Judge Christopher Kulik wasn't murdered by this final exam, but left with a bunch of paper cuts.
Some may pass the test…God help the rest!
Let's journey back to a more innocent time for horror movies—the slasher genre which became a plague in the early '80s. Marked by carnage, female nudity, loud screams, and a total lack of intelligence, these films would prove to be a financial investment for many studios. And why shouldn't they? They were cheap to produce, had unknown actors willing to work for $50 a week, and the only big checks would go to the makeup department. Final Exam is a welcome, if only slight, departure from that formula, but still cannot escape total mediocrity. Those who fondly remember this flick will be pleased with BCI Eclipse's digital resurrection.
Two college students parked in a lover's lane outside of the school are hacked to death by a giant maniac (how original!). The next day, we go to Lanier College, where we meet another group of young people, many of them fraternity students and their dates, who are preparing to go home after completing their—you guessed it—final exams. However, the killer has now come here with only purpose: dispatching this particular group of teenagers with a big ass knife…though not before 50+ minutes of character development.
Yep, you read it right. Final Exam doesn't begin the Lanier murders until the last third of the movie, and before then is all talk, talk, talk. However, the film does open up with a bang (of sorts) which is rather disturbing to 21st century audiences: a van full of masked men with machine guns start shooting up the campus, bringing to mind the tragedies of Columbine and, particularly, Virginia Tech. As it turns out, it's really a fraternity stunt, which is believable enough; only guys like that would stoop so low for a laugh, even today. Then discussions would begin on families, dating, schoolwork, daily life and culminating in a girl being "pinned" by her loving boyfriend, who hopes to be accepted by the fraternity.
By the time of the pinning, I had forgotten all about the initial murder and fake massacre and asked, "What the hell is this…an homage to 1950s dating rituals?" Oh, it was so sweet, it made me wanna…music begins…
What's the story? Morning glory?
Oh, sorry lost my mind there for a second! So, after he pins her, he gets dragged out to a tree, tied down and gets finally gets killed after maybe another 15 minutes of sweet chit-chat between the two primary characters: a crime-obsessed nerd named Radish (yes, that's his name) and the virginal heroine Courtney. The murders are quick and (largely) bloodless, which makes me question the R-rating. There is only one instance of nudity; or, the "obligatory tit shot" in horror film terms. And, in a slightly radical turn, you actually see the killer from so many different angles that the full reveal isn't played for all its worth but is presented matter-of-factly. As for the climax and ending, it's same-old, same old. Still, I must give writer/director Jimmy Huston (My Best Friend Is A Vampire) credit for taking a few interesting detours—however illogical—from the template.
Huston may be sincere, but Final Exam is dull, slow, and completely negligible. There are no effective scares whatsoever, and the sweet moments are entirely out of place. The only thing which keeps the film alive is the director's sense of humor, like when a frat guy says "Hey, this isn't the exam I studied!" or when Radish notices the gym door unlocked and says "Shades of Watergate!" However there are some unintentionally funny moments too. One blonde girl is having an affair with her professor, and he wants to do her right there in his office and she says, "This is the week of final exams…we have no time for pop quizzes!" Hardy-rah-rah-rah-rah!
Evidently, someone felt Final Exam has been out of print for too long and decided to bring it to DVD. The 1.85:1 anamorphic print is dirty, grainy, and sports white splotches; what's more, the picture itself folds and bends at whim, signaling a basic VHS transfer. The monaural track is placid, with horrible background noises and occasionally incomprehensible dialogue. The cheesy dramatic score by Gary Scott sounds like it was conducted in an elevator. There are no subtitles and no closed captioning.
As bad as the technical treatment is, however, it's almost totally eclipsed by the extras. First up, we have an audio commentary with cast members Joel S. Rice (Radish), Cecile Bagdadi (Courtney), and Sherry Willis-Burch (Janet, the girl that got pinned), who are moderated by film fanatics Julia Marchese & Deron Miller. A great listen from start to finish, all of these participants approached to recording with enthusiasm and jokes, resulting in a fun listen. Here's my favorite trivia bit: Jaime Lee Curtis was Cecile's math tutor at Hollywood High School before Halloween came out! (Who would have thought?) The other extra is some individual interviews with Rice, Bagdadi, and Willis-Burch which are brief, repetitive, but painless all the same. If anything, it's interesting to see how they look now.
Sorry Jimmy, but your exam gets a D. As for BCI Eclipse, they are found guilty of the piss-poor picture and sound quality, but get a reduced sentence due to some fun extras. Court is adjourned!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BCI Eclipse
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