Originally issued by Code Red when they were distributed by BCI a few years ago and then reissued by Scorpion Releasing as part of their Katarina's Nightmare Theater line, Jimmy Huston's 1981 slasher Final Exam now debuts on Blu-ray as a collaborative release between Code Red and Shout! Factory's horror imprint, Scream Factory.
The film begins with a pair of college students making out in a car only to get sliced and diced by an unseen maniac. From here we cut to the campus of Lanier College where students are hustling and bustling all over the place because, as the title implies, it's Final Exam time. First and foremost is an effeminate nerdy guy named Radish (Joel S. Rice) who gets word of the killing and assumes the worse is yet to come. Radish has some sort of serial killer paranoia going on and is evidently fixated on the dark side of humanity. This means he's the first to freak out when a bunch of frat boys show up in a van dressed like terrorists and sporting ski masks and machine guns, opening fire at various students who drop dead right there on the grass. It turns out to be nothing more than an elaborate joke, but a dumb jock named Wildman (Ralph Brown) doesn't think it's too funny when the sheriff gives him trouble. Oh, and the coach is getting ready to go bow hunting with the alcoholic security guard… we can't forget that part.
While Radish is prepping for his tests and making goo-goo eyes at a cute coed named Courtney (Cecile Bagdadi) the jocks are stealing test papers, the faculty members are making out and frat boys are being tied to trees and doused with ice, all normal collage life activity, for the most part. This all changes rather suddenly when a chubby guy with dark hair (Tim Raynor) shows up out of nowhere and starts slaughtering everyone in sight, be it in the kitchen or the dorm room or right out there on the campus lawn.
Say what you will about this one, slasher fans, but it's nothing if not unpredictable. While most movies of this kind keep a steady flow of murders going throughout the movie to build up tension and suspense and keep us scared, here we start off with a bang and then basically spend an hour or so watching frat boys do dumb stuff and watching Radish drink Irish whiskey and flirt with Courtney. There's really no build up here, nothing to indicate that a serial killer is making his way here nor any reason given why he would do what he does. He simply shows up an hour in, lumbers around a few buildings, sneaks his way down a dumb waiter that doesn't look like it would be big enough for him, and then kills people.
It might sound like this would all be a chore to sit through but amazingly, it's not. Final Exam is slow, yes, and it isn't all that gory and it certainly isn't sexy but it is a fun movie thanks to some interesting and enjoyable characters, first and foremost, Courtney and Radish. It's fun to watch these two dorky kids kinda-sorta flirt with one another and we get to know them enough to like them by the time it all hits the fan. Then there's Wildman, the biggest, dumbest jock on the entire campus and so convinced of his own status that he runs around with his name on his shirt. If he's not launching Columbine style terrorist attacks in the name of humor (and stealing tests) then he's trying to steal pills to sell to stoners or engaging in homoerotic hazing rituals. If this movie were simply ninety minutes of Wildman doing his thing, for some that would probably be enough to warrant a recommendation right there. By the time we actually get to the killings, it's almost secondary, but they are reasonably well done if only moderately gory. Raynor, as lumbering and dopey as he is at times, can make an imposing presence, something he proves in the big finale where he finally meets face to face with the last girl standing. He's never given a name or a motive, but that makes him all the more interesting in some ways, simply because that doesn't happen very often in slasher movies. There's something to be said for the film's almost charming simplicity and if it's not always the scariest horror movie ever made, it somehow manages to rise above itself and hold our interest.
Final Exam gets an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer (from the original camera negative, according to the packaging) framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. While the opening credits show a fair bit of minor print damage, once we move past that things shape up quite nicely. Detail is noticeably improved over the last DVD release (which was, to its credit, quite good) and colors look a bit more bold and more strongly pronounced without appearing oversaturated. Skin tones look good, nice and warm but not too pink or too orange and black levels remain solid. There is some minor crush in some of the darker scenes but not obvious noise reduction to complain about, as the noticeable and natural looking film grain will indicate. Some small white specks show up throughout the movie but outside of that print damage is never a big deal. For an older, low budget slasher movie, Final Exam looks really good here.
The English language DTS-HD Mono mix that's on this disc is also solid. There are no alternate language options provided but there are removable English subtitles included for those who want them. Dialogue is clean, clear and easy to follow and there aren't any real problems to note with any audible hiss or distortion. Levels remain balanced and the score has some good depth to it. The range is obviously and understandably limited by the source material but there are no problems here, the single channel track sounds just fine.
The extras kick off with an audio commentary featuring cast members Sherry Willis-Burch, Cecile Bagdadi and Joel Rice moderated by Julia Marchese from the New Beverly Cinema and Deron Miller, carried over from that original Code Red DVD release that happened through BCI. As you'd probably guess, given that there are five participants here, it's a pretty active track with each of the three actors talking about how they landed their respective roles, what it was like working with director Jimmy Houston and more. They talk about the use of comedy in the movie, the way that the movie makes you wait for the carnage with its attempts to build tension, how great it is that Raddish takes on Wild Man, the surprise appearance of the stuffed green dinosaur, and a theory about how identical twin killers may actually be responsible for the killings in the film. It's a fun track, very well paced, informative and often times quite funny. The Scorpion DVD release included a commentary track with producer Myron Meisel that has not been ported over to this Blu-ray release.
Aside from that, look for a few cast interviews featuring input from Sherry Willis-Burch (4:59), Cecile Bagdadi (3:44) and of course, Radish himself, Joel Rice (6:47). Each interviewee talks about how they heard about the movie and how they came on board, what it was like working on the project and what they've been up to since the movie was made. These were included on the last DVD release as well. A trailer for the feature is also included as are some animated menus and chapter selection.
Though it takes its time getting going, Final Exam is a pretty entertaining slasher film that, while lacking the excessive gore and nudity the genre is known for, manages to hold our interest with a few interesting characters and wacky set pieces. This Blu-ray release from Scream Factory carries over all of Code Red's extras but omits Scorpion's producer's commentary but it offers a pretty nice upgrade in the A/V department. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.