It is no great mystery as to why the 1980s saw an incredible boom in the release of slasher films. With the overwhelming triumph of John Carpenter’s hit horror classic Halloween in 1978 and Friday the 13th in 1980, it seems that absolutely everyone wanted in on a slice of the action. And, I mean – how could they not? Slasher films were wildly popular, at the time. They were extremely cheap to make and they almost always guaranteed a sizeable return at the box office. As formulaic as they may have been, it was a formula that worked. And who can argue with success, right?

It was a simple process. Just throw a mask onto a knife-wielding maniac and then turn him loose. Allow him to wreak some sweet, low-swinging havoc on a group of teenage revelers. Tear a few throats open, whip out a couple of tee-taws – you’ve got yourself one heck of a movie there, sport. It’s the very best kind of science. But I digress, the movie that we’ll be discussing today comes straight out of this golden age of slashers. So, sit back, relax, and crack open a cold one because here is another Reviews in Retrospect: Final Exam (1981).

A screenshot from the 1981 horror film Final Exam. It shows a police officer confronting a group of teenagers.
From left to right: Ralph Brown, Joel S. Rice, and Sam Kilman as they appear in Final Exam (1981)

Reviews 101: Hitting the Books

The film Final Exam debuted in the winter of February 1981 and was directed by Jimmy Huston. It stars Cecile Bagdadi, Joel S. Rice, and Timothy L. Raynor in its major roles. From a background standpoint, there isn’t much to say in regards to the director. Huston has a limited resume in terms of the films that he has worked on, both before and after 1981. That’s not to say that this lack of credits makes him is a bad director, though. Final Exam is actually shot quite well. The film features decent character development throughout, and the cast of actors that appear in the film give much better performances than one would expect coming out of a no-name ’80s slice-and-dice picture.

Although it does boast these few saving graces, they aren’t nearly enough to make Final Exam stand out as a great horror film. For starters, it doesn’t even feel like a horror film for the majority of its running time. There is almost no sense of tension or dread to speak of. No mounting terror that looms overhead as the plot progresses. The story, which is somewhat lacking, tends to drag on a bit. After the initial death scene at the beginning of the film, it takes a very long time to get back into the action – which is really what we’re all here to see in the first place. The kills, which are an integral part of what makes or breaks a slasher film, all have a disappointing tendency to fall flat. It is a long build-up with no discernable pay-off waiting at the end.

Reviews 104: Examining Final Exam

The plot, which is a standard affair for the genre, is centered around a group of college students who are in the home stretch of exams week on their local campus. Although there are a few of them who are genuinely interested in studying, for the most part their collective minds seem to be elsewhere. The order of the day is partying and conducting official frat business. Final Exam, for this reason, comes across as more of a college party film than a horror one.

But make no mistake, although it’s sparse through about 80% or so of the film, the story does contain an element of horror in it. It has to have some justification to be appearing on a horror media site, after all. While all of this jubilation and cramming is going on, a shadowy figure is stalking the students from afar, waiting for an opportunity to strike.

A screenshot from the 1981 horror film Final Exam. It shows an old campus security taunting a naked man who is tied to a tree.
Terry W. Farren is tied to a tree wearing only underpants in a frat house prank in Final Exam (1981)

Making the Grade

Overall, I must say that Final Exam isn’t an irredeemable piece of crap – but it’s nothing really special either. Personally, I don’t feel like watching it was a total waste of my time or energy but, concurrently, I also don’t feel moved by it in any profound sort of way. It comes across as something I’d have watched on TV as a kid and enjoyed, but then promptly forgotten about afterward. I guess that, in summary, the main point that I’m trying to get across is a resounding: “meh“.

After some careful consideration, I award the film Final Exam (1981) with a humble 3 out of 5 Cthulhus. I’m not wild about it, but I also don’t walk away from the experience with a strong desire to tar and feather the people responsible.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

If you enjoyed Reviews in Retrospect: Final Exam (1981), then please feel free to check out our other Reviews in Retrospect, here.

L.J. Lewis


About the Author

L.J. Lewis is a freelance writer hailing from the Niagara Region in Ontario, Canada. When he isn't writing, he can often be found sewing pilfered body parts together in his underground lair.

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