Final Exam (1981) Review: Mostly Forgettable
“Some may pass the test… God help the rest!”
Synopsis: A psycho killer shows up on college campus to slash up pretty co-eds and dumb jocks during exams.
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Final Exam is a step above the average ’80s slasher – but just barely. The distinct lack of plot and overly stereotypical characters weigh too heavily against the thoughtful flourishes and decent cinematography to really call it “good,” but it manages to be noteworthy at least once.
Probably the most striking feature of this flick is an early set up involving a practical joke. Even in the context of “the ’80s were a simpler time,” it’s hard as a modern viewer to believe that a faked mass shooting on campus wouldn’t have violent repercussions. But the movie treats this mostly as an afterthought, focusing instead on how it creates a Boy Who Cried Wolf dynamic with the local sheriff, who could possibly have prevented later bloodshed.
What I enjoyed most was the atmosphere of the movie. There are some careful camera and set choices that really help set this up, but what mostly sells the fear of the movie is the imperfect desolation of a campus at end of term: most students and teachers have already gone, and those left suddenly find themselves facing a killer without the benefit of safety in numbers that could be taken for granted any other day of the school year.
Unfortunately, our erstwhile heroine and last girl Courtney (Cecile Bagdadi) is not really worthy of the focus the movie gives her. She doesn’t have much to offer outside of the stereotypical last girl “rebirth,” and even then it’s hard to root for her – we have so little insight into her character that even once it becomes obvious she’ll be the sole survivor, it’s hard to care.
Final Exam isn’t quite forgettable, but neither would I call it memorable. It’s mostly beige – inoffensive, but not really worthy of comment. With a little more creativity in the kills or slightly less stereotypical characters, it might have been good. Unfortunately, it never quite makes a statement, and so leaves itself firmly in the “meh” pile of generic slashers.
Calamity Brains’ Rating: C
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