Final Exam Blu-Ray Review
Blu-Ray Review- Final Exam
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: May 13th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, English DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, Color, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio
Runtime: 94 Minutes
“Some may pass the test…God help the rest.”
How could a filmmaker break away from the conventional slasher movies of the early 1980’s? If they took time to establish the characters, composed a simple yet unnerving score, and featured quality camera work, it might be possible. Jimmy Huston’s 1981 film Final Exam did exactly that, and while it’s not a superb Horror movie by any means, it’s certainly an underrated entry in the genre.
Following the rather typical opening involving the bloodless slashing of a couple parked lakeside for a midnight rendezvous, we proceed to Lanier College. It’s the end of the trimester, and students and staff are anxious to be through with final exams and eager to party, pack-up, and head home. We’re introduced to a stereotypical cast of characters: the jock “Wildman”, the macabre-obsessed nerd Radish, the naïve yet book-smart Courtney, the promiscuous Lisa, sleazy professors, and more.
Things start to look grim for our college friends when the knife-wielding killer from the nearby March college murders begins to pick them off, one by one. It doesn’t help that local police are hesitant to respond to distress calls after the Gamma Fraternity’s latest prank.
It’s easy to see how a film like Final Exam could have been lost in the shuffle of 80’s slasher films, only to recently be rediscovered and appreciated by a new generation of fans. The plot isn’t all that original, the characters (at a glance) are stereotypical, and it features yet another faceless maniac with mysterious motives. The difference here is absolutely in the execution, and Final Exam captured my attention from start to finish. The cast puts quite a bit of effort into making their characters believable, and for a genre film, the script isn’t half bad. Also worth noting is the impressive camera angles and cinematography, which again, is against the norm for the genre and period. An extended tracking shot through a dorm hallway, blood spraying on painted canvases, and the first person perspective of an automated dishwashing machine are just a few of the unique filmmaking examples within.
Those looking for a gore-fest may be slightly disappointed, as the majority of the kills feature little to no blood. But the nostalgia factor is huge here: from the early 80’s cheek-high gym shorts on DeAnna Robbins to the elaborately coiffed hair on the men, just add a dose of Horror into the mix, and you have yourself a highly entertaining concoction for a rainy Saturday night.
Working from a brand High Definition print taken from the original camera negative (courtesy of Code Red), Scream Factory has unleashed Final Exam onto Blu-Ray with a respectable transfer. While I got a little worried during the opening credits, which features a lot of scratches and spots, things clean up pretty quickly after that. The college campus features lush green lawns, character clothing and interior sets are well detailed and defined, and fine object detail is surprisingly clear, considering the age and film stock utilized. There are a few quick moments of light print damage throughout, but for the most part, there is a nice balance to the overall image, and the entire feature is devoid of any intrusive digital noise reduction or edge enhancement. This is clearly the best Final Exam has ever looked on home video.
The DTS-HD audio herein sounds authentic to the time period and budget of a film like this, and frankly, I was surprised by the dynamic power of this mono track. The creepy score by Gary Scott will be stuck in your head for days after viewing, and it sounds great here. Dialogue comes through very clean and clear, with the peak “kill” musical ascension working well enough to make me jump more than a few times. Background noise is appropriately balanced, such as birds chirping on campus during the daytime scenes, or papers and pencils shuffling in class. This is another area of strength on this release.
Scream Factory and Code Red have teamed up to provide a few worthwhile bonus features here, in fact, it’s more than enough to satisfy the niche audience that a film like this attracts. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary: The included commentary features some fun insight into the making of the film from actors Joel Rice, Cecile Bagdadi, and Sherry Willis-Burch. Though they do seem to talk over each other quite a bit, it’s an engaging commentary and the featured cast seems to have a fun time reminiscing about their past efforts, as well as what they’ve been up to lately.
- Interviews: Featuring a static camera angle of the individual actors on a couch, these aren’t the usual polished and well-edited interviews we’ve come to expect from Scream Factory’s previous releases, but it’s less about the production and more about the fun content. We get recently filmed interviews from cast members Joel Rice (Radish), Cecile Bagdadi (Courtney), and Sherry Willis-Burch (Janet). The questions posed to the actors are presented as simple white type against a black backdrop, with the filmed responses thereafter. Joel Rice is especially fun to listen to here, with some fun memories to share from the making of the movie. It would have been fun to see if anyone could have tracked down DeAnna Robbins, as she seems to have disappeared from the acting world in the late 1980’s.
- Theatrical Trailer: Running about a minute and a half, this original trailer is in very rough shape, but it’s still fun to have it included on the release.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray release from Scream Factory comes with a stylish cover art design featuring the original theatrical poster for the film: the killer’s silhouette cast against the Lanier college campus backdrop on a full moon night. It definitely captures the mood of the film. On the reverse of the case you’ll find a synopsis for the film, the aforementioned special features listed, and a few technical specifications. On the inside you’ll find some nice disc art that mirrors the cover art, and a bloody background design. Well done!
What Final Exam lacks in originality, it makes up for with a fun script, eerie score, dedicated genre performances, and unique cinematography. The Blu-Ray from Scream Factory retains authentic film grain and accurate color reproduction, but features frequent light damage throughout. The good news is that for the Horror genre, those minor issues often just add to the nostalgia factor. The audio track delivers the dialogue and chills appropriately, and there are some fun special features included as well. I had a great time with Final Exam, and it’s the perfect 80’s slasher for a stormy spring night. Recommended.