Final Exam (1981) by Chris Moore

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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unkle lancifer
11 years ago

Thanks Chris and big congratulations on your graduation!

FINAL EXAM may not be the best executed slasher movie but I can't help feeling sentimental about it myself. The first time I caught FE it was late at night on Showtime at my cousins house. I had never heard of it and this was right after I had just caught the slasher bug after seeing "Halloween". It did much to cement my fandom. Whatever it might lack I was blind to then. I got really into it not because it had a cool killer or cool kills but because I really dug the characters. Even though some of them were cliche they looked like people I knew and could relate to. In fact, I think I saw myself as nerdy Radish and watching him interact with Courtney was like seeing myself get to hang out with Laurie Strode. I didn't really have fellow horror fan friends back then so it was kind of comforting to see the TOOLBOX MURDERS poster on Radish's wall! When Courtney picks up the knife at the end and finishes off the generic killer I felt a serious rush. I really appreciate now how local and non-Hollywood the whole thing feels and there is something pleasantly relaxing about how slack and casual some of it is. (The fake terrorist attack as you pointed out though- is now a bit jaw dropper.) Oh and I love Wildman! I wish the guy who played Wildman would do horror conventions because I would pay top dollar to have a picture of him putting me in a headlock!