If you consider yourself a Final Exam fan, then picking up the Scream Factory Blu-ray is a no-brainer-you’re going to be more than pleased with their efforts on this release. For the uninitiated, Final Exam may or may not earn high marks from you, depending on your level of patience for a whole lot of talking and not much else.
Final Exam starts off promising enough with two college students parked one night who are attacked by a mysterious maniac (even though both actors seem less than terrified by their predicament). The following day, Final Exam then picks up over at Lanier College where we are introduced to a group of students who are in the midst of taking their final exams, so that they can finish up the semester and head home for the summer. Of course, the mysterious killer from Final Exam’s opening arrives on campus and he begins stalking the co-eds in preparation to slash his way through the student body.
The only thing holding him back though ends up being almost an hour of exposition and wholly unnecessary character development that Huston makes us patiently sit through as we await the Lanier College murder spree that we are teased us with over and over again. When Final Exam finally does get down to business, there’s just absolutely no sense of tension whatsoever, with a series of awkwardly choreographed lackluster kills and a slasher that has absolutely zero presence onscreen. Huston’s script does have a few humorous moments sprinkled in there which saves the film from being a total wash, but as a whole, I can’t imagine Final Exam has much rewatch value, especially if it’s not a film you have any sense of nostalgia for.
As you probably can tell, Final Exam’s biggest problem is that it takes way too damn long to get going. I’m probably more patient than most horror fans and even I found my attention waning in Final Exam right around the hour mark once it dawned on me that we still had yet to see a kill since the opening murder scene. I do applaud Huston for at least attempting to do something that was going against the grain at that time in terms of what we were seeing from early eighties slasher movies. That kind of innovation is something I can appreciate even if I didn’t care much for the end result.
But I guess the thing for me is that if you are going to go that route, as a storyteller you have to at least reward your audience with a grand finale then, not one that barely whimpers its way across the finish line. You also have to give us characters worth spending that much time getting to know and let’s just say the kids at Lanier College were almost all universally uninteresting and most of them were largely unlikeable as well, especially a group of frat kids who stage a campus shooting as a prank on their fellow classmates.
Another huge issue for me was that Final Exam often trips itself up with far too many coincidental appearances from its killer. I’m someone who is totally on board with the ‘Jason Voorhees School of Cinematic Physics’ but this guy was like a new level of stealthy that professional ninjas would be impressed by. I have a pretty good sense of disbelief when it comes to slasher movies, but Final Exam had me shaking my head over and over again through its far-too convenient conclusion.
I’m also still trying to figure out why Huston would cloak his killer in the shadows throughout 90 percent of Final Exam, and then reveal him completely in the film’s final scenes without any kind of fanfare. Yet another odd choice from Huston that didn’t completely click with his material; it seemed like there was a reason to hide the villain’s identity and then nothing was made of it ever.
Something else that would have perhaps helped Final Exam earn a passing grade was if all the film’s victims didn’t look downright silly and sometimes bored while they’re being attacked, obviously the complete opposite of how they should be reacting. I mean, if they don’t care, why should I? And that’s a tough thing to get past when you’re watching a horror movie of all things.
While I’m not necessarily sure Huston’s indie sleeper slasher will win over any new fans, I know the movie does have its devotees out there, which makes Scream Factory’s glorious high definition overhaul of Final Exam for their brand new Blu-ray release something truly special. The transfer presentation is beyond stunning and I can’t imagine Final Exam has ever looked better than it does here. There’s also a nice sense of vibrancy to the picture without fading out any of the film’s darker scenes, which demonstrates there undoubtedly was a great amount of care shown in putting this Blu-ray together.
Scream also includes a commentary track with Final Exam co-stars Joel Rice, Cecile Bagdadi and Sherry Willis-Burch, as well as interviews with the trio and a theatrical trailer to boot. The interviews presented on the Blu-ray were all a lot of fun and gave some insight into the micro-budgeted slasher (Rice, who plays the wise-cracking character Radish, looks like he really is enjoying himself during his chats which is always a plus).
While I definitely appreciated the care that Scream Factory put into their release of Final Exam on Blu-ray, I ended up being more than underwhelmed by Jimmy Huston’s 1981 slasher which suffers from an almost total lack of atmosphere, violence and logic as well as a killer that might very well be THE most boring knife-wielding psycho stalker ever. Definitely more funny than it is scary, Final Exam isn’t without its charms but sadly, those charms are few and far between.
Movie Score: 2/5, Disc Score: 4/5