Wednesday, May 16, 2012

#639. Final Exam (1981)

Directed By: Jimmy Huston

Starring: Cecile Bagdadi, Joel S. Rice, Ralph Brown

Tag line: "Some pass the test...God Help The Rest!!!"

Trivia:  Much of the films crew were friends and students of director Jimmy Huston

A variety of slasher films emerged from the '80s, each adhering to the basic formula (teens or young adults threatened by a homicidal maniac) while at the same time attempting to bring something new to the table. Unfortunately, 1981's Final Exam tries a little too hard to distinguish itself, and in the process loses its way.

Lanier College kicks off final exam week with a practical joke perpetrated by the Gamma Delta Fraternity, in which several of its members pose as terrorists and “shoot up” the campus. But as the fun and games go on at Lanier, an actual murder is occurring at another nearby school, where a knife-wielding madman (Timothy L. Raynor) slices up a couple (Carol Capka and Shannon Norfleet) making out in their car. 

Soon, this killer has found his way to Lanier, where students are so busy preparing for their finals that they hardly even notice him...until it's much too late.

But then, the killer in Final Exam isn't hard to miss, really. Other than standing around and staring at his prey, or driving slowly behind them as they walk around campus, he doesn't do much for the majority of the movie. Even when he decides to strike, it’s never as tense or frightening as it should be; the two murders that open the film take a while to occur, giving the young lovers more time to talk than most victims are ever afforded in a slasher. What’s worse, they don’t have anything interesting to say, a problem which extends to the Lanier campus as well. 

From the looks of it, Lanier is a pretty dull place, with a student body to match. All except Radish, that is, the token nerd who finds mass murderers fascinating. One day, in chemistry class, the teacher (Don Hepner) makes a reference to Charles Whitman, who, in 1966, killed 16 people during a shooting spree at the University of Texas in Austin. Upon hearing his name, Radish just about swoons, saying how impressed he was with Whitman's “work”. Joel S. Rice, who plays Radish, doesn’t exactly deliver a stellar performance, but at least we remember him, unlike many of the potential victims in this film.

Some scenes are impressive. The practical joke, where students in masks pose as armed gunmen, blowing away several kids on their way to class (who are also in on the prank) creates some tension early on, relieved only when Courtney (Cecile Bagdadi) and a few others notice a Gamma sticker on the van the shooters were driving (could you imagine a fraternity pulling a stunt like that nowadays?) 

And when the killer finally does strike at Lanier, the film's intensity definitely picks up. But by that time, I had already started to lose patience with it. Ultimately, Final Exam is a slasher without enough slashing, and a horror movie with only a smattering of scares.

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