|Review||Final Exam (1981)||Director||Jimmy Huston|
|Cast||Cecile Bagdadi, Joel S. Rice, Ralph Brown, DeAnna Robbins, John Fallon, Terry W. Farren, Sherry Willis-Burch and Timothy L. Raynor|
“People are killed every day for no reason at all. Perfect strangers wake up in the morning and decide “Hmm…I think it’s a good day to snuff somebody”.” – Radish
The above quote really sums up the film and comes from a character named Radish (Rice) who is kinda’ the second lead in “Final Exam”, a relatively bloodless slasher that is clearly very influenced by “Halloween” (1978) in that it honestly goes for scares and tries to build up a brooding atmosphere.
The leading lady is Courtney (Bagdadi) who is a semi-nerdish student who works hard for her grades and has a big moral compass guiding her. As exams week commences at a college in North Carolina we follow honourable students Courtney and Radish, fraternity jocks Wildman (Brown), Mark (Fallon) and Pledge Gary (Farren) who aren’t as dedicated to their studies, slutty Lisa (Robbins) who sleeps with her professor and uses her good looks to get ahead and Janet (Willis-Burch) who’s becoming Pledge Gary’s girlfriend. Unbeknownst to them a killer has infiltrated school grounds and takes them out one by one.
The ”Halloween” inspiration is evident from the start as the low-key piano piece that opens “Final Exam” is similar, the killer starts by attacking people in their car, Bagdadi even looks a lot like Jamie Lee Curtis, the killer brandishes a butcher knife and is always nearby and even in the same frame but always just watching and waiting. There’s even a direct copy/paste sequence where Courtney looks out her window and below the killer is looking up but is slightly covered by trees (every self respecting “Halloween” fan will know which scene I’m talking about). So originality is pretty much out the window but there’s a certain core principle that the film goes for that differentiates it enough for it to stand on it’s own.
The mere fact that the killer here has no motivation, known to the viewers at least, is kinda’ frightening in itself. He also doesn’t wear a mask and his face is clearly seen but his identity remains a complete mystery. For that reason alone we can’t exactly blame the script for being poor…just a little simple. But simplicity is what generally works best for slashers so this ends up being a plus rather than a minus. The breezy atmosphere actually goes by pleasantly enough and thankfully so because “Final Exam” takes it’s sweet time to establish it’s characters and create the desired mood. That’s in no small part thanks to a largely very decent cast. Bagdadi and Rice are quite good and their characters likeable and the others manage to register decently as well thanks to a fair amount of screen time and competent dialogue. It’s fairly surprising that for most this was their only feature.
When we do get to the set pieces they’re executed well. The film is very restraint when it comes to the kills but it’s fairly nasty on occasion and actor Raynor makes for a very imposing and frightening figure when he’s taking care of business. Once the mayhem starts a fair bit of illogicality erupts as the killer seems to just pop up anywhere quite conveniently but that’s a trait slasher fans know and expect and they’re the only ones who view these scenes with forgiving eyes anyway. Overall though the final act in “Final Exam” is worth the wait.
There are a few scenes here that do raise some eyebrows and definitely place the film in a time far less concerned with PC and overall good taste. Early on there’s a scene where a van stops on school grounds and out pop a few hooded individuals brandishing machine guns. They start to gun down the students and collect their bodies and throw them into the vehicle. This naturally causes hysteria and the van speeds away. But this is a joke as the victims are in on it and the purpose of it was to create a noisy enough diversion so that the fraternity leader could sneak his exam into the bottom of the pile with filled out grades. Another one has a teacher jokingly informing his students that a sniper has been placed outside and will shoot any person who is caught looking at another student’s exam paper. The same teacher is also the one who’s having an affair with a student and jokes about how each year another beauty will get to ace his course by offering up her body to him. Imagine scenes like these in movies today! Overall though there’s a fair amount of sly humour (and not all of it offensive) that makes it’s way into “Final Exam” and that’s another plus for the film.
This one is for established slasher fans only. My hunch is most won’t see the appeal or notice the numerous things the movie does quite well in regard for the genre.