For every good slasher film in the 1980s, there were ten that should’ve never seen the light of day. Some of those misfires have gained cult status over the years for one reason or another. It’s tough to truly judge a movie in a genre that celebrates bad acting, cheesy dialogue, and nonsensical plots. 1981’s “Final Exam” is a perfect example of one such film that is beloved by many today for, in my opinion, no good reason at all.
A serial killer (Timothy L. Raynor) walks the streets of Lanier College as the students prepare for a week of final exams and frat hazing. With no apparent motive or target demographic, the murderer hunts down both jocks and nerds without prejudice. Can anyone stop the madman before he takes his next victim?
I can appreciate what Writer/Director Jimmy Huston was trying to do with “Final Exam.” He was attempting to make a film in the vein of “Halloween” using Hitchcock’s sensibilities and techniques. Huston did his best to establish characters the audience would connect to. Unfortunately, the fact that none of the performers playing them could act annihilated any hopes of that happening.
It would’ve also helped if the murderer had ANY sort of motive for his killing spree. It’s just some guy following college kids around and butchering them. B-O-R-I-N-G! Slasher movies either have to have one thing or another going for it. It has to be suspenseful or graphic and gory when it comes to the violence. “Final Exam” doesn’t excel in either of these areas. The suspense is smothered by a lack of motivation and the kill scenes are absent of any real substance or bloodshed.
The Blu-ray version of “Final Exam” boasts a new high-definition transfer from the original camera negative. The film looks cleaner than I’m sure it ever has on VHS or in the theater. However, the movie maintains its 1980s visual edge by not looking too digitally cleaned up. It’s presented in 1080p High-Definition Widescreen (1.78:1).
A new DTS-HD Master Audio Mono mix guarantees viewers of “Final Exam” have never heard the film as clear as you do on Blu-ray. Every bump, shutting door, and puncturing knife-stab rings out. Music composer Gary Scott’s attempt at mimicking the “Halloween” soundtrack perfectly accents this “paint-by-numbers” slashfest.
One thing you can always count on with Scream Factory is their inclusion of special features. While there’s not as many as we’ve come to expect from past releases, “Final Exam” includes new interviews with cast members Joel Rice, Cecile Bagdadi, and Sherry Willis-Burch. A theatrical trailer is included as well.
“Final Exam” is rated R for violence, language, adult situations, and nudity. Of course, there’s the obligatory boob shot all slasher films must have. There’s so little onscreen gore that the movie quite possibly could air right after an episode of “Goosebumps” on Teen Nick. If made today without the one scene of nudity, it might earn a PG-13 rating for its content.
As far as slasher movies are concerned, “Final Exam” is a weak entry into the genre. I’m sure many fans of the film will disagree with me and they have every right to. I can’t consider it an essential piece of horror history based on its lack of motivation, suspense, and gore. Without those elements, it’s just another bland B-movie with bad acting.
“Final Exam” is available now on Blu-ray.
For more articles by Eric Shirey, check out:
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Take a Trip to “Camp Dread” for a Gory Good Time
“The Invoking” is an Effective Southern Gothic Chiller