“Some may pass the test…God help the rest.”
Director/Writer: Jimmy Huston / Cast: Cecile Bagdadi, Joel S. Rice, Ralph Brown, Deanna Robbins, Sherry Willis-Burch, John Fallon, Terry W. Farren, Timothy L. Raynor, Jerry Rushing.
Body Count: 11
First-rate Fatality: A garrotting by weight machine cables.
Dire-logue: “It’s happening! The psychopaths are here!”
Awww… Final Exam. It’s the slasher film equivalent of that dim-bulbed kid at school, who wasn’t very good at anything, but was always nice. Some chose to ridicule them, while others looked upon them with a mix of sympathy and fondness. Such is Jimmy Huston’s cutesy little clone of Halloween, anything but the darling of horror fans, but there’s no denying the love that some slasher aficionados have for it – me included.
Being a slug of a movie, ‘events’ begin with that staple fixture of teen horror: the double-slaying of a parking couple, who are entangled in some campus romance. Along comes a shady maniac who slices through their soft top and pulls the guy out of the driver’s seat and knifes him to death on the bonnet of the car, while his squealy never-to-be conquest watches in what the actress intended to look like terror. Her death is off-screen, but we know she bites it as the ‘action’ shifts to nearby Lanier College where the murder is reported by one of our central characters, Radish (see below).
So it’s the last few days of the semester and the campus is all but deserted. The remaining students are busy packing or studying for their finals, among them our pretty and likeable heroine Courtney (Cecile Bagdadi in her only role, like, ever), who has concerns over being boring in comparison to her bombshell roommate Lisa. Lisa, meanwhile, is carrying on with a married professor and intends to cram in one last ‘biology tutorial’ before she leaves to return to ‘the city’ (funny how they never mention which cities they come from in these flicks – see also Friday the 13th Part 2). Ditzy Janet (Sherry Willis-Burch who later turned up in fab Canadian possession slasher Killer Party) has been ‘pinned’ by frat pledge Gary, and takes this to mean they’re in love and have to spend every minute together, while he is being tormented by his frat brothers, neanderthalic Wildman and walking-bouffant president Mark, who want him to steal a test paper for them.
Last but by no means least is Radish, Courtney’s friend who rings so many bells on the gaydar that you’ll develop tinnitus. He’s short, he’s camp, and he minces around spouting factoids about the likes of Charles Whitman, a subject of which his knowledge serves him well when a black van cruises on to campus and opens fire. It turns out to be a prank, much to the chagrin of the local sheriff who later ignores an emergency call from Radish when the horror proper is discovered and we get to see him break into the gayest of gay sprints as he flounces off to warn Courtney.
So anyway, exams are sat, test papers stolen, romances gabbed about and a slow-striding stranger appears behind bushes and watching students through doors and stuff. As darkness sets in, some sixty minutes after the initial double-killing, those foolish enough to be wandering the campus alone fall victim to a string of mostly off-screen deaths. The knife-toting nutter – alas, no mask – indiscriminately does away with Gary, Janet, Wildman, Mark, Lisa, and a couple of silent extras, until only Courtney is left. With an shot of Jamie Lee adrenalin, Courtney runs and hides from the rather dorky looking killer, culminating in a showdown at the campus tower before a satisfactory ‘yes, it’s over’ ending that leaves no room for Final Exam 2: You Fail.
The appeal of Final Exam for me lies in it’s purity. It’s cheap and cheesy, with no pretensions or gimmicks – straight down the line killer-kills-kids stuff. Its shortcomings around pace and lack of bloodshed are joined by the uninteresting killer. Strangely, there’s a possible motive crowbarred into an earlier conversation, when Courtney relays that a girl threw herself from the campus tower sometime previously because she didn’t get into her chosen sorority. There was I expecting a speech from her dad/brother/boyfriend about avenging the death but nothin’ comes out of this dude’s mouth at all until his final meeting with Courtney’s unleashed warrior princess – spoiled by the old UK video box (right).
Sadly, this is the type of film that will be forgotten in years to come, appearing on lists with a bunch of other also-rans with nothing to recommend it to the casual viewer. For the other twelve of us, Code Red are working on a DVD remaster due out across the pond in late September 2008! No news on any extras yet but the distributor managed to reunite some of the cast and crew (including Cecile and Joel Rice, who played the cult figure of Radish) so there’s hope on the horizon for good times with this one.
Blurbs-of-interest: Wanna know what happened to Lisa’s curly-haired professor-cum-lover? Apparently, the budget was such that some of the actors and bit-parters’ original raison d’etre’s had to be curtailed. Hopefully there’ll be a more thorough explanation on the DVD.