Face-Off: Graduation Day vs. Fatal Games (a.k.a. Olympic Nightmare)

Sporting events and athletic achievements are things that typically pass by without me taking any notice, but this summer has been an exception - for the first time in my life, I have actually been paying attention to what has been going on at the Olympics. And I've even been enjoying it. Since the games are still going on, I thought this week would be the appropriate time to go obscure and take a look at the 1984 slasher FATAL GAMES, which is also known as OLYMPIC NIGHTMARE. The movie I've chosen to pit it against is another sports-themed slasher, 1981's GRADUATION DAY. Let's see which one gets the gold.
Midvale High School's track team gives it all they've got in their competitions, and a girl named Laura even gives her life, dropping dead immediately after winning a race. Although the cause of death was a blood clot, there are still a lot of hard feelings going around over what happened to Laura, and soon members of the track team (and other students) are getting picked off by a mysterious maniac. Spinning out of a perfectly acceptable set-up, GRADUATION DAY benefits from sticking close to the slasher formula.
Having won regional competitions in track and field, gymnastics, and swimming, seven students at the Falcon Academy of Athletics have a shot at making it to the Olympics. Unfortunately, their pursuit of their dream becomes a nightmare when a javelin-wielding maniac starts knocking them off one-by-one for no apparent reason. That's a fine story for a slasher, but the execution of it feels rather clunky and disjointed. The movie sort of meanders between murder scenes, which are very welcome when they come.
Most of the victims are presented pretty simply, but there are some standouts - the gymnast who is too disturbed about the strange things happening to concentrate on her routine, the alleged lothario who never actually goes through with having sex with his horny girlfriend (who's played by scream queen Linnea Quigley), and Laura's boyfriend Kevin, who shows a willingness to be the film's hero and help Laura's sister Anne bring the killer to justice. Given that the first murder coincides with Anne's return to town, she may be suspect number one.
This is about as bland as slasher victims can get. Dedicated athletes going through intense training, the characters feel interchangeable and most have the same things on their minds - sports, sex, and what's happening to their associates. These people have way too much dialogue for a bunch that is so uninteresting, but through their interactions we gradually come to realize that gymnast Annie Rivers is our final girl. She has more going on than some, but her most standout quality is the fact that she survives longer than many others.
Exhibiting little to no redeeming qualities, Coach George Michaels fits right in with the other awful authority figures Midvale High School, which includes an ineffectual principal and a perverted music teacher. Although he says he would give his life for the kids he coaches, Michaels pushes them way too hard and comes off like a total bastard. Much like Michaels uses a stopwatch to time races, the killer uses a stopwatch to time the murders, and it wouldn't be hard to believe that Michaels and the killer are the same person.
There are several coaches and trainers at work at the Falcon Academy, with one of them, Coach Jack Webber, drawing a lot of suspicion when he delivers a drunken rant about his glory days compared to the athletes today. Diane Paine shows great concern for the kids, butting heads with Dr. Jardine over the mysterious medication regimen he has them on, seeking to maximize the athletic potential of the human body. But lest you think she's a pure character, there's also a scene in which Diane gets inappropriately touchy with a student.
For the most part, the killer sticks with a sporting theme while knocking off Midvale's athletes, and there are some good sports-related deaths in here, including the misuse of a fencing foil and a pole vaulting jump that goes terribly awry. My favorite kill of all would be the one where a football is turned into a deadly, bladed projectile.
When this killer sticks with a sporting theme, they get very specific about it, using the same weapon to commit every murder: a javelin. There is some variation to the use, though. There's impalement by long distance throw, a girl meets her end while swimming laps in the pool, and my favorite is when a victim is thrown across a room by the impact.
GRADUATION DAY's slasher wears a grey sweatshirt, black gloves, and a fencing mask - not an iconic look, but appropriate for the film. When their identity is revealed, it's no great twist and elements are reminiscent of a horror classic from more than twenty years earlier, but they're a fine psycho and the events that follow make for a satisfying conclusion... Although some things about it might have you laughing.
The slasher in FATAL GAMES is largely kept in the shadows, hiding their identity by wearing a hooded black tracksuit - and at one point, to kill someone in a pool, a dark scuba diving suit. When we find out who the killer is, the character makes enough sense but the twist involved is absurd. I don't think this is something that would go over very well today, and it's a poor ending for what is quite a poor film overall.
Although I had seen GRADUATION DAY a couple times before embarking on this Face-Off, FATAL GAMES is obscure enough that I hadn't seen it before this week, and I wasn't exactly impressed. While it shares similarities with GRADUATION DAY and the movies make for a fitting double feature, for me the earlier film was clearly the superior competitor in this match-up. If GRADUATION DAY takes the gold, FATAL GAMES gets the bronze at best.

Do you agree with my rankings, or do you think FATAL GAMES is the better time? Share your thoughts on these films below, and let us know what your favorite sports-related horror movies are. There doesn't seem to be that many to choose from. Have suggestions for future Face-Off pairings? I'd be glad to hear them, and you can send them to me at [email protected].



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