Not every slasher movie released in the ‘Golden Era’ of the 1980’s was ‘golden’. For every ‘hidden gem’ like a Just Before Dawn there’s a genuine trash bin offering – a Don’t Go in the Woods or Offerings. While some filmmakers took advantage of low-budgets to innovate, others had lower budgets and less imagination. As the early wave of slashers took hold in the 80’s, Final Exam found a bit of box office success with minimal exposure. Nothing about the movie and its premise were remarkable. But it’s title and college location at least promised some fun. So is Final Exam worth taking for credit for 80’s horror fans? Or is it just a bad movie you should just defer?
At Lanier College, a handful of remaining students are just trying to survive their final exams. Against the backdrop of studying, fraternity pranks and relationship drama fill up the dying hours of another semester. But not far from Lanier’s campus, an unseen madman brutally murdered two March College students. Now the same madman has shown up at Lanier to continue his killing spree. Now Lanier College’s student will have to survive more than there exams.
Final Exam Fancies Itself ‘Animal House’ Meets ‘Halloween’
What do you get when you mix college sex romp comedies with the ‘slash-and-stalk’ formula of Halloween? Not Final Exam. Oh, it certainly seems to try and adopt that mix of genre formats. Following a fairly decent opening, Final Exam spends about the next 30 to 45 minutes intermittently thinking its (a) college frat comedy or (b) day-in-the-life character study. Writer and director Jimmy Huston gets neither of these genres rights. The fraternity hazing hijinks are lazy and tame. And the characters are too paper-thin and forced to recite lame dialogue to shoulder a more serious drama. Neither approach is ever connected to the other let alone the slasher horror components. Occasionally, Huston remembers he’s making a horror movie and attempts to build in some scares. However, when it’s not even clear if the killer has arrived on campus, the “scares” feel forced.
Final Exam’s “Fill-in-the-Blank” Killer and Lack of Blood Miss the Point
Okay, maybe in 1981, you could argue that the slasher formula was still ‘under development’. Nevertheless, Final Exam feels a lot like a student taking an exam after studying for the wrong course. Most of the movie’s death scenes are bloodless and poorly filmed. Huston struggles in both the set-up and execution leaving Final Exam without the exploitative thrills that are prerequisites to the sub-genre. In regards to the movie’s killer, he’s a completely anonymous figure. And not like in the Michael Myers way.
…Final Exam drops an anonymous, unconnected killer onto a college campus to rack up a bloodless, scare-free body count.
Nameless, faceless, motiveless – these factors can make a horror figure scarier if done right. Unfortunately, Final Exam drops an anonymous, unconnected killer onto a college campus to rack up a bloodless, scare-free body count. It just feels like lazy story-telling that leaves you disinterested. Most of the cast is also pretty disposable, though Joel S Rice’s ‘Radish’ belongs in a better movie.
Final Exam Apparently Studied for the Wrong Test
Final Exam isn’t a bad movie because it’s ultra-cheap looking. On the contrary, many 80’s slasher movies benefit from the DIY look and feel. No, Final Exam is bad because it seems to have no clue what type of movie it is. An early 80’s slasher movie with no blood, nudity, and a nearly 30-minute gap between kills isn’t going to pass muster. There’s nothing in the movie to justify a character focus – neither the performances nor the dialogue make it remotely good enough. And it’s too tame to be a college sex romp comedy. What’s left is a boring, ‘dog’s breakfast’ of a movie. Only absolute die-hard 80’s horror fans should bother with this one.