Jimmy Huston’s 1981 college slasher Final Exam has been released a couple times over the years. Code Red put out a DVD and then Scorpion Releasing did the same. Now the oddball film gets its Blu-ray debut thanks to Scream Factory, in collaboration with Code Red. If you’re tired of the same old slasher formula, check this one out. It makes some weird and unpredictable decisions that help set it apart from the wave of early ’80s slashers.
The film opens with a standard prologue in which two horny teens are murdered in their car on lover’s lane. From there, Final Exam is anything but standard. Another killing doesn’t happen for nearly an hour. It has a very slow pace for an ’80s slasher, but it’s certainly doesn’t lag. We’re introduced to a handful of characters that you can actually tell apart. They fill in tired stereotypes, but there’s enough tweaks to the characters to make them feel unique.
Take Radish (Joel S. Rice) for example. First off, his name is Radish. And although he’s playing the nerdy character, he’s got a serious dark side. He’s wicked paranoid over the double murder we saw in the prologue, so much so that he’s excessively anxious at times. Rice moves and talks in a really strange manner too. It’s a wholly weird performance.
Rice is the first one to freak out when a bunch of frat boys show up at the school in ski masks and pretend to commit a mass murder. I mean, I would shit myself too, but while the rest of Lanier College’s student body is laughing it off, Rice is cowering in an office, calling the cops. Turns out the stunt was just an elaborate ruse to distract faculty while buffoon jock Wildman (Ralph Brown) can cheat on an exam. A phony act of terrorism has got to be the most insane method of cheating I’ve ever heard.
Wildman himself is an exaggerated version of the dumb jock. He’s like ogre from Revenge of the Nerds turned up to 11. He sprays deodorant into his pits and his mouth. He keeps buckets of fried chicken in his dorm room. When he breaks into his coach’s office to steal pain pills, he smashes a trophy on his way out for good measure. He doesn’t even leave the pills in their bottles when he steals them either – he just pours them on coach’s desk and clumsily pockets handfuls of them, leaving a lot behind. It’s a super baffling, funny performance.
Then there’s the killer, a chubby guy in a jumpsuit who shows up at Lanier out of nowhere and starts slaughtering the student body. There isn’t much of a student body to begin with. Seriously it appears only about six or seven kids attend this school. Extras are pretty much non-existent. When I say the killer comes out of nowhere, I mean there’s barely any build-up whatsoever – nothing to signify that a serial killer is lumbering around the campus.
There is a cool shot, where the film’s virginal heroine Courtney (Cecile Bagdadi) sees the killer creeping outside of her dorm window – inspired by Halloween no doubt. Other than that, he’s an enigma. He’s never given a name or a motivation, which some viewers may not like. I didn’t mind the lack of killer characterization though because the weirdo students filled any void there. I could’ve watched 90 minutes of Wildman raising hell on campus and been satisfied.
It may not be filled with gore and sex, but Final Exam stands apart from other slashers of its time solely because of its unique approach and bizarro characters. There’s quit a bit of humor as well, resulting in a uniquely wacky slasher.
The new Scream Factory 1080p transfer was apparently sourced from the original camera negative. Colors appear bold and details are strong. I haven’t seen any of the prior DVD releases, so I can’t comment on how much of an improvement it is. There’s some minor print damage peppered here and there but overall nothing to gripe about. The mono mix is strong as well, with no problems to report.
The Blu-ray carries over the commentary from the Code Red DVD, which includes Joel Rice, Sherry Willis-Burch, and Cecile Bagdadi. With so many participants, it’s a very lively track with no awkward pauses. They cover a lot of ground, including the theory that it was twin killers carrying out the murders.
Scream Factory has also carried over cast interviews with Willis-Burch, Bagdadi, and Rice. They cover the usual ground of how they got involved and what it was like to work with Huston.
While it doesn’t contain any new extras, Scream Factory’s Blu-ray of Final Exam sports a really bold transfer. Still, I’d only upgrade if you simply can’t live without it on Blu.