Final Exam (1981) Review

The students of Lanier College have more than exams to worry about. A slasher armed with a butcher knife is stalking the corridors of academia. Only the survivors get to exempt this test.

Final Exam could have been just another generic campus slasher but is saved by bizarre camera angles, an oddball but loveable cast, and a heavy helping of Southern Charm. Don’t think of Final Exam as slow moving. It moves at a leisurely pace, to be sure, but Jimmy Huston is breathing life into his characters before they’re gutted by the nameless killer. These victims have enough dimension to make them more than just another campus slut, wallflower, geek, and dumb jock.

Slasher fans will enjoy watching Sherry Willis-Burch’s performance as Janet, the bubble headed blonde. It’s a far cry from her nerdy Vivia in Killer Party. Joel S. Rice is a scene stealer as Radish, the geek obsessed with serial killers. Wildman (Ralph Brown) provides a testosterone filled counter balance to Radish’s 80 pound weakling. Cecile Bagdadi’s performance as Courtney, the heroine, gets lost in her long hair. During the final confrontation, Bagdadi has to constantly push her hair back so she can see the killer before stabbing him.

A few problems keep Final Exam from being a really good slasher. The first half is more of a college drama. The only soap opera elements missing are a pregnancy scare and an outbreak of venereal disease on campus. Killer (Timothy L. Raynor) has no name, background, or motivation. He’s just a big guy with a knife. This lack of character development really robs the film of suspense and tension. The viewer is waiting for a payoff that never comes.

Final Exam may not be the most terrifying campus slasher ever filmed but it still manages to be funny and entertaining. Fans of gallows humor will find plenty to chuckle over. A quick example: The statistic quoting geek decides to become a hero to save the woman he loves, only to become another statistic. Sherry Willis-Burch has one of the funnier lines: “I’m still happy. It’s just I’m depressed.” Posters for Murder is My Beat, Tool Box Murders, and The Corpse Grinders can be seen in Radish’s dorm room.

Final Exam is coming to DVD from Scorpion Releasing between September 2011-March 2012.

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5 Responses to “ Final Exam (1981) Review ”

  1. This movie seems to take quite a bashing from a lot of slasher fans, but it is one of my absolute favorites. It has some memorable characters and the sparsely populated university setting is used to great effect. Many people point out the killer’s lack of motive as a gaping plot hole, but the movie itself acknowledges the often random nature of real-life mass killings. I love how the film takes place over the course of one day, and as night creeps in and gradually shrouds the campus in darkness I always get a chill. My favorite moments are the extended sequence with the “treed” pledge, the confrontation between the killer and Wildman in the gymnasium, and the final girl showdown.
    I already own the VHS and the rare Deimos DVD of this film but I will gladly triple-dip on the upcoming Scorpion release. Easily my favorite and most-watched low-budget slasher flick, even if most others continue to underrate it.

  2. i couldnt agree me The WZA, very fun film.

  3. I like final exam, but once the killer moves out of the shadows the film looses something. I like my motiveless killers to have a strong visual identity.

  4. I will have in my greedy little hands, I mean…collection a 35mm print of Final Exam in about two weeks!!!

  5. I have to agree, so many slasher fans just seem to hate this movie but it stands in my top 5 favs of all time. The mood, the lighting, the location, the music… All of it worked for me and I watched it over and over throughout the years. SEE IT!

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