COED is counting down to Halloween with “Horror U,” a Halloween-ready celebration of 31 killer fright flicks set on (or around) college campuses. Your professor scare-meritus for today’s entry is Mike “McBeardo” McPadden–author of Heavy Metal Movies: Guitar Barbarians, Mutant Bimbos, & Cult Zombies Amok in the 666 Most Ear- and Eye-Ripping Big Scream Films Ever! (Bazillion Points, 2014).
Before college campus shootings became the stuff of real-life terror, the ’80s slasher flick Final Exam utilized the prospect as a funny fraternity prank. How times have changed, huh?
To be sure, Final Exam opens up with a collegiate lover’s lane couple getting carved up by an unseen mad butcher, but then it progresses to a relatively straightforward, maybe even understated omnibus of life among Lanier College students during the last tests of the semester.
Suddenly, from nowhere, a black van pulls up outside a classroom building and a bunch of scary mofos in ski masks leap out with machine guns, opening fire on everyone and everything in sight. Several bystanders explode blood and guts. The dead get dragged inside the van, which speeds off and—wah-wah!—the corpses crack up laughing, the gunmen ditch their disguises, and we see it was all just a goof mounted by the lovable loons of Gamma Delta. Imagine trying that today. Actually, don’t! Really. Please. Don’t!
From there, Final Exam takes nearly a full hour to get back to any legitimate bloodletting. Prior to that, it does actually contain numerous final exam sequences, along with more frat hazing, a suave college dude romancing a sorority sister, a likable nerd, a cool professor, a drunk janitor, a so-obnoxious-he’s admirable jock named “Wildman”, and a coach with a penchant for bow-hunting. In its final 25 minutes or so, Final Exam also manages to work in some standard elements of a horror film.
The thing is, though: it works. For all its weird back-loading of stalk-and-kill suspense, jump scares, and a solid, intimidating hulk of murderous villain, Final Exam is surprisingly compelling en route to the mass slaughter payoff. Perhaps it’s because the glimpse of collegiate comings-and-goings circa 1981 prove so oddly entertaining, but this talky, melodramatic movie actually gets a little less interesting once the horror properly starts. Go figure.
Regardless, when the blades at last are drawn and the student bodies pile up, Final Exam delivers some sufficient jolts. It earns its special edition Blu-ray. Gorehounds and those repulsed by early Reagan-era fashions might not make it through, but that’s when we invoke the movie’s potent tagline: “Some will pass the test… God help the rest!”
Previously at Horror U: