Monday, October 1, 2018

Hazing Is Hell

It's weird when I discover an '80s slasher that I didn't know existed. Surely it must be a long-buried diamond shining through the rough!

Or maybe it's just Final Exam.

Quick Plot: After the most "couple making out in car gets hacked by a mysterious killer" scene of a couple making out in a car getting hacked by a mysterious killer (with the world's most glorious dummy death to boo), we move the action to the last week at Lanier College, an isolated liberal arts school.

Jocks bully the nerds, sorority sisters pine about their boyfriends, good girls study hard, and the frat bros stage the world's worst aged mass shooting prank in order to pass a chemistry final. As a result, the local grumpy sheriff vows to never listen to the students' calls again, which is great when, you know, your job description implies that you're responsible for their safety and stuff.

After a good 58 minutes of college shenanigans, Final Exam finally turns into a slasher. A tame, rather suspension-free slasher that hunts down its characters with all the energy of a long distance runner hitting a wall and crawling to the finish line. 

Written and directed by My Best Friend Is a Vampire's Jimmy Huston, Final Exam was a prime target of the Video Nasty witch hunt. While it hits most of the beats of the Dead Teenager subgenre, it's also surprisingly tame. Despite centering itself on young coeds, the film shows no nudity (unless you count an unlucky frat pledge in his underwear). Most of the violence involves little blood, and ironically, the hardest scene to watch is the boy-that-aged-poorly shooting prank.

There's some fun to be had with some of the characters, all played by unknown actors who mostly manage to create real people worth caring about (or in the case of the horrid frat boys, wishing true violence upon). Still, nobody comes to this kind of film looking for minor drama about being pinned or seducing your married chemistry professor after your piano recital. Unfortunately, with its blank villain, Final Exam's final act doesn't particularly justify an hourlong after-college special.

High Points
As hard as I'm being on the film's odd pacing and insistence on getting to know these kids, there is some decent character work by Cecile Bagdadi and Joel S. Rice. A film about the insecure brainy beauty and self-aware death-obsessed genius could have genuinely made an interesting story in itself

Low Points
Not every '80s villain needs a complex backstory, but it's a little unsatisfying to learn everything there is to know about a film's victims and absolutely nothing about our killer aside from his extreme skill at catching arrows with his bare hands

Lessons Learned
Fraternities in the 1980s (and possibly today) were populated by certified sociopaths

When breaking in to a professor's office for the expellable offense of stealing an exam, you should probably avoid wearing a t-shirt with nothing but your name printed on the back

Having a sheriff come to your aide during his early dinner time is an actual crime

Final Exam is certainly worth a watch for slasher completists, but it doesn't offer that much else for the casual horror fan. It's streaming in fuzzy glory via Amazon Prime.

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