[Blu-ray Review] ‘Final Exam’ Is a Uniquely Wacky ’80s Slasher

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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.

 

Official Score

  • Louis Cypher

    Is there such a thing as too much character development? This movie was badly marred by it’s director’s good intentions. Sure I cared for the final girl and some characters were fun but the killer moving around in full view without a mask and having no backstory was annoying. There were some moments of suspense but those came after nearly an hour of poor man’s John Hughes-esque dramedy. An okay slasher but no patch on the Burning, Friday the 13th Part II, My Bloody Valentine.

    • Khy

      Agreed, there were so many scenes with the characters talking about NOTHING. Almost felt like a sitcom pilot that was turned into a slasher halfway through production. Very weird,

  • rosatskidmore

    like
    Jacqueline implied I’m taken by surprise that a mom can earn $8130 in 1 month
    on the computer . see post F­i­s­c­a­l­p­o­s­t­.­C­O­M­

  • diapers

    I loved this movie when it came out, and still do. I love all the flaws, and think the zero back story on the killer is a fucking riot! Wildman rules!

  • diapers

    I should also mention that this film literally inspired a few of us to launch our own (partially successful) attempt to steal both tests and pills from our college administration offices in the early 90′s, which ended up causing a minor uproar. Ah, those were the days.

  • McGilli

    I can’t figure out why I enjoyed the first hour so much. As mentioned, it was almost like a sitcom. And, nothing was accomplished – but I really enjoyed the characters and how they interacted.

    Honestly – they could have changed the finale to see Gamma crew going into that final test, and them getting failed or thrown out – ended the movie – and I would have been happy. When the killer showed up I almost got disappointed cuz I wouldn’t get to be wit that crew much longer. Weird.

    Otherwise – the movie really (for me) only suffered from one device that many, many slasher movies suffer from (even the beloved F13, Halloween etc). Example:

    Person finds a dead body – so that person runs across a field, turns right, instead of left down an alley. They then climb up a ladder and crawl through a window, instead of continuing to run away. Then they run down a hall and take an elevator to the 14th floor, then run down the hall and decide to open the 4th door on the right. Then they lock the door and run into a back room. Instead of going into the closet, they decide to slide under the bed. Now they wait.

    5 seconds later the killers arm comes out from behind and strangles them because the killer was waiting there for them the whole time!!!!

    WTF!!!?!?!??!

  • JB

    Watching this now, it’s kind of boring but interesting at the same time.