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Final Exam (1981) by Chris Moore

May 26th, 2012 · 1 Comment

As the final days of my collegiate career dwindle down, it’s got me thinking about how I used to perceive college life back when I was a kid. I always assumed, due to my love for college farces and slasher films, that I’d be surrounded by tons of fun loving, big breasted, bubble-headed bleach blondes and beer guzzling, dumb as rocks frat guys on their way to a midlife crisis. Since I go to an art school, there are no sports teams, sororities, or fraternities. I’m a little bitter that I didn’t get the authentic college experience. Thankfully, I have a little movie called FINAL EXAM to help me pretend I did.

Ask any slasher film fanatic and they’ll tell you that FINAL EXAM is not on the top of their list of great ‘80s slash ’em ups. In fact, it probably rates more towards the bottom of the barrel, right next to EVIL LAUGH and BOARDINGHOUSE. I’ll admit it, FINAL EXAM marches to its own (slightly off tempo) drummer and I salute it for that. The film begins with a rather unimaginative murder scene involving two horny co-eds parked on lover’s lane and then thrusts us head first into a tension filled exam week at Lanier College, an institution populated by every early ‘80s and slasher film stock character known to man.

We have the smart, bookish, huge haired Courtney (CECILE BAGDADI) stepping in for Laurie Strode (guess she was still recovering from her previous ordeal). Her BFF, Radish (did his parents hate him or what?), played by JOEL S. RICE, spews out factoids about serial killers, all the while, clearly having the hots for Courtney. There’s also Courtney’s sex kitten roommate, Lisa (DeANNA ROBBINS) and their friend, Janet (the adorable SHERRY WILLIS-BURCH, who you may remember from KILLER PARTY). The real scene stealer is the eternally wasted Wildman (RALPH BROWN) who, I guess, is supposed to be some sort of JOHN BELUSHI in ANIMAL HOUSE clone. He spends the majority of the film drinking beer, shouting, and feasting on anything he can find.

FINAL EXAM takes its sweet time, letting us get to know its colorful cast of characters before starting the carnage around 50 minutes in. It’s a risky move – one that most viewers don’t seem to care for; however, I always find these characters so fun that I forget I’m in a slasher movie. One of the more memorable (and dated) sequences in the film involves the entire frat staging a fake terrorist attack in the quad just so one of their own can find some time to tamper with his exam. It’s gloriously over the top and could never be pulled off today without someone bitching and moaning about it being socially irresponsible.

The killer is always drenched in shadows, but no effort is made to disguise his face. He’s bulky and imposing, but never very scary. We never find out who is or why he’s doing what he’s doing. I have my own theory, but I’m sure you don’t want me to bore you with all that nonsense. Still, I sort of like the vague and mysterious quality of the killer’s identity (or lack thereof). It’s certainly something different from what was going on the glut of other HALLOWEEN clones out around the same time. Also, Radish talks an awful lot about the randomness of serial killers, so perhaps there’s more to this particular killer than we really think.

Most cite its lack of anything remotely resembling suspense, scares, or gore as being its downfall, but I find the film oddly refreshing. FINAL EXAM is what I liken to a movie version of comfort food. You know it’s not really good for you and has very little nutritional value to offer, but it’s like an old friend you just can’t say “No” to. It’s light on the gore and scares, but I still enjoy it for its quirky characters and am not afraid to say so.

Interestingly enough, FINAL EXAM was shot only an hour or two away from my university in North Carolina. I think that’s pretty neat-o (yes, I just used the term “neat-o”). FINAL EXAM was just recently released on a brand new DVD by Scorpion Releasing (who are doing the Lord’s work as far as I’m concerned!) Give it a shot!

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Tags: General Horror · Special Guest Stars

The Cabin in the Woods: A Second Opinion by Chris Moore.

April 24th, 2012 · 15 Comments

UNK SEZ: I’ve been telling anyone who will listen and some who won’t that I think CABIN IN THE WOODS is a must see. I know a few folks though who not only did not care for the film but hated it passionately! How could it be? One such person is kinderpal Chris Moore (who I tend to agree with especially when he’s singing the praises of MATILDA). I asked Chris if he would write up a post sharing his thoughts on CABIN and he graciously agreed and boy are the gloves off! Take it away Chris! We’ll always have MATILDA!

I’m always championing the underdog. Most of my favorites films are those that were bombs, critically loathed, or simply just came out at the wrong time. To put it into perspective, one of my favorites this year was JASON REITMAN and DIABLO CODY‘s YOUNG ADULT, a film loathed by most of America. I almost always love the original, unique, and avant-garde. Hell, I applaud and enjoy FINAL EXAM for its hour-long collegiate character study as opposed to its slash ‘n stalk-y denouement. Also, I have a shockingly high tolerance for crap. From PIECES or TROLL 2 to STV garbage like AX ‘EM or the CAMP BLOOD series, I can usually find something worthwhile in anything. All I ever ask for is a little entertainment. Make me laugh, cry, or scream and I’m ready to sing your film’s praises right away.

For me, there’s nothing worse than a film stuck in the middle of the road. Those are the kinds of films that leave you feeling like you wasted two hours of your life. Even in a typically bad film, there could be something unintentionally hilarious, whether it be an inept line reading, a campy performance, or a delicious lack of understanding of the cinematic language, that makes the viewing experience a little worthwhile.

I’d been hearing about THE CABIN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD (oops, meant WOODS) since its inception a few years back. Being a casual BUFFY watcher, I was certainly curious to see what JOSS WHEDON would come up with. Once the film went into production, it was masked in a veil of secrecy. No one knew anything about the movie. In this day and age, that’s quite the feat and I was proud of WHEDON and co. being able to keep a film under wraps like that.

Once the trailer was released, I was underwhelmed. It didn’t really interest me very much. It looked predicable and about as dull as the trailer for SHARK NIGHT 3-D (which I still do not plan on seeing. Ever.) Could this really be the film everyone was waiting for?

Then, the reviews came in. All glowing. As horror fans, we don’t like to admit it, but we sort of love it when a horror film gets such great reviews. It feels like our beloved genre has finally found acceptance in the mainstream and people finally “get it.” Plus, as a hardcore horror fan, I’ll usually always go see a new original horror film, foolishly hoping that maybe this will help stop the glut of horrible remakes and over produced, braindead 3-D “epics” from getting the greenlight. Clearly, now, I HAD to see it, so I got a group of my friends together and we sat down, about a week ago, in our local multiplex and…well, something didn’t go as planned.

The story of CABIN IN THE WOODS centers around a rather typical assortment of college students going to the titular cabin in a dense forest for a little R&R and God knows what else. For a film that seems to think it’s rather unique and original, the characters are cookie cutter as can be (which is the point of the film, but still…), but that’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes, it can be fun knowing all the archetypes and what to expect, I mean, there has to be SOME reason why all the FRIDAY THE 13TH films were so successful, right? The problem here is that not many of the characters are very likable or relatable, even in a humorous or satirical way. The film’s lead female “virgin” Dana (KRISTEN CONNOLLY) is amiable enough, but the rest of the crew leave a little be desired, especially the token stoner Marty (FRAN KRANZ).

Let me just talk about Marty for a little while, because I truly feel that a lot of what’s wrong with this film can be summarized with his character. He’s annoying, shrill, un-funny, and doesn’t know when to stop. From the first moment he appears on screen, I was eagerly anticipating his death.

Intercut in between all the cliched EVIL DEAD inspired hi-jinx, there’s a group of people controlling and supervising what these hormonally challenged 20-somethings say and do? BRADLEY WHITFORD and RICHARD JENKINS, two fantastic actors who I always enjoy watching, play the two leads in this sub-plot, but they have little to work with. Their jokes are painfully unfunny and as interesting as this concept could be, it more often than not, falls flat.

Look, I love humor with my horror. From SCREAM to DRAG ME TO HELL, I enjoy horror comedies if they are done correctly and feel balanced. Even last year’s deliciously spooky INSIDIOUS kept me interested and entertained when it went of the rails into WILLIAM CASTLE/camp-ville mid way through. THE CABIN IN THE WOODS feels like a concept concocted through a cloud of pot smoke at a wrap party for one of WHEDON‘s other shows. It’s like walking into a conversation that’s already been going on for days and not getting anything the other people are saying. CABIN is the cinematic equivalent of an in-joke.

If there is any humor to be found, it’s at the expense of the audience. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was a little offended by how rude the humor was to horror fans. They might as well just cut to a shot of WHEDON giving us the finger. It’s clear that WHEDON is not the horror fan people think he is. One would think he’d have been at least a little more reverent with his digs at the genre, but, instead, it almost feels as if he’s mocking the audience that goes to see this kind of movie by saying “Gah! Don’t you know how stupid these movies are?” At least SCREAM‘s digs at the genre were never at the price of the film itself and were always in good humor.

There is one admittedly hysterical scene mid way through involving our films “hero,” a motorcycle, an epic speech, and an unexpected outcome that had me in stitches for a little while, but other than that, the film’s humor never landed for me. I got what they were trying to say, but I feel like it’s been done so many times now (and WAY better might I add) that it just felt tired.

Also, the film is still going by the same old set of crusty old horror movie “rules” set out by SCREAM almost 20 years ago. The virgin always lives. The jock is a braindead horn dog. The stoner’s the wise comedic relief. I feel like, if they were true horror fans, they would have figured this out by now. HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE and MY BLOODY VALENTINE both feature heroines who, while mostly kind and sweet, are probably neither virgins. Hell, do we even know if Laurie Strode was really a virgin? Maybe she just had a lot of homework to do and didn’t care too much about the dudes. Alice, Ginny, Chris, and Trish from the first four FRIDAY movies were certainly no virgins, either. Where does this stuff come from? Although, honestly, this always bothered me in SCREAM, too.

Some people are telling me the humor isn’t supposed to be funny, because it’s “satire.” I’m all for satire, in fact, it’s my favorite kind of humor. HEATHERS, DROP DEAD GORGEOUS, NETWORK, and most of JOHN WATERS‘ films, are some of my all time favorite movies, but those were actually funny. They at least made me chuckle. I’m not expecting SCARY MOVIE-style slapstick, but c’mon! CABIN, besides said motorcycle speech scene, failed to ever even make me so much as grin during it’s hour and a half run time.

So, if it’s not funny, is it at least scary? Far from it. In fact, I believe a four-year-old could take this movie. Without scares or laughs, what am I supposed to make of this movie? It’s middle of the road. It’s just there. I’m not worse for wear after watching it, but I’m not going to remember it in a few weeks either. Even a surprising (if useless) last minute cameo by a member of horror/sci-fi royalty in the middle of the horrendously bad CGI fest of an ending that even the SyFy Channel would disown (hope that’s not what took them so long to get this released) can’t save it from “been there, done that” syndrome. It just felt like a waste of time.

By my (admittedly low) standards, the film fails. It didn’t make me laugh, cry, or scream.

I’m already aware that most people will say that “I just didn’t get it!” and I’m prepared to take the heat. There are always a few movies every year that a lot of people love that I don’t get. AVATAR and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY are the most recent examples. So, I don’t understand what the big deal is about them, but if you enjoy them, that’s all that matters.

My friend, Nina, who saw the film with me (we both loathed it) put it best. She said it was like a “hipster horror film.” The more I think about it, the more I realize she’s right. God knows those goobers love their irony. All the people praising the film seem to take pride in the fact that they somehow cracked the code and feel smarter than everyone else. Sorry, but there is no code to crack. A bad movie is just a bad movie, folks. OR maybe I’m just not “sophisticated” enough to get it. You guys be the judge.

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Tags: General Horror · Special Guest Stars