A lack of focus made the early eighties slasher “Final Exam” a product better sold for parts rather than enjoyed as a whole.
A killer is murdering Co-eds on a college campus for unknown reasons. Let’s dig into 1981’s FINAL EXAM, directed by Jimmy Huston!
As I See It
A lot of elements within the film are going to seem familiar to you.
It would be a similar experience if you put on a Big Black album and realized it predates both Nine Inch Nails and Ministry. “Wait a minute; this sounds familiar,” would be your reaction… and you’d be right.
Some of the aspects of Final Exam were used more effectively later on in cinematic history, most notably in Wes Craven’s uber-meta Scream, where Joel Rice’s ‘Radish’ is a very obvious ancestor to Jamie Kennedy’s Randy Meeks with his serial slasher/killer obsession and accurate analysis of the tropes and mechanisms of the subgenre.
The reason Scream worked is that Craven and writer Kevin Williamson were able to stay within that rigid slasher structure while satirizing it.
Here, with Final Exam, there is a prescience to some of the dialogue, but the film never truly knows what it is supposed to be. The attempt at comedy falls short and is rather cold-hearted. It doesn’t focus on a single protagonist but instead jumps around between the coeds, creating no flow.
The film was afforded the full accouterments of a soundtrack released and a paperback novelization that currently goes for a pretty penny on eBay.
Primarily unheard of stage actors, the cast did not have many additional credits to their name, but DeAnna Robbins (Lisa) did parlay this film into some soap opera appearances and TV movies.
Writer/Director Jimmy Huston wrote a very underrated eighties buddy cop film that Peter Hyams directed called Running Scared, which starred Billy Crystal and the late Gregory Hines.
Of Gratuitous Nature
The frat prank would devastate an audience in today’s mass shooter-crazed society. The first thought I had when the scene started playing out was, “This has to be a frat prank.” Of course, it was, but that wouldn’t be so cut and dry anymore. Some mercenary group opening fire on a school campus seems like a too gruesome, too realistic an evolution to this fucked up zeitgeist.
DeAnna Robbins (Lisa) succeeds in seducing the audience as she does the same to her professor. She’s playful and fun, and just an outright pleasure to watch her in her craft.
Ripe for a Remake
I think the aspects of the movie that work have been adequately mined throughout the annals of slasher history. There is nothing left on the bone.
No progeny to report.
Where to Watch
Scream Factory released a Blu-Ray in 2014. You can rent it to stream on Amazon.