In an attempt to become less introverted, I wanted to give a resounding shout-out to the girls over at The Horror Movie Survival Guide. Somehow the film Final Exam (1981) evaded my grasp for the last 39 years. I don’t miss much, but without The Horror Movie Survival Guide podcast I would have missed this one. Julia Marchese and Teri Gamble review movies from the perspective of the final girl. Not only do they review the movie, but they provide survival tips that may help you make it to the ‘final girl’. It is definitely worth a look! Thanks again for the recommendation!
Final Exam – The Slasher Genre in ’81
By 1981, the slasher train was rolling with a lot of momentum. By this time, audiences enjoyed several high-quality release such as Halloween (1978), Tourist Trap (1979) an Friday the 13th (1980). Coming off of the heels of those films, Final Exam tries to spice the recipe by replacing Camp Crystal Lake with a Lanier College. Along with that comes all of the madness and mirth of college life. It tries to create an ‘Animal House Massacre’ vibe but feels more like ‘Revenge of the Slaughterhouse Nerds’.
The Gammas and guy named Radish?
Interestingly, claims both supporting and lambasting this film concern the topic of character development. The film spends an inordinate amount of time trying to depict the hustle and bustle of college life. In that, yes the film spends a lot of time that could effectively be used to develop characters. The problem is that Final Exam does not use that time wisely.
The best of the bunch is a man named Radish. His character is not especially deep, but thankfully he provides a welcome contrast to the otherwise unlikable Gamma Delta fraternity members. Radish has a heretofore irrational belief that crazy people are running around killing people. It’s unfortunate that he meets his end at the hands of such a killer. He was really the only person mentally prepared to survive.
As for the Gamma Delta fraternity members, they couldn’t be more tiresome. First, there is Wildman. His character is undoubtedly cast from Bluto Blutarsky’s mold. Unfortunately, Wildman fails tragically in being either likeable or interesting. Instead, he plays out more like a very poor-man’s attempt at Ogre in Revenge of the Nerds. His fraternity brother, Mark, leads the Gamma Deltas. He shows his mettle when he goes about the business of pedaling pills stolen from the athletic department. It’s good clean college fun, right?
The Old Fully Automatic Terrorist Massacre Prank, Hilarious
The Gammas are responsible for a faux terrorist attack on campus, complete with full-automatic rifles. This attack plays out like a fraternity prank, but also has the ulterior motive of providing enough confusion for Mark to sneak his exam in, pre-scored with an 82%. Wow, the implausibility literally boggles the mind. But hey, the did things differently before 9/11.
Final Exam – The Girls
The lead role and Final Girl’, Courtney is played by Cecile Bagdadi. Again, the producers fail to develop her role especially deep. The only skill that she shows that gives her any edge in surviving is her lack of promiscuity. In hind sight, that actually is a pretty solid horror movie survival skill. Courtney does traverse the final girl story arc quickly, moving swiftly from defense to offense. She shows a bit animosity by stabbing the killer 12 times when finishing him off.
Janet, played by Sherry Willis-Burch, portrays the sexually promiscuous Janet. Not only is she promiscuous, but she uses it to boldly get what she wants. Watching the film, I kept feeling like I recognized her. Sherry Willis-Burch also plays Viva, the lead in the college possession-slasher classic, Killer Party (1986). Again, the Final Exam tries to give her some depth, but all said an done her character is wafer thin.
Breaking the Slasher Mold – The Anonymous Killer
In a departure from standard slasher movies, Final Exam portrays the killer in a unique way. The killer wears no mask. Likewise, he doesn’t have a name. As far we known, he has no motive for killing. He just randomly appears on this campus and starts a bloody rampage. Eventually, Courtney drops the killer down 10 flights of stairs and stabs him 12 times. Subsequently, there is no explanation. Nobody come to her aid explaining that the man just escaped from the loony bin. There is just Courtney sobbing on the stairs while the credits roll.
Jim Harper suggests in his book, ‘A Legacy of Blood: A comprehensive Guide to Slasher Movies’ that this film intentionally took the idea of the mechanical killing machine to the extreme by obscuring any details about him. This may very well be true, and the producers were successful at that endeavor. Regardless, I found this approach to be wholly ineffective. Lack of detail leads to a lack of mystery. I’ll take Michael Myers over this guy any day.
Final Exam, A Low-Budget Snoozer
Being as succinct as possible, Final Exam is not my cup of barrel aged imperial stout. The story falls down early and fails to pick itself back up. I found the college students to be unfortunate caricatures. The killers lacks personality and I can’t even use capital letters to describe him. This leaves me totally detached. Story flaws aside, the depictions of college life are so contrived and gratuitous that I cringe while watching them.
The film betrays its low-budget at every opportunity. As far as special effects are concerned, there is no gore to speak of. Final Exam maybe spills a single pint of blood throughout the film. Lack of gore is not a sin by itself, but its absence is conspicuous in a horror movie so dull in so many ways.
After listening to the glowing review from The Horror Movie Survival Guide I found myself totally intrigued with the possibilities. Respectfully, I disagree with their assessment. That is okay. If bad movies were a reason to stop watching horror movies, they wouldn’t make them anymore. I appreciate the referral and love what they are doing.
Final Exam (1981) - Don't Cram for This One - Malevolent Dark
Director: Jimmy Huston
Date Created: 1981-01-01 00:00