The Ninjabot

[Scream! Factory Review] FINAL EXAM (1981)

Posted on April 29, 2014 at 10:58 pm by Jess Hicks

Coming off the success of films like Halloween and Friday the 13th, the 80s produced a cavalcade of what would be known as “the slasher” or “dead teenager” films. The invention of the brick and mortar video store provided a home for this slew of films that weren’t afraid to test their limits. Even seemingly non-threatening holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Day weren’t safe. Teens rushed to the theater and video store to gulp down the latest splatter show and to find out what horrors awaited them.

One of these sub-sub-genres of slashers took the fresh faced youth and threw them into the unrelenting horror show that is post-high school college life. We got films such as Black Christmas (making Christmas AND college terrifying), Happy Birthday to Me, House on Sorority Row and tons of others. Some great, some bad, most mediocre but all following virtually the same formula set up by John Carpenter’s Halloween and to an extent the formula of Italian horror masters like Dario Argento.


However, a formula doesn’t always guarantee a success (unless it’s math…or so I’m told), enter 1981’s Final Exam. Written and directed by Jimmy Huston this flick throws us into the, incredibly dull, lives of several college students all facing the trials and tribulations of Hell Week (aka Final Exams). It seems a killer is on the loose and is terrorizing students at a nearby college. The students aren’t immediately worried about this threat because…EXAMS! Seriously man, he’s gotta get an 82 on this chemistry final to pass, how could he be bothered with a killer 10 miles away?

Our characters are your run of the mill slasher-friendly group: The Testosterone Enraged Jock (Wildman), The Slut (Lisa), Mr. Too Cool For School (Mark), Uber Nerd (Radish), The Girl Next Door (Courtney) and the Love Birds (Janet and Gary). In this genre we don’t tend to stray too far from the paper cut out characters because really, the only thing that matters is the body count. Although a good story is incredibly helpful too, one that actually gives the psycho-killer a motivation to start dropping people like flies.

Unfortunately for Final Exam it has neither likeable characters nor and interesting story. And don’t think for a second you are going to know who the killer is or why he is doing what he’s doing. Now, now. I can hear you all saying “But it’s a slasher! A killer doesn’t need a reason!” Let me stop you right there and say oh yes he or she does. It gives the killer a sense of menace and purpose which is much scarier than some guy walking around killing people for no reason. I challenge you to name a villain that doesn’t have a motive.

Final exam Killer

Two minute warning motherf****r!

Final Exam is clearly one of the many knock offs that rose up to try and crib a little money off of the Halloween success. It follows your basic young person characters doing run of the mill things and getting slaughtered in the process. But that is the main issue I hold with this film. It sits at about a 90 minute run time, pretty average, but for 50 minutes it follows these students doing student-y things. It’s not like Friday the 13th or Halloween where the kids are being goofy and having fun while the impending doom lingers around them. Final Exam quite literally makes you watch students take exams, study, walk from class to class, etc. There is the occasional joke played by the Frat brothers on their pledge, including one that involves a fake school shooting and kidnapping (add that to the list of things that could never happen post 1990) but it isn’t enough to carry an entire movie. Watching college students do normal college things is excruciatingly boring.

Final Exam 2

Welcome to the 80s!

And back to that pesky killer who keeps ruining all the exam time fun! He seems to go from college to college killing kids because…ummm….he’s trying to rid the world of its most uninteresting people? We get no explanation as to who he is, he doesn’t even wear a mask to conceal his identity. He has no supernatural ability like Jason or Freddy, he doesn’t have a family vendetta like Michael, no scorned heart like The Miner in My Bloody Valentine, nothing. Which, in a way, should be more terrifying but it just adds to the meandering dullness that already plagues Final Exam.

I’m a lover of the slasher sub-genre but sometimes I come across some real disappointments and I’m sorry to say Final Exam was one of those. If you’re a die-hard completest of the genre like me, then I suppose it’s worth a watch but otherwise you’re safe to skip it. As always, the folks at Scream! Factory do a great job cleaning up the visual and sound quality of the film. Though there are a few grainy instances they don’t take away from the film at all. The special features include some interesting interviews with some cast members and the original trailer.

Final Exam 2/5 STARS

Final Exam is now available for pre-order at Scream! Factory on Blu-ray 

You can follow Jess on Twitter @DangerJess_

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