Final Exam (1981)
WRITER: Jimmy Huston
DIRECTOR: Jimmy Huston
STARRING: Cecile Bagdadi as Courtney
Joel S. Rice as Radish
Ralph Brown as Wildman
Deanna Robbins as Lisa
John Fallon as Mark
Timothy L. Raynor as The Killer
QUICK CUT: As the school year draws to a close, a crazed killer decides to audit a few students and give them failing grades.
Courtney - Our female lead. And almost subversively so. Think of when this movie was made. The early 80s? And they make the lead a woman? Who saves the day? She may not have the best personality ever, and be pretty stereotypical, but hey. She does good.
Radish - The typical nerdy kid who has a thing for Courtney. He's a bit of a snitch, and most of the cast walks all over him.
Wildman - Fulfilling your frat jock stereotype quota, we have Wildman. He drinks, he's crude, he's a jerk. Yeah, the characters here are not the most original.
Lisa - Courtney's roomie, and she gives us the typical girl who knows she's hot and will use her looks to get what she wants.
Mark - The head of the fraternity, and he's less of a jock and has more braincells than Wildman. He also runs the school's supplies of drugs and exams. Nice guy.
THE GUTS: First of all, apologies for this review being a few days late. I was away on vacation, and didn't get things set up before I left. But that just means you get THREE reviews for June! This late one, and our regular two on the 13th and the 26th. Lucky, lucky you.
We kicked off Trisk's third year by going back to basics with the cheesy college based slasher movies, Horror 101 and Horror 102. Now that the semester is over, and in honour of anyone else wrapping up college right now, it is time for me to try and pass my own Final Exam.
Starting out with the classic horror cliche, we have a couple who've gone parking in the dead of night. As they make out, the woman feels nervous and uneasy, wanting them to move, but the guy's more interested in the making out. There is a genuine good piece of acting here when the girl says she loves him, and his face just falls. It's not overdone, and just that simple shift in his face sells what's in his head. There's no dialogue, just perfectly sold visually.
He still manages to get her into the backseat, but if you know your horror, you know where this is going. They start hearing noises outside, and we see someone watching them. That someone soon jumps on the car, slices through the convertible's top, and drags the guy out on the hood for a little late night stabby.
With a little murder to tide us over, we jump over to Lanier College, where we get to meet our canon fodder for the film. We've got the spoiled rich kid who's probably gonna fail, Radish the nerd, and a couple of women. Hey, it's not my fault they don't even get a character trait yet.
Radish spreads the word of the opening murders at March College, and I just love that the rich kid is pleased it was their quarterback that got offed, since that gives their team a chance in the playoffs. That is such an attitude from a self centered college aged guy, it's just spot on.
After handing out the tests and some decent banter, their professor leaves his students under the watchful eyes of some aides, while he goes and finds another student killing time until the semester is over. Oh, and he's also boinking her behind his wife's back.
Unsurprisingly, Radish finishes first, and surprisingly, a jock called Wildman finishes second. Mostly because he doesn't give a toss how he does. They both run into the head coach outside, who tries to get Radish to do some inventory of their equipment before vanishing for the summer.
As the students slowly filter out of the room, a van pulls up outside, and all of a sudden, men in ski masks jump out and start opening fire on the quad. Boy, this scene is a bit more chilling these days, huh?
While all the commotion is going on, Mark takes out a red pen, grades his own test, and slips it into the pile of graded tests while the TAs are distracted by the gunfire. As the gunmen scoop up the bodies of the fallen students, it becomes increasingly clear that this was all a ruse.
THIS PLAN IS FAR TOO INSANE, DANGEROUS, AND ILLEGAL JUST TO PASS A TEST!! Sweet baby Corman. Can you imagine someone doing this today?? These deaths naturally do not count, although the mischief is appreciated to keep the pace lively.
At the cafeteria, Janet and Gary the pledge join the rest of our cast. We see Lisa is supposedly dating Mark as well as the prof, and he drags Gary outside for a chat. He tries to talk the pledge into stealing a test, using the typical arguments of peer pressure that everyone's doing it, he wants to fit in, doesn't he? etc.
The sherrif arrives to investigate the shooting, as he should, and he's not exactly pleased that it looks like a prank. Oh, for the innocent times of 1981, when you could apparently open fire on a campus and get away with it, because aw shucks! They're just kids! As long as it doesn't happen again, you rascals!
Courtney heads back to her room to study a bit more, and gets the joy of watching how easy life is for Lisa and her looks manipulating men to do whatever she wants. While she makes some guys carry her luggage down to her car, Courtney hits up Radish for some aspirin and advice. He reassures her and sends her on her way, which has her crossing paths with the guy we've seen watching her most of the movie.
Meanwhile, Wildman and Mark stop by Radish's to harass him for calling the cops. And Mark swipes some keys. And fuck me, there's a Corpse Grinders poster in the background. Of all the movies, this one references the bane of my existence.
Elsehwere on campus, Gary is doing his dirty deed by breaking into a professor's classroom and stealing the exam for his frat brothers. Fortunately, he's being watched and followed, because this movie was getting to be way too much college hijinks, and not enough slasher.
No wait, it wasn't done with the hijinks. His potential frat brothers grab him, and see he's broken one of their rules anyways, so it's off to tie him to a tree, strip him naked, cover him in ice and shaving cream and call it a day! I am so glad I missed out on this stuff during college.
While Gary continues to be stuck to a tree and someone tries to find Janet, Wildman and Mark are busy plotting more mischief. Someone calls up asking for pills, and they decide to break into the coach's office and steal some stuff from him, using Radish's keys.
The guy playing Wildman does some hilariously over the top silly jock behaviour in this scene. He eats the shaving cream (I wonder if he just forgot the whipped cream they probably used for safety wasn't ACTUALLY whipped cream in the world of the film), tastes some deodorant, washes it all down with alcohol, and generally acts like a goon. You wince, laugh, and want to see him get axed all at once.
Finally someone finds Janet, and sends her out to the tree to rescue her boyfriend. While he waits, campus security comes up and says he won't interfere with tradition. He does offer Gary a drink of scotch though...and then pours it into his underwear where all the ice is, saying he can have it on the rocks.
Okay. That was funny.
Gary's ropes get cut by an unseen figure, and my hopes are finally answered as the killer wanders back into the story and stabs the kid to death.
Janet arrives too late, and follows Gary's discarded clothes towards a shadowy figure, because what could possibly go wrong there? Well, plenty, as she gets grabbed and carried off.
In the coach's office, Wildman is smashing things up good, finding pills, and heading out just in time for the killer to find him. He plays games with Wildman, before effortlessly tossing the jock around with one hand.
Radish stops by Courtney's room with whiskey, and there's some good character moments with him, and his world view, and why he's so preoccupied with psychopaths. Secret tip: He's paranoid. He talks Courtney into locking her door to protect herself, and after complimenting her a bit with much awkwardness, he stumbles off to do that inventory finally.
One dead Wildman, check!
Mark gets there first though, and surveys the damage his pal did, both deliberately and with a little help from his enemy. And that's when he finds Wildman crammed into a locker.
Getting spooked by his friend receiving his most apt demise, Mark runs away. He scampers into what has to be the college's boiler room.
He stumbles around trying to find a safe place to hide, and picks his way past all the crap left by the janitorial staff. He finds a pair of doors both labelled do not enter, so of course, he walks into one of the rooms.
Before you can say Freddy Krueger, the killer pops up like a jack in the box from one of the containers scattered around the hall. Mark doesn't even have a chance to scream before the knife is plunged into his chest.
It's now Radish's turn to arrive, and he gets surprised by Mark's body in a locker this time. He freaks out as well, but instead of running, he calls the sheriff.
And oh look, the sheriff doesn't believe him thanks to Mark's prank earlier. Good going, frat guy. So, Radish does his best attempt at taking charge of the situation, and runs to check on Courtney.
Raddicio doesn't find what he was expecting though, since Courtney was out getting studying fuel. Instead, she comes back and finds Radish dead from his encounter.
While all this has been going on, the movie cuts frequently to Lisa, just wandering around in a pretty dress and playing the piano, presumably waiting for the chem professor. After getting naked, as these things tend to do, the killer finally arrives and does her in too.
Courtney runs around and finds campus security drunk and unconscious, so they're useless. She tries to find Lisa or the prof, but instead runs right into the killer. And runs right back away again.
She manages to grab a knife in the cafeteria, and hides in the kitchen. And then, what may be one of the single most amazing entrances ever occurs.
The dining hall has this system, where the trays are placed on brackets, and lowered down into the kitchen to be cleaned. We saw this earlier in the film, and now the killer stands on those brackets, and lowers himself down, in an awesome, slow, move into frame. So, so good.
As if that wasn't enough, he ducks down, and pops into view in a mirror, where Courtney sees him. Such a great entrance.
Courtney manages to trick him into thinking she's in a walk-in fridge, and conks him from behind, shoving him inside. Just as you might think the movie is over, the most important lesson of horror is brought back up; it is NEVER over when you think it is. Because the walk-in has more than one door, and the killer just pops right back out again. D'oh.
They run around campus for awhile, and Courtney leads him to the school's belltower. The sheriff finally arrives, but he's just there for his hunting trip with Drunky the Guard.
But he is there, and responds to Courtney's cries for help. And he has a bow with him, which is better than nothing, right?
The killer amazingly catches the arrow, and before the sheriff can come around to believing what he just saw, he runs down the stairs, and stabs the sheriff right in the chest with his own weapon.
Everything seems pretty bleak for Courtney, but she grabs a plank of wood, at least. And the gods smile down upon her when the killer's foot breaks through the rotten floorboards and gets stuck.
She pummels the holy hell out of the guy, until he stumbles backwards, and plummets several stories back to the bottom floor.
Courtney makes her way down the stairs and walks past the body. And the movie goes for extra credit, because it is a not quite dead body. If you knew he would grab her leg, congrats! You've passed Triskaidekafiles 103!
But she quickly grabs the knife and stabs him about two dozen times, so I'm pretty sure that does him in, finally.
The movie ends right there, with no answers. No idea of who this guy is, why he's doing this, or anything. Just... random guy shows up and kills stuff for the last 30 minutes of a college adventure movie. Thanks, guy.
Video: Looks good for an early 80s low budget movie. It gets too dark at times, but overall, a solid enough visual presentation.
Audio: Good audio, but nothing special about it.
Sound Bite: "I'm still happy! It's just that I'm depressed..." Oh, Janet. Words have meanings...
1 - Five minutes in, and the quarterback gets gutted on the hood of his own car. Presumably his girlfriend dies off camera too.
2 - A whopping 50 minutes later, and Gary gets cut down from the tree and cut down in life.
3 - Janet is grabbed into the darkness and killed off camera.
4 - A beatdown and strangling of Wildman
5 - Mark gets stabbed and stuffed in a locker next to Wildman.
6 - Radish, beaten and shoved through a door.
7 - Lisa gets stabbed by the killer rather than 'stabbed' by the professor.
8 - The sheriff takes an arrow to the chest when the killer returns it in the most painful way possible.
9 - The killer falls off the top of the bell tower, and then gets stabbed repeatedly by Courtney.
Best Corpse: There is just something so satisfying in Courtney's long series of stabs to finish off the killer and make sure he's dead.
Blood Type - C: For a slasher film with a hefty body count, this movie is fairly bloodless. There's smatterings here and there, and most of them come from the fake blood during the shooting at the start.
Sex Appeal: Lisa gets naked for teacher, and Wildman goes topless.
Movie Review: You can tell this was cheaply made, and in a hurry. The characters never really evolve beyond stereotypes, the plot is more college hijinks until someone remembers there is supposed to be a killer, and not a damned thing is explained. It's a bit of a mess from actual craft and storytelling perspectives. Two out of five pledges tied to a tree.
Entertainment Value: But there's something to this movie, isn't there? They went outside the box. They tried to make something unique. They wanted something mostly bloodless, they wanted something unique, and to play on those fears that the killer could literally be anyone, because he's never identified. It really is something to see, and is quite entertaining despite itself. The writing is fun, and Wildman is crazy. But the pacing hampers the fun too much, in the final tally of things. Still, there's enough here to like and get behind, that I enjoyed the movie. If it had had more of a story and less about things just happening, it would have had a higher score. As is though, it only gets a three out of five Corpse Grinders posters.