Final Exam (1981)

MARCH 14, 2008


One of my favorite things on the internet has to be the “mash up” of two Nickelback songs. If you play “How You Remind Me” and “Photograph” (or whatever the hell their other big hit was) at the same time, you’ll see they have the exact same structure, with the chorus kicking in at precisely the same time (accompanied by a “duh duh duh DUH DUH DUH!” buildup) and clock in at just about the exact same length (one is like a second longer I think). I thought about that while watching Final Exam, because I am pretty sure one could superimpose the film over Halloween and come away with a similar result.

Ignoring quality, the films are curiously similar. Both have one kill at the very beginning, and then about an hour of no kills. Both have a scene of the (very bookish) girl seeing the killer outside her window, mixed with scenes of her talking to her very slutty friends. The score is similar. The finale finds the killer falling over a railing. Etc, etc. Of course, the difference is, Final Exam isn’t QUITE the masterpiece the ‘Ween is, but it’s still a fun enough little forgotten slasher that doesn’t deserve its current status (i.e. unreleased on DVD). If fucking Prom Night got like 3 DVD releases, there’s no reason why Exam can’t get one.

The most hilarious thing about the movie is that the killer makes Michael Myers look like the most complex killer in slasher history. While his motives were unclear, he at least had a name and a mask. This guy doesn’t even have that. He’s just some guy with an Anton Chigurh haircut. No mask, no name, and certainly no motive. Even He Knows You're Alone gave its vague killer a backstory with the film’s final line. In a way it’s kind of admirable that at the time the film came out (1981), when everyone was trying to make its own memorable slasher, the Final Exam team couldn’t even be bothered to give the guy a paper bag.

The movie also hates chemistry. During the “character development” phase of the film, we are treated to at least 12 slams on chemistry’s purpose in real life, to the point where it’s almost mean-spirited. My guess? Screenwriter/director Jimmy Huston failed chemistry in college or high school, and wrote a slasher film around it, and was so focused on chemistry bashing that he forgot to provide his killer with any sort of... well, anything.

Our heroes are ripe for loving mockery. The girl (Cecile Bagdadi) never stops smiling (it’s the creepiest thing in the movie), and our hero (Joel S. Rice) is named Radish. He’s sort of like Ian Sera in Pieces, and I kept hoping a kung fu professor would kick his ass. There is a hilarious scene where he’s at the girl’s door, telling her to be careful and all that. She CLEARLY wants him to come in and fuck her to sleep, but he’s oblivious. So he walks away, and then..... he knocks at her OTHER door! Yes, her dorm room has two doors for some goddamn reason. And he again reiterates his desire for her to be careful while ignoring her desire for some Radish love. It’s the first time I’ve felt sexual frustration for another (not to mention fictional) person.

Well he gets his fucking head smashed thru a door and neck cut by the glass, so it evens out.

It’s moments like this that make this movie a must for “big crowd” viewing. On a surface level, it’s a boring fucking movie (in Halloween, they constantly had Michael watching from the shadows; but here it’s like the killer is an after-thought), but there are so many “what the FUCK?” moments of absurdity that it seems a lot better than it actually is (or would be if you were watching it alone). Por ejemplo, one of the girls is fucking her professor. That’s fine, but she has a FRAMED PHOTO of the guy on her desk! Discretion? Why bother? There’s also a fraternity initiation scene (lifted verbatim in Scream 2), except with the added “bonus” of a cop pouring whiskey into the kid’s underwear.

But that doesn’t even come CLOSE to the levels of homoeroticism that are displayed by the film’s resident bully character: Wild Man. At one point he literally spoons a dude (the aforementioned frat pledge) and begins kissing his ear as the other guys strip him down to his underwear. It’s amazing. There’s also a subplot about pills that never quite makes sense (we’re led to believe that they are steroids, but there are like 50 different sizes and colors).

In my notes I have written down “Two lousy people!”, but I have no idea what this means.

In the annals of early 80s slashers, it’s both one of the worst (worst killer ever, for certain) and one of the best (due to its unparalleled levels of unintentional comedy). If you still have a functioning VHS, check it out, but only with friends. I think watching this movie alone might be detrimental to the health of both you and radishes.

What say you?


  1. I saw this at the New Beverly last Saturday (with Friday the 13th Part 4). I saw it in the middle of the day, since I have to work early Sunday morning, and there weren't very many people there.

    MY friends said the exact same thing about the Anton Chigurh haircut. I didn't see it though, since anton's hair is swept to the side, and this guy's hair was parted in the middle and feathered. Then again, I'm a big douchebag that no one likes.

    We didn't really like the movie, but we thought it was funny in a lot of places. That guy Wild Man was really annoying, and I kinda think he was on something while filming. The part where he licks the dude's ear was completely out of left field.

    All in all, I thought Radish was funny, and that blonde chick banging her professor was smokin' hot! The killer was possibly the weakest character I have ever seen in any movie of any genre. The guys in the van with the M16's in the beginning were much more menacing.

    Also, the coach looked like a stoned Bill Clinton.

    I'm glad I saw it, but I would be okay with never seeing it again, unless it's with a bigger crowd.

  2. Ah, see? Perfect example of what I was talking about in my Jurassic review - big crowds can make or break a film. I don't think anyone walked away disappointed on Friday, when the crowd was bigger (and still not even a full house like it usually is for horror double features).

  3. The killer in this was horrible. Just some guy in a green shirt/jacket, I'm not sure which. Most everything in this movie was a really bad rip-off of Halloween. A bad ripoff of the Halloween theme, a killer walking around slowly, a killer who falls to his death, but then surprise, he's not dead. A few of the characters in the film were ok and could fit in to a much better movie.

  4. Also, the pseudo love theme during the closing credits has to be the most ill-placed music in horror movie history. It would make Lionel Richie proud. As such, it fit perfectly into this film.

  5. Finally checking this off the list courtesy of A***** Prime. Holy moly, that fake school shooting does NOT play well in 2019. Radish's fixation on mass murderers (Charles Whitman-yeah, I'm in Austin) is kinda creepy as well.
    And yeah, as per your review, I've been reminded of HALLOWEEN four or five times and I'm only half an hour into it.


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