Thursday, June 9, 2011

June 9 - Final Exam (1981)

The cover of my VHS copy of Final Exam

Final Exam (1981)

Director: Jimmy Huston
Format: VHS (Embassy)

"Some may pass the test... God help the rest"

That's the tagline for Final Exam, a low-budget Halloween-influenced (or should that be rip off) slasher from 1981. Now, you're probably expecting me to say something witty like "God help anyone who has to sit through this dreck", but the truth is I thoroughly enjoyed Final Exam.

The plot follows a group of students at a North Carolina college (the shy girl, the slut, the nerd, the party animal etc), who are seeing out the last week of the semester. They're concerned about exams and what they'll do over the summer but unaware that a killer is stalking campus.

Much of what director-writer Jimmy Huston (MY BEST FRIEND IS A VAMPIRE) puts on screen in Final Exam is very, very derivative of the slashers that came before it (the aforementioned Halloween mostly, but also Friday the 13th and Black Christmas). There are a lot of shots of the killer standing in the shadows or just out of shot, ala Michael Myers, and the teens bouncing around in shorty-shorts and feathered hairdos wouldn't be out of place in a Friday the 13th movie. His identity and motive are never revealed, like in Black Christmas.

But what sets Final Exam apart from the myriad of other cheapie slashers that followed throughout the 80s is the amount of time it spends on character development. Some might see this as a disadvantage - there are no kills beyond the opening scene for a good 45 minutes - but the various antics of the students (frat boy stunts, runs in with the sheriff, romance etc) are well done and allow the characters to be built up before the expected bodycount.

I'm not going to name actors because, frankly, you won't know any of them. A look at IMDB shows this as the sole acting credit for many of the cast, with others doing a handful of obscure titles. The only one with an extensive credit list is the guy who plays the nerdy lead, Radish, who went on to become a producer.

This is a slasher, so how good are the kills? Well, Huston keeps most of the blood and gore off-screen, but there is at least one imaginative kill, involving a gymnasium weights room and electronic scoreboard. Slashers are usually also known for their T&A and there is one nude scene, but that's it.

Last, but not least, I have to mention the great musical score by debutant Gary S Scott, who later did music for such TV shows as Fame, Beverly Hills 90210 and Freddy's Nightmares. The score, coupled with some nice camera work by Huston, makes for effective suspense.

I understand the DVD of this is out of print, so it might be hard to come by, but I would definitely recommend it for slasher fans, especially those looking for something a bit different.

Previews on my VHS: Paradise (complete with Phoebe Cates' bare breasts), They Call Me Trinity, Murder by Decree

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