Review Date: September 18, 2008
Released by: BCI
Release date: 09/23/2008
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
For all the fans out there, that day has comeÖFinal Exam
is on DVD. God help the rest! It was one of the first slashers Iíd ever seen when I picked up the film used for a couple bucks at a mom and pop shop years ago. As someone new to college, I appreciated it as some sort of post-secondary ideal. Fraternities, hazing, drunk security guards and a guy who wears the name ďWildmanĒ on a football jersey. If thatís what you get at college in the States, then I was ripped off.
Now though, after seeing dozens of other slashers, itís become clear to me why I love this film so much. Itís different. From the frivolous frat hijinks to the portly schlub of a killer, itís just got all these aspects that scant slashers have ever attempted before or since. Code Red, who produced this DVD, and BCI, who released it, are in a class of their own for finally releasing this class classic. Itís one of those rare films, like Troll 2
, Ghoulies Go To College
or The Pit
that Iíll stick my neck out for no matter what. And with a slasher brandishing a butcher knife on the loose, my neck might just get sliced clean off!
This might sound familiar. A college couple are making out in a convertible on a serene summerís night. A killer steps out from behind a tree to see the sin. Yeah, we know whatís coming. Then, out of nowhere, thereís this amazingly drawn out, almost absurd if it werenít so inexplicably sincere loverís quarrel about the manís feelings for his date. ďDo you love me?Ē She asks. He sort of mumbles. She asks again. Then again. Then again until finally she gets some sort of a response. This continues until finally a union is inaugurated. And then the killer rips open the top, drags the guy onto the roof of the car, and stabs the shit out of him right in front of his necking partner. Throw out that cheat sheet, though, because from this point on, this exam is completely different.
That was a different college, weíre now at Lanier College, where everyoneís gearing up for final exams. Thereís the mop top nerd complete with pocket protector and flamboyant confidence, Radish (Joel S. Rice
). Yeah, Radish. Then thereís his wholesome friend and Final Girl, Jamie Lee Curtis clone Courtney (Cecile Bagdadi
). Thereís the jock who needs to get an 82% so his parents will keep making car payments, the hot girl who sleeps her way through to good grades, and finally Wildman (Ralph Brown
). Think Bluto from Animal House
, Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds
and an autistic Jack Russell terrier melded into a trinity of frat boy awesome. He eats shaving cream, applies deodorant outside of his clothes and gets off by pouring ice cubes down pledgesí underpants. Heís a legend. Before the killer gets him and the others though, Wildman pulls off one of the greatest stunts in campus movie history.
In order to help his buddy get that 82%, Wildman organizes a truck load of his jock buddies to storm the campus with machine guns shooting down accomplices armed with squibs in one huge faux mass murder. Before Virgnia, Taber and Columbine, someone thought it was a good idea to pretend to shoot ten people in a campus courtyard just so buddy could get enough time to hand in his forged 82% test. Thatís elaborate, and thatís awesome. Thatís Wildman. Heís not done yet, though. Heís got to tie one of the pledges naked to a tree and then try to find some speed for a couple paying freshman. Weíre at 40 minutes and nobody has died yet.
It doesnít really speed up much, either, since Radish and Courtney have a few heart to hearts in her dorm about the state of the world, the nature of death, and just how pretty her hair looks. He even lets her try some of his Scottish whiskey. Thereís also some drama with the C. Thomas Howell-looking pledge whoís been tied to a tree. Apparently he gave his belle, Janet (Sherry Willis-Burch
), his pledge pin, and sheís not sure if she wants to move that fast! But enough is enough, the chubby stalker with a green jacket and jeans is ready to ominously walk his way into a sizable body count.
This is the first movie on the site Iíve given four paragraphs to in synopsis, and it probably deserves a few more. Formula just does not apply here, and its eccentricities are many and its delights even more so. It shifts gears like a twelve year old in a standard, jumping from romance to horror, frat comedy to character drama, stalling in a shoot Ďem up and then finally kicking back into slasher. Itís just crazy, and itís all the better for it.
All the frat fun for the first half hour sort of predates Hostel
in its genre bending mesh of college comedy and horror, replacing the usual lulls after the post-opening kill with some amusing bits of location setting and character development. Director Jimmy Huston does not skimp on the latter, and itís all the elongated bits of character moments, from Wildmanís savage one shot where he seemingly eats every bit of set dressing regardless of whether itíd edible or not to Radish and his conspiracy theories that really sets the movie apart. All these characters rise well above their clichťd archetypes to create slasher characters you can actually tell apart, and actually care about. Wildman and Radish are forever in my great character lexicon, and Radishís weird love confession to Courtney is no doubt one of the most awkwardly touching moments in slasher lore. I love this film because I love these characters.
If Iím gushing over characters, then respect must be given to Timmy Raynor, who played the hefty, always walking sometimes judo chopping killer. Iíve always maintained that the killers you could pull off the street are the scariest, which is why other burly killers like Madman Marz or Lt. Chris McCabe from Donít Answer the Phone
make such convincing villains. This chubby party crasher is made even better though, by his ambiguity. He never speaks, never has a motive or never comes out of shadow. Heís the killer made abstract. Heís not just an elemental example of Robin Woodís return of the repressed. He is repression. The love tryst at the start, the test cheating, the whiskey drinking, the pill stealing, the test stealing and the love unfulfilled all get their due visit from punishing fate, and that dark motiveless killer makes it all the more blunt. This isnít about a pretentious twist non-twist like The Strangers
. This is taking the Id and giving it a shape. Courtneyís a psych major, after all.
The killer keeps coming, but again, thereís no formula. What makes the film so watchable is that it feels nearly plotless, almost reality show-like in its focus on the now rather than the outcome or the message. Itís about kids in college who just happen to fall victim to a force stalking the campus. Itís both amazingly simple in approach, and amazingly abstract, depending on whether youíre looking at it from the kidsí or the killerís perspective. Itís all so blithe though, and every so often you just want to dust off Final Exam
and give it another spin. Howís Radish doing with his conspiracy theories? What pranks does Wildman have up his sleeve next? And just how on earth does the stocky killer cut a guy down from the trunk of a tree, only to emerge seconds later from the top branch? Such is awe of Final Exam
It should be celebration enough that this is finally here on DVD. Who cares if thereís a recurring jitter throughout many of the scenes? Who cares if itís at times soft? Who cares if the dark areas are dancing with off blues and big grain? The point is that itís here, and that even with all the print imperfections, BCI/Code Red has done a solid job restoring this bad boy. The Embassy VHS was open matte, but this restores the mostly better 1.85:1 compositions, in both anamorphic and progressively scanned glory. The best part is no doubt the colors, which really pop. All that campus foliage never seemed so green, and every other color, from flesh tones to Wildmanís red jersey, looks perfectly vivid. Itís not a pristine source, but for those brought up on the VHS, this is the improvement that we can all confidently give a pass to.
Thereís no notable hiss, but the sound isnít in the greatest condition. Itís pretty quiet, youíll have to jack up the dial quite a bit to hear what Radish is ranting about next. The nice prototypical slasher score by Gary Scott comes through a little muffled, but still remains effective. Itís a step up from VHS, but not quite the improvement that the image quality is.
Once again, folks, the brothers Olsen at Code Red pull through with some more great retrospective finds. The two leads come out separately on camera, and then together in commentary, along with the girl who could do nothing but fuss about her pledge pin, Sherry Willis-Burch. We get interviews with Burch, Final Girl Cecile Bagdadi and the man, the myth, the Radish, Joel Rice. Of all the finds Code Red has dug up over the years for their discs, this one has to be my favorite. Truly a character and a unique presence in his time, it was interesting to see how Rice has changed and how heís still very much the same. All three of them answer a lot of questions in their relatively brief sit down interviews, but still cover a fair bit of ground. It was enlightening hearing from Bagdadi how she just graduated from high school when she got the part, and how it was nerve wracking being on her first set. My only gripe? Whereís Wildman!?
For those looking for a little more breadth, thereís a commentary with all three participants and a couple moderators to keep it spicy. The mods make sure to hit all the pertinent questions, and the actors do their best to answer, with a lot of fun happening on all the parts in between. Iíd planed on only listening to the first bit before I called it a night, but I ended up watching the whole film once more just to hear everything they all had to say.
The disc is rounded off with a totally perfect theatrical trailer that encapsulates everything that is awesome about slasher marketing. Thereís also a bunch of other ads for other BCI product like Prime Evil
, The Hearse
, Blood Mania
Thereís certainly a reason why Halloween
, Friday the 13th
and Prom Night
still get talk today, but for all of those forgotten slashers, Final Exam
should be graded near the top of the pack. Itís got some fun campus pranks to ease the film through the first half, and a truly memorable cast of characters to get it through the rest. Wildman, Radish and that chubby killer are cards you wonít soon forget. Code Red and BCI make this a no brainer for slasher fans to pick up, given the infectiously fun commentary and the where are they now interviews. The image and sound quality are solid, if flawed from years of low budget preservation. Slasher cohorts, I urge you to pick this up, for this is an Exam
youíll study long after the taking!
Movie - A-
Image Quality - B+
Sound - C+
Supplements - B+
- Running time - 1 hour 30 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- Audio commentary with stars Joel Rice, Cecile Bagdadi and Sherry Willis-Burch
- Interviews with Joel Rice, Cecile Bagdadi and Sherry Willis-Burch
- Theatrical trailer
- BCI trailers