CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS AND DROPPED JAWS
Here's an odd little statistic: among the 27 films reviewed in the July 1981 issue of the Monthly Film Bulletin are The Bogey Man, Friday The 13th Part 2, Happy Birthday To Me, Scared To Death, Schizoid and Terror Eyes. Six horror movies in one month's worth of new releases, four of which were slasher films. In the wake of the double-whammy of Halloween and Friday The 13th it was suddenly acceptable to make, distribute or watch movies with mad axe murderers knocking off babysitters, students, cheerleaders and football jocks. Happy days. Of course, not everything that came out of that teenkill craze was up to the highest standards: certainly, some of the Friday The 13th sequels were kind of fun (I have a soft spot for the largely unloved Part 5, probably because it was my first), Halloween II has some nice moments, and Rosemary's Killer (aka The Prowler) has always been a favourite of mine, but there were at least as many terrible ones. To All A Goodnight, The Burning, Madman, Hell Night, Halloween IV, Silent Scream, Graduation Day. But here is probably the least even of that second-string crowd: a film that doesn't just make Prom Night look good, it makes the Prom Night remake look good.
Final Exam starts off as it doesn't mean to go on: two canoodling teenagers in a car get bumped off by mystery maniac. But the film then turns into some kind of fifth-rate campus sitcom of young love, horny teachers and fraternity initiations which isn't interrupted nearly enough by the mystery maniac lurking about. Indeed, the main highlight of the opening half hour comes when the Gamma Fraternity stage a mock school shooting as a hilarious prank just so their leader can cheat on his chemistry exam - a scene which feels wildly out of place now that reality has overtaken comedy. Suddenly, a scene in which a married teacher arranges a midnight date with a hot pupil is no longer the most problematic thing about the movie. Eventually Jimmy Huston (no apparent relation to John) remembers he's been hired to make a slasher film and not an Animal House sequel, and obligingly wheels on the maniac again for a final twenty minutes of stabbing and running around.
You don't even get the traditional mystery element of who the killer might actually be - is it the creepy janitor? Is it the nerdy kid with posters of Toolbox Murders and The Corpse Grinders on his wall? Is it the father of the student who supposedly killed herself there some time ago? - because the mad killer turns out to be just a mad killer. He's not out for revenge or lust, he's not a long-lost brother or a crusading moralist, the man is not even given a name. Logic isn't involved very much either: sure, there's a slight Boo! jump scare when he leaps out of a barrel at one of his victims, but how could he possibly have known the kid would walk past at the right moment? And pretty much everyone is eye-wateringly stupid and it's thus impossible to care when Mister X finally shows up and stabs them.
Largely forgotten these days, Final Exam somehow slipped onto the online streaming services in gorgeous HD and widescreen, making a mockery of its old VHS incarnation. It's still utter, utter, absolute rubbish, though, and the film's inclusion on the DPP's Forfeiture list from the Video Nasty days is literally all it has going for it. Campus slasher nostalgics might get some fun out of it, but few others will.