Oh, how I miss college. I miss the school spirit everyone felt before the big game. I miss how everyone on campus knew each other, and how we’d all end up at crazy frat parties together. I miss how the classes were so small that our professors knew each of our names and led us in intellectual discussions about murder. And I miss how we all looked like we were in our 30s.
Wait a minute…none of that happened in college! My college experience consisted of complete apathy toward the football team, small dorm parties involving wine coolers, classes numbering at least 500 people, and me looking like I was 12.
Oh, well…slashers like Final Exam are determined to give us an altered view of university life, one where only about five people on campus actually matter, and generally consist of the following types: the jock, the prankster, the nerd, the popular slut, and the sweet virginal girl. They’re all here in Final Exam, making up the Important Students of Lanier College, and let me tell you…someone skimped on the cosmetology department. I mean, seriously…where were the hair and makeup people? Were they asleep? Was the budget too small for such a luxury? Was there a constant, driving wind on set whipping the actors’ hair into what appears to be chocolate-flavored cotton candy?
Anyway…Final Exam starts with what is maybe the most preposterous prank in the history of slasher films (and remember, this is the genre that gave us the “cuddle with a corpse” disaster in Terror Train and the “no-one really died” eye-roller of April Fool’s Day). Here, a group of alarmingly out-of-shape frat boys – in hopes of giving ONE student the chance to change his test grade – actually perpetrate a fake terrorist attack on the school, pulling up to a courtyard in a van and ski masks, firing off machine guns, then taking off with a few of the students in the backseat! Amazingly, just seconds after watching this entire traumatic event, the majority of students are laughing about the whole thing and covering for the idiots who did it.
Now…let’s not even address the irresponsibility of such a prank, or the fact that in real life, some scared student carrying a gun of his/her own would have pulled it out and blown away the frat boys. But really…doesn’t that seem like a lot of trouble to go through just to help one kid get an A? I mean, couldn’t someone have just distracted the teacher while another student changed the grade? That’s what we did...umm, I mean, could have done.
Anyway, the boys of Gamma continue acting like complete buffoons for the next hour – during which time we are presented with absolutely no plot and no slashing. Seriously…nothing happens for an hour. Our nerd, Radish, makes the move on the pretty girl…a pledge gets tied to a tree…the frat boys decide to sell pills for money. What is this…Animal House without the charisma? Finally, at just about an hour in, the pledge on the tree gets whacked, in a scene pretty much completely "re-created" in Scream 2, and suddenly the killer goes into overdrive, taking out just about the entire cast in the next few minutes. Now, it’s one thing to keep us waiting for an hour – but to cram all your gore into a 15-minute window just seems stingy. Of course, there isn’t actually any gore…the movie is filled with more shadows than Dracula’s castle, which means you’ll practically go blind straining your eyes to see what’s happening on screen.
But I’ll say this – it’s easy to forget about the lame murders when you’re compensated with two leading characters like Radish (nerdy underdog) and Courtney (final girl). Played by Joel S. Rice, Radish is so awkward and silly that he appears to be from a completely different planet – there are few scenes where he doesn’t have a huge grin painted across his face, displaying what is probably the actor’s intense excitement at being in a movie for the first time. He really is one of the most bizarre characters to ever pop up into a horror film; not unlike Nicky in Savage Weekend, he seems both ahead of his time and incredibly dated. Meanwhile, Courtney (Cecile Bagdadi) is pure Laurie Strode, right down to the brushed out frizzy hair and gangly arms and legs. But Rice and Bagdadi both have a sincerity on screen that is really sweet, and make for pleasantly off-beat characters to follow...even if Radish's crush on Courtney is really unconvincing. Unfortunately, that brings us to the subject of the killer...
I'll be honest, by the time Courtney finally gets chased around campus by the killer (who looks like Richard Moll with a bowl cut), I had completely stopped caring about why the guy was offing her friends. And this is convenient, since the writers don’t even bother trying to explain the killing spree. Maybe the killer just wanted to rid the world of a few bad haircuts? Anyway, we have no idea who the guy is or why he’s killing – obviously an attempt at a Black Christmas-esque creepiness at the end. Except that in Black Christmas, the killer's telephone calls had set up the fact that he was a deeply disturbed individual who belonged in a well-padded room. Here, the killer doesn't do anything remotely creepy, except show up a few times and kill people off-camera. I will say that Courtney exhibits some incredible brute force at the end, literally beating down the killer with a block of wood until he falls off a bell tower, then repeatedly stabbing the guy once she gets down the stairs…so that was kind of impressive, and certainly better than Laurie Strode’s canine whimpering.
As for the rest of it…well, sort of impressive…I guess. Like Slaughter High, this didn’t quite turn out to be the lost slasher classic I’d been hoping it was, but it’s also a pretty enjoyable way to pass 90 minutes. If you hate 80s frat comedies, then the first hour will try your patience, but rooting for Radish toward the end helps things along, and the final chase is well done. So I think this Final Exam deserves a passing grade…which means I’ll give it: