Final Exam (1981)
By: Devon B. on June 11, 2012  | 
Scorpion Releasing | Region 1, NTSC | 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 1.0 | 90 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Jimmy Huston
Starring: Cecile Bagdadi, Joel Rice, Sherry Willis Burch
Screenplay: Jimmy Huston
Country: USA
External Links
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Some people seem to have a problem with wrestler Katarina Leigh Waters hosting Scorpion Releasing titles, but I don't understand the issue. The DVDs come with reversible covers so you can display the cover without Katarina's banner, and you can watch the film without Katarina's intro and outro. As far as I'm concerned Scorpion can put whatever they want as extras on their DVDs if they're going to release rare 80s slashers, but when I started the DVD I noticed something I didn't expect. Katarina wrote her own material for this release, and hosts the commentary track. That means she either likes the film for real, or was willing to do some research on it to know what to talk about. If it's the former, that means the dissenters are complaining about a good looking woman liking 80s slashers. That's stupid because everyone should like 80s slashers! I have enough trouble convincing anyone that they should enjoy this subgenre, so the last thing I'm going to do is reject a genuine fan because she's not a 150 kilo slobbering recluse like me.

My first foray into Katarina's Nightmare Theater was Final Exam, a movie I was sure would be good because there's a dark figure holding a knife on the cover. The film begins with a couple whose making out is interrupted when a madman murders the boy. This first kill was pretty cool, I thought, so I was now happily geared up for a great slasher. That may have been a mistake, because after this first kill, Final Exam settles into a story about…college life? I get that it's a final exam, but I wasn't expecting such detail about the schooling.

It's the week of final exams and most of the students have gone home. Some students have foolishly got exams on the last few days, so are stuck staying at Uni. Despite a dead herring or two that the murderer is about to strike, most of the film revolves around stealing tests, hazing, dating issues and a rather elaborate scheme to cheat on an exam. After the initial murder, it's nearly an hour into the film before the next one. I'm not against a slow build by any means, but if a film is going to take a long time to get where it's going I want it to have achieved something along the way. Final Exam doesn't use this extra time to develop its characters, so when the killer finally returns we still have clichéd knife fodder falling under his blade. Coupled with that crutch of a lot of 80s slashers, bad comedy, the film does little to entice the viewer to keep with it during the set up.

I like that Final Exam tries to be a bit different – it's not set on a holiday and there's little gore, but it doesn't quite succeed in setting itself apart. While gratuitous violence may have been the rage at the time, by making the movie bloodless it becomes reminiscent of Halloween, which is a bad thing to do unless you're going to make a movie as good as Halloween. Final Exam's producers did make sure there were a few key differences between their movie and Halloween, but in the end they're both movies about a guy stabbing people.

There are a few things of note in Final Exam, though. There's a geeky guy obsessed with killers who may well have inspired a similar character in the much more successful Scream. I also liked that the killer is clearly psychic. Having a psychic killer means a break from at least one slasher genre convention: the killer who walks at an even pace but manages to catch up to the running victim. Don't have to bother with that because the killer just knows where to go to meet up with his victim again. Special mention also goes to the mind numbingly stupid character who tries to rescue the survivor girl at the end. At least he gets credit for persevering in the face of overwhelming adversity.

Something a bit different, but not necessarily entirely successful, Final Exam will bore slasher fans that want the screen to run red, and doesn't have enough substance to entice any other type of film goer.
The film has some spots and specks, but mostly looks sharp and clean. There's also a little bit of edge enhancement, but I'm happy to live in an age where cheap 80s slashers look this good.
The film's original audio mix is included, so while it won't test anyone's sound system, purists should be happy. The track does have some distortion, but I would guess that's due to the source material.
Extra Features
The viewer can choose to watch the movie with or without Katarina's wrap around. She mentions that the director went on to write the horror classic Running Scared that starred Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal. In the outro are some clips for other Scorpion titles. Katarina also says that if you haven't had enough of Final Exam you can keep an eye out for its novelisation. I'm sure it's a gripping read. The disc also has short interviews with stars Cecil Bagdadi, Joel Rice, and Sherry Willis Burch who all get asked the same generic questions. Joel's interview runs longest at 6 ½ minutes, and has a somewhat interesting story about his audition process. A commentary track with producer Myron Meisel is moderated by Katarina, but she doesn't have to do much moderating as Myron has clearly been waiting to talk for years. She wisely just lets him go, asking questions about things that interest her, but not needing to goad him along very often. Myron says the film was shot so that it could've been rated PG to make it stand out from excessive horror films of the day, which in theory isn't a bad tactic because that's what Toby Hooper did for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The commentary track moves along at a good speed, and Myron is a pretty engaging speaker. Lastly the disc includes the trailer, and trailers for Humoungous, The Devil Within Her, Nothing but the Night, The House on Soroity Row, The Incubus, and The Pyx.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
I did like Final Exam, but I feel it's let down by the fact it appears to be reaching for that ever elusive element in a horror movie: characters the viewer cares about. I don't think it succeeded there, which hurts the impact of the film. I enjoyed the last half hour when the slashing starts, but the lead fans will no doubt be delighted with this release.

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