Growing up in the 80's was an awesome time for me. After seeing Tobe Hooper's The Funhouse, at age 12, and being horrified to walk down my street during a bright sunny day because of John Carpenter's Halloween, I was forever marked by this genre. Big time~!
I adore old slasher films from the early 80's. They are so much a part of me.
Many people have songs that take them back to a certain time or special moment. Horror movies do that for me. However, sadly, I will have to admit, I somehow missed out on seeing 'Final Exam' at the theater. Of course when it arrived on video, I watched it a handful of times. I liked it back then, but didn't love.
But now, after buying it from Amazon on DVD, and watching it a few times, I keep asking myself what is it...(?)...about this low-budget film that I keep coming back to so much. It IS a total Halloween rip off. Right up there with 'He knows your alone'.From the score to the style.
The 'Final Exam' killer stalks in shadows and watches, and waits, and watches some more, just like Michael Myers did in Halloween. He's not in any big hurry. And he doesn't even wear a mask. It's just some big, poker-faced guy. Matter of fact, not much happens till the last ten minutes or so, and even then, during the big chase scene, it's very low-key.
I think that's what I like about it. It's quiet style. Almost like a TV movie. Like one of those stories you may see on a true-crime show like 20/20. A dramatized version, if you will. It tells it's story and then it simply ends.
I can't explain it but the movie has a lot of heart. It also, for me, has to do with the characters. Yeah, they are dull, but not in a bad way. The teens on campus just seem to be more 'realistic' than other bodycount films from that time. You kind of really care for them. I really like the little nerdy guy, Radish and his little crush on the leading lady. Even the blond tramp is likable.
There's a quiet scene, right before she gets killed, where she is playing the piano, in an isolated part of the building that is just, sincere and gentle. Here's another moment when it feels like a docu-drama. You're almost expecting to hear commentary from a grieving relative about how she loved playing music. There's alot of scenes like this. Granted, most people would think this to be boring for a slasher film, and, to be honest, in many ways, it is. But for me, I like these scenes. It gives the film a bleak feel.
What's also interesting is the way the film is cut. Almost like a Jaws-effect. As our tramp plays the piano, the film cuts to other places around the campus, allowing the viewer to wonder where the killer is, or, when the shark is gonna pop up. Another girl gets a soda, more flash cuts appear. Earlier that evening, a boy is tied to a tree partially naked. As he begs for help, the scene takes its time, showcasing a variety of close-ups and wide-shots of the dark grounds around him. Here, again, in crime-drama style, could be another insert of a grave voice, perhaps a police man, reporting that it was nine-fifteen pm, or something like that, before the male was attacked. What's interesting is that this movie could be 're-edited' and turned into a grim police file like 'The Town that Dreaded Sundown' did years back.
There's also this great little shot where the leading girl ditches her tray on the way out of the cafeteria and the camera then follows the tray into the kitchen, and, eventually, into the dishwasher's hands. Then, the camera follows the dishwasher out of the building and down the steps to a nearby garbage can, where he then, crosses the leading girl who just arrived out of the cafeteria. Okay, big deal, right? Sure. Maybe to most. But the traveling-trick was also laying out something important.It was showing you the battle grounds for where the killer will later pursue the leading girl.(Where that tray went earlier...so will the killer.) I thought this was kind of neat. For a low-budget movie, far from Hollywood, there was creative thought that went into this scene.
Matter of fact, it happens a lot throughout this film. For instance, we are introduced at the beginning of the movie to the leading girl sitting inside the top of an old tower. That said tower will also play an important part in the finale of the film, sort of creating a 'book-end' like effect for the movie. Simple, but, well thought out. I've always liked films that come full circle. 'Halloween 3:Season of the Witch' did it beautifully! (Characters in panic showed up at the same gas station in the beginning of the movie and at the end). A terrific film-circle!
Another big reason why this movie has suddenly turned me on after all these years was listening to the actor's comments on the dvd's special features. These people reflected back with loving memories about the shoot, especially the actor who played Radish. You can tell by listening to him how proud he is of the film. Everyone, including the makers involved in the film, seemed proud and humble. They laughed, they joked and really seemed to be having a great time talking about this little movie and their five minutes of fame. This made me like their characters even more. It sort of rounded them out for me.
If you're looking for gore, forget it. Like I said, it's sort of like a Halloween clone. But dry. Lots of mysterious shadows, wide shots of the campus and soft jingle, Halloween-style music.
There's the usual chit chat among college girls, a few randy sorority boys and a really obnoxious actor playing a big haired, jock named 'Wildman' who seems to be acting from no script in particular. Just kind of doing whatever he pleases. He's very unhinged and touchy-feely with most of the other actors. Especially nerdy Radish. He likes to bully Radish around quite a bit. But at the same times, seems to really like the little guy. Radish seems to be sweet on him as well, but, that's another story for another time. And, of course, because 'Wildman' is so over the top, he's gotta die horribly.
And finally, I have to note how much I love the murder scene of the trampy blond in the art gallery. It's very...on purpose. By design. Almost impressionistic. I think anyone studying horror films would find it very interesting. It's like a 'paint by numbers' Psycho homage. It's hard to explain. The girl looks up...the knife comes down...her leg drops...knife comes up...white sheet turns red...knife comes down...white sheet drops. It's a very robotic scene, motorized like, not at all interested with nudity, or gore, but fashion and manner. To many gorehounds, this murder scene will appear cheap and empty, but to me, it's odd and dreamlike. If you're a visual artist, and can appreciate things on a very low scale, you should check it out. If anyone out there fits this mold, and sort of gets where I'm coming from, write back, let me know. I would love to hear other people's point of view on this kills scene, or the movie in general.
When it comes to early slasher films, 'Final Exam' doesn't have much to offer to the formula, but if you look closely you can see a few things, here and there, where the makers had more than just exploitation on their minds. But once again, what's that old saying? Something about the 'eye of the beholder'. And this film definately pleases my eye. Thanx for reading...kEVIN bRIAN