Thursday, September 27, 2012

Put Down Your Pencils: "Final Exam" (1981)

Cecile Bagdadi is the virginal girl hero in this terrible horror flick.

The film opens with the murder of two college lovers. The killer opens up their convertible top, and makes do with a big knife. Fine, we have the opening murders, now for ninety minutes of suspense and gore as other students are killed one by one until the killer is exposed as...wait, we are getting ahead of ourselves.

As other students from a different college react to the killings, it is still final exam week. The local frat house stages a mock terrorist attack, complete with machine guns and students falling dead. This elaborate scene is reported to the police by the local nerd (named Radish for reasons never explained). The two jocks who are yelled at by the redneck sheriff decide to take revenge on Radish. One of the jocks is Wildman, a big stupid oaf whose murder you may find yourself cheering for: "look, Mr. Killer, that guy would bleed real good." Anyhoo, Radish and Bagdadi grow closer.

The jocks terrorize some poor pledge, stripping him down to his underwear and tying him to a tree because he gave his pledge pin to his girlfriend. The chemistry professor is having sex with that pretty blond student, they really do have more fun, and the two make plans for a midnight clandestine meeting in the almost abandoned instructors' offices. This is the last day of final exams, and the campus is almost empty, save the old drunk security guard who is going to go hunting with the redneck sheriff if he can stay off the gin and juice. A creepy bell tower will play a pivotal role, as a girl killed herself last year by throwing herself off of it after a hazing incident...

HOLD IT, wait a minute, Charles, you idiot, where is the gore? The violence? The body count? Why are you boring us with this stupid plot summary taken from a nightmarish episode of "A Different World"? Because, my dear readers (and I mean that sentiment), the film opens with the two pretty blood free murders, AND THEN NO ONE DIES FOR ALMOST A SOLID HOUR.

Oh, sure, we get the shadowy figure of the killer, skulking around campus. He gets more point of view shots than Shakira on VH1's "Being" show. Director Huston, who shares a last name with the great John Huston, and nothing more, gives us such scenes as "point of view shot of a cafeteria tray riding the dumb waiter down to the kitchen" and more fake jump scares than you can shake a ten inch butcher knife at. Huston, who also "wrote" this, gets so caught up in this fantasy campus life, I kept forgetting I was supposed to be watching a horror film.

Once the maniac starts killing again, we get the standard routine: victim enters dark room, talks to whoever he thinks is playing a trick on him, is killed, body hidden in an easy to find location. The killer's main super power here is the ability to turn lights on and off. That is all he does to freak out these learned leaders of the future. Lights on, lights off, lights on. Gym scoreboard off, gym scoreboard on, gym scoreboard off.

The one maddening aspect of the film (just one?) is the fact that the killer is never identified! Put away your "Murder She Wrote" casebook, retire your Sherlock Holmesian detecting skills; the guy just wandered onto campus to kill. He dies, end of movie. No motive, no explanation.

The one good scene? The killer falls from about four floors inside an abandoned bell tower type structure. The stunt is good, is shot from different angles, and marks the only time in the film I said "cool."

"Final Exam" is a silly slasher film. Do not waste your money, that is what I am here for. I do not recommend it. (*) out of five stars.