Thanks to the success of Halloween and Friday the 13th, dozens of slashers films were released throughout the early 80s. One such release during this time was 1981’s Final Exam. There were some attempts made by writer/director Jimmy Huston to set it apart from their many competitors but in the end it’s just another generic slasher flick.
At Lanier College, the semester is coming to an end and all that’s left are the final exams. The exams don’t get off to a very good start when some upperclassmen fake a mass shooting both as part of a fraternity prank and to help a member cheat on a test (it’s actually pretty unbelievable how casual everyone takes this). Little do the students know however, that there’s a real killer on the loose waiting to make his move.
Final Exam has become noteworthy for opting to establish their characters first and mostly saving the killing until later in an effort to get the audience more invested in the killer’s victims. This is a good idea in theory but when the characters are a bunch of annoying stereotypes I would actually prefer they get killed off as soon as possible. Naturally the stereotypes here include the final girl with no personality, a promiscuous blonde, a dumb jock, an entitled rich kid, a snarky nerd, and of course a bumbling sheriff that even Chief Wiggum and Rosco P. Coltrane would mock. Also, since it takes so long for the killings to start (most of which are completely unimaginative), it makes the film feel like it’s taking forever even if it’s only an hour and a half.
The other big drawback is the killer himself. I have to refer to him as the killer since he’s given no motivation, personality, lines or even a name (the credits even list him as “The Killer”). To be fair, the film makes it clear to the audience this was done intentionally The problem with this however is with the killer being given nothing to make him even a one-dimensional character, he instead ends up feeling more like a prop which naturally makes him completely uninteresting. As a result what normally ends up being the most memorable part about a slasher film (ex. Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, etc.) instead becomes the Achilles’s Heel for Final Exam.
Final Exam has gained many fans since it was released but I can’t say I’m one of them. Their attempt to do something slightly different with the slasher formula is admirable but it just didn’t work for me. The characters are the same horror movie stereotypes I’ve seen a million times before and the killer is completely devoid of anything to make him memorable. If you’re a lover of Final Exam, more power to you but it’s not hard for me to see why it’s mostly faded into obscurity.
The special features for this Blu-Ray release include an audio commentary track provided by cast members Joel S. Rice, Cecile Bagdadi, and Sherry Willis-Burch. The commentary actually proves to be more entertaining than the film itself since even though the actors were clearly proud to be a part of Final Exam they aren’t afraid to poke fun at some of the more ridiculous aspects of the film. It’s also interesting to hear Rice talk about the lengthy audition process he had to endure to get his role of Radish (which the moderators compare to Randy from Scream).
Outside of the commentary though, there’s not much here worth mentioning. There’s a set of interviews from the previously mentioned cast members around 4-7 minutes apiece but most of what they talk about is also mentioned in the commentary track so it winds up feeling mostly unnecessary. After that there is of course the obligatory theatrical trailer.