  However, I’ve already reviewed that film so, instead, let’s take a look at the next best thing.

First released in 1981, Graduation Day has a great opening.  Various good-looking teenagers compete in athletic activities.  One guy throws the shot put.  Another one does the pole vault.  A dark-haired girl does gymnastics.  In the stands, other teenagers cheer and smile because apparently, they’re really into the shot put.  Standing on the sidelines, Coach Michaels (Christopher George) shouts things like, “GO!  GO!  GO!”  Laura Ramstead (Ruth Ann Llorens) runs the 100 meter race.  “GO, LAURA, GO!  30 SECONDS LAURA!”  Coach Michaels shouts.  We get a close-up of a stop watch.  Then we get a close-up of Laura running.  Then we get a close-up of everyone in the stands cheering insanely.  And then a close-up of …. well, let’s just say there’s a lot of close-ups.  Laura crosses the finish line and then collapses dead of a heart attack.  What makes this montage of competition, cheering, and death all the more fascinating is that there’s a wonderfully bad song playing in the background.  “Everybody wants to be a winner!” the singer tells us.  And I guess that’s true…

Anyway, jump forward a few months and now, mere days before high school graduation, somebody with a stop watch is killing the members of the track team!  What’s interesting about this is, despite the fact that they’re the only targets of this killer, we really don’t get to know much about any of the members of the team.  By that I mean that most of them are only really seen three times in the movie: during the opening credits, when they die, and then at the end of the movie when their bodies are discovered.  One of them — a blonde girl — is only seen twice, reportedly because the actress playing her got mad and walked off the movie before her death scene was filmed.  Hence, we only see her at the start of the film and then at the end of the film when another character stumbles over her head.  (In a move that would be copied by Tommy Wiseau in The Room, director Herb Freed gave all of her lines and her death scene to a totally new character, played by future horror mainstay Linnea Quigley.)  The end result may be the only slasher film where the victims themselves are all largely red herrings.

Instead, Graduation Day spends the majority of its time with the possible suspects.  Graduation Day came out at a time when the North American slasher film was still largely influenced by Italian giallo films and, as a result, the film is structured like a whodunit.  When we see the killer, all we see are the black gloves that he or she wears whenever committing murder.  So, who could the killer be?

Could it be Laura’s grieving and bitter boyfriend, Kevin (E. Danny Murray), who appears to be in his 40s but is apparently a high school student?

Could it be the grieving and bitter Coach Michaels, who is being forced to retire as a result of Laura’s death?

Could it be Laura’s sister, Anne (Patch McKenzie), who knows karate and always seems to pop up right before anyone is murdered?

Could it be the principal (Michael Pataki), who is automatically a suspect just because he’s played by Michael Pataki?

Or maybe it’s the school’s music teacher, who is fat, balding and wears a powder blue leisure suit?

Or maybe it’s the school security guard, MacGregor (Virgil Frye), who says stuff like, “I could hurt you bad if I put my mind to it!”

Or maybe it’s Felony, the band that shows up to play at some sort of weird pre-graduation roller skating party?  Felony — which was an actual band that apparently had one hit in the early 80s — plays a 10-minute song called Gangster Rock.  Now, personally, I happen to really like the song so I’m going to include it below.  Be warned that, while Felony was performing, the unseen killer managed to kill both Linnea Quigley and her boyfriend, so watch at your own discretion.

How much you enjoy Graduation Day is going to depend on who you see it with.  Like most of the early 80s slasher films, Graduation Day is a film that’s best viewed with a group of your most snarky friends.  As a group, you can consider such oddities as the fact that, though the film takes place in a large high school, it appears that there’s only about 40 students in the graduating class.  You can point out that every single character in the film appears to be a potential homicidal maniac.  You can enjoy the nonstop bitterness of Christopher George’s performance.  You can talk about different your graduation day was from the one shown in this film. You can argue about who the killer is and then, at the end of the film, you can wonder how someone that stupid could have managed to kill 7 people in one day without anyone ever noticing.  Even better, you can all get up and dance to Gangster Rock, just like the doomed characters in the film.

What fun!

laura