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Final Exam (1981)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/13/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/5/2014
The recent advances in HD video have been amazing. People are shooting and editing movies on their PHONES which is something which was unfathomable just a few years ago. This means that just about anyone can make a movie. Of course, there's no guarantee that it will be a good movie, but the medium is now no longer exclusive to those with access to expensive equipment. But, throughout the history of cinema, there have been determined go-getters who wanted to make movies. And while it wasn't as it easy as it is today, there were plenty of people in the past who decided that they should make a feature film. Again, having that epiphany does not equate to quality, as we see with Final Exam.
Following an opening sequence in which a pair of young lovers are killed in a car, Final Exam shifts to life on a college campus. There, we meet good-girl Courtney (Cecile Bagdadi), nerdy Radish (Joel S. Rice), the sexy Lisa (DeAnna Robbins), lovesick Janet (Sherry Willis-Burch) and her boyfriend Gary (Terry W. Farren), as well as frat-boys Mark (John Fallon) and Wildman (Ralph Brown). The semester is winding down and the students are preparing for their exams. But, Mark and Wildman still find time to stage a fake terrorist attack. (College kids! What are we going to do with you scamps?) While the group mull over their personal problems, the killer from the first scene comes to campus and begins to stalk them.
I've seen more than my fair share of early 80s slasher films (most watched on HBO during the early 80s), but I somehow missed Final Exam. This may have something to do with the fact that this is barely a movie. While watching this, I found myself paraphrasing Jeff Goldblum's character from Jurassic Park and saying, "Is there going to be any slashing in your slahser movie?". Following the initial kill, the second (well, third technically as two people are killed in the opening) murder doesn't occur until nearly 55-minutes into the movie. Now, I'm all about the slow-burn -- my favorite movie is Halloween and that's definitely a slow-burn -- but while we're waiting for the action to kick in, you've got to give us something, but Final Exam does not. What we do get is nearly an hour of college "hi-jinks" and throwaway characters. For example, why introduce the philandering professor and then never bring him back?
One would assume that if there were like other slasher films, while we are wading through the "character development", we would get some clues as to who the killer may be. Nope. Somehow while making the movie, Writer/Director Jimmy Huston forgot to, oh, I don't know, do anything with the killer. SPOILER ALERT! Unlike most entries from this era, the killer doesn't wear a mask, which is fine, because we have no idea who it is! The murderer is simply some guy with a semi-mullet who is wearing a military-style jacket. We never learn who he is or what his motives are. This makes the minimalistThe Slumber Party Massacre look like a pantheon of detail, as we are given no information at all. So, to summarize the movie -- a couple is killed, then we have nearly of hour of dull campus stuff, and then we have about 30 minutes of an anonymous killer sort of chasing the characters. It's as if Huston wanted to make a slasher movie, but also wanted to make a college movie, and in the end made a film which fails on both fronts. END SPOILER ALERT
Despite the relative obscurity of Final Exam, I have read some positive comments about it on-line where viewers have stated that they liked the "character development" (my quotation marks) and lack of detail. All that I can say to that is "Are you high?". The "slasher cycle" doesn't necessarily represent the high-water mark of filmmaking and this is one of the worst that I've seen. I should be happy that a movie shot in my home state now has a second chance at exposure, but this is honestly one of the most inept and lazy movies ever. The attempts at doing a modern-day Animal House, complete with fraternities and wild pranks, fall flat and the horror elements are nearly non-existent. Final Exam came along at a time when independent horror movies could actually make it to the theater, so kudos to Huston and his cast and crew for taking a stab at fame. Unfortunately, the movie could have used a lot more stabbing and an actual story wouldn't have hurt either.
Final Exam actually asks us to get behind a character named Radish on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Shout! Factory. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at 30 Mbps. The image is fairly sharp and clear, but the picture does display some mild grain and there are minor defects from the source material. (Although, this does not appear to be a re-mastered theatrical print.) The colors look good, most notably reds, and the image manages to avoid being too dark, something which often plagues films from this era. The level of detail is about what we'd expect from a film of this nature, but the picture does carry the relatively flat look which older, low-budget movies can have. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Mono 2.0 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.9 Mbps. The track is able to bring us dialogue which is clear and always audible. The actors are never drowned out by the music or sound effects. The film's score is given adequate presence on this track.
The Final Exam Blu-ray Disc contains just a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from cast members Joel S. Rice, Cecile Bagdadi and Sherry Willis-Burch. We then get individual interviews with each of this trio -- Rice (7 minutes), Bagdadi (4 minutes), and Willis-Burch (5 minutes) -- all of whom talk about how they got involved in the film and what their experiences on the film were like. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long