From The Vault: Final Exam (1981) Simon Fitzjohn August 10, 2019 From The Vault 4396 I’m in a bit of a pickle when it comes to 1981’s Final Exam. On the one hand, I want to give it a hearty pat on the back for playing with slasher conventions. But, on the other hand, I want to punch the makers in the face for producing a film that is at times infuriating and, even worse, despicably boring. So, I suppose I’ll sit in the middle ground and say, while the campus carve-up is no great shakes, I’ve certainly seen worse. To call the first hour or so plodding is a bit of an understatement as, after an opening double murder that sees a canoodling couple offed in their car, we then get endless scenes inviting us to ‘enjoy’ the antics of a bunch of college kids, whether they be nerds or jocks. In essence that is fine – nothing wrong with some characterisation after all – but when these scenes mainly involve ‘hilarious’ pranks courtesy of some musclebound airheads, it all wears thin pretty quickly. Eventually the film centres into a routine, with the storyline focusing heavily on class ‘swot’ Radish, played by Joel S Rice. Here’s where director Jimmy Huston’s flick deviates from genre norms, as Radish is actually an endearing guy. A nerd/joker nevertheless, but far, far removed from the ‘for-god-sake-can-somebody-kill-him-please’ Shelley from Friday the 13th Pt.3 type. After all, it’s hard to totally dislike any student that has cinema posters for The Corpse Grinders and The Toolbox Murders proudly displayed on his dorm wall. Final girl duties are taken up by Cecile Bagdadi as Courtney and she too does a solid job, but the less said about the rest of the cast the better. The big shift in Huston’s opus though comes in the form of the killer, who in this instance is simply that – a hulking, brooding psychopath who simply turns up and starts offing the kids. This is no ‘Black Christmas’-type deal, where we never see the killer (he’s seen on screen a number of times), but there is no motive, no anniversary being celebrated, no grudges and no real point to what he is doing. The positive of that is that it immediately places everyone in danger as all bets are off, but the downside is there is no real depth, no emotional connection to the events taking place before you. Additional disappointments surface in the extremely lacklustre death scenes – one weights room killing apart, the murders are very by-the-numbers with little in the way of gore. There are some inspired touches here and there – the college basketball scoreboard clocking ‘Visitors 1’ after some sap is dispatched for example, but these are washed away by a series of irritations – none more than the killer having the ludicrous ability to turn up at the right place at the right time (or wrong place at wrong time if you’re the victim). All things considered, Final Exam has to reside in the box labelled ‘for completists only’.