At some point in my lifetime, I think the name Artisan attached to a film generally indicated a modicum of quality, or barring quality, at least it denoted "interesting" and "indie". Didn’t it? Or am I making that up? I could be making that up, I’m not sure. Sometimes my memories get foggy and I can’t tell what’s real and what’s not real, what happened, and what I think happened. Like, I know for sure that some WWF wrestlers came to my high school…there was a ring set up in the gymnasium and the wrestlers…err, wrestled. I know this for a fact because I was there. Somehow, however, the idea that The Iron Sheik spit on me during said event has wormed its way into the memory, and I have no clue if that actually happened or not. Probably not; it seems like something so traumatic that you’d definitely remember, don’t you think? But there it is, floating around in my brain anyway.
As to Artisan, whatever that name used to mean no longer applies to their post-Blair Witch horror offerings . As absolute proof of this, I offer Final Examination, a 2003 Andrea Doria-sized stinker from director Fred Olen Ray that begs the question, “why weren’t you all at my house watching it with me so I wouldn’t have had to suffer alone?”
Yeah, THAT Fred Olen Ray, he who brought Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers to the masses, is behind this dreck. If only Final Examination had the same patina of joyful sleaze of other Fred Olen Ray films, then it may have been redeemed; when Fred Olen Ray directs under a pseudonym, however- he’s “Ed Raymond” here- one should take that as a sign of what’s to come. What’s to come, of course, is THE SUCK.
Some girl is driving and crying (but not listening to Drivin’-n-Cryin’) and then she drives and cries herself right off an overpass that’s still under construction. The car explodes in a fiery fireball and then, POOF! It’s five years later.
One guy is buying drugs from another guy on the streets of LA- just another day in the City of Angels, man. The attaché case (silver, natch) containing the money is handed over, but the buyer has duped the dope pushers! The case is full of confetti, which makes the dealer angry, which means it’s time for a car chase. I watched the chase sequence once and thought “Sweet mama, that was a lot of cuts!”, so in the interests of both science and Final Girl readers, I watched the sequence again in order to count the cuts….then my eyeballs exploded. The final tally? 130 cuts in 2.5 minutes. It was like watching that Wang Chung video which caused seizures in children except there was no Wang Chung. And BTDubb to aspiring filmmakers everywhere- all those cuts make for a lousy chase sequence.
Anyway, a few minutes later we learn that the man who bought the drugs is actually a cop- a cop who flips the bird to the rules! A cop who tells The Man to shove it! A cop who wears the gayest watch ever!
As the cop, who shall heretofore be known as Hot Shot Detective, is getting bitched out by his Captain, the Captain asks “What time is it?” at which point we get the close up of the lovely pink watch. Hot Shot Detective says “2:30”, to which the Captain replies “Wrong! It’s time for a change! You’re getting transferred!” – it seems the ridiculous car chase went against procedure and lawsuits ensued. Now, I think in these situations, cops are usually transferred to another department, aren't they? Fuck up too many times, and you’re on desk duty or back on the streets or given leave or simply fired; Hot Shot Detective, however, gets transferred to Hawaii. Wah wah, please, don’t make me go. Tropical paradises are such a fucking drag.
Aside RE: the watch: for some reason, Fred Olen Ray seems to think we need to both see and hear the time in this scene. When I was treated to the close-up of the watch, I figured, gee, that watch- or perhaps the hour itself- must surely be important and will most likely come into play later on in the film! In the end, however, neither the time nor the watch has any significance whatsoever. Then why would the director use such a superfluous shot? The answer, of course, is that this is simply the way of Final Examination. It is not for us to question.
The sorority skanks of Alpha Gamma Gummi Bear have been invited to Hawaii for a mysterious impromptu five year reunion, where they’ll also be photographed for Cavalier Magazine. The girls are going to be centerfolds, you see, in a feature one imagines to be titled “No Really, They Still Count As Hot College Girls Despite the Fact That They Graduated Five Years Ago”. Though the girls do admittedly find the whole affair a bit odd, they couldn’t refuse the offer- after all, Cavalier Magazine was founded by Derek Simmons (Winton Nicholson), a dashing and wealthy dot com entrepreneur the girls are all enamoured with and oh god please let him be single! When Derek Simmons finally shows up, the girls are still drooling, but I thought hmm. Hey, he looks like the love child of that weirdo MTV taxi cab driver as portrayed by Donal Logue and Toby, the nerd from American Splendor. What a stud!
We’re treated to an oddly silent photo shoot (B-movie mainstay Debbie Rochon is behind the camera this time) and then Final Examination finally reveals its true colors with a jacuzzi scene featuring one of the skanks and her boyfriend: yes folks, Final Examination wants to be a softcore porn movie. We’ve got the smooth jazz/chicka bow music, we’ve got painful looking breast implants on display, we’ve got a jacuzzi…but the one ingredient missing, the one ingredient that’s kind of, you know, essential to a softcore flick- is sex. The couple makes out some and I guess we’re supposed to think that means they’re having sex. And boy, was it awesome! A moment later, after all, the girl quips “Damn, baby, you could raise the dead!” to which the boy replies “Yeah? Look who’s talking!” GOD THAT’S HOT.
The boy wanders off to get some water- some water!- and the girl is attacked in the hot tub by a figure dressed in black. The figure strangles her awkwardly with a rope and leaves a calling card…omigod what can it all mean? I must admit, at this point in the proceedings I already figured out who the killer is. Yay me.
Now that we have a crime on our hands, it’s time to bring in the fuzz- Hot Shot Detective (Brent Huff) and his new partner Julie Seska (Kari Wuhrer) are on the case. From this point on, Final Examination turns into the worst episode of Silk Stalkings you ever could have thought possible, except it’s got boobs. The detectives bumble their way through the case- seriously, I’ve seen better policing done by my cats as they try to solve The Case of the String on a Stick. As I said, though, Final Examination wants to be softcore and it’s got boobs. Lots and lots of fake boobs trotted out whenever possible, including once for that old horror movie standby, the superfluous shower scene. One of the skanks hops in the shower as the smooth jazz begins, and the camera pans up and down slowly 5 or 6 times, always crossfading when it gets to the crotchal region. Final Examination reminds us that boobs can enliven even the dullest scene, such as the one where a skank has a scintillating phone conversation (“Hello? You want to meet at 10:30? OK. See you then!”) whilst topless.
The truth of the matter is, for all the bare breasts and smooth jazz, Final Examination is about as erotic as a Wilford Brimley Quaker Oats commercial (if you find Wilford Brimley Quaker Oats commercials hot, please do NOT let me know). If anything, they serve to remind us that the movie could have been an over-the-top (or at least in view of the top) sleazy slasher flick. Instead, it’s just plain dull. It was fun to watch Kari Wuhrer’s Failure Sense tingle all over the screen- she couldn’t have been more bored with the proceedings.
More skanks are killed as the movie becomes a total clusterfuck of stupidity by the end: there’s about 50 ‘twists’ to tie in the driving crying girl from the beginning of the film, there’s multiple killers (one of whom is revealed to be wearing a mask that looks straight outta Lucha Libre)...
...there’s yet another car chase, Debbie Rochon commits hari kari atop a fake waterfall, and the film ends with what is officially The Worst Last Line Ever: “Uh, yeah”. Kari Wuhrer remains hilariously mortified.
I know I’ve made this movie sound like fun. Maybe it is- at this point, I’m not quite sure- I know that as a thriller, as a horror film, as anything approaching erotic or good, Final Examination fails miserably. That said, it’s one of those movies I wholeheartedly recommend if you come across it at 2am on USA, when the only payment you’ll have to make to watch it is giving away a little chunk of your soul.
The film does make one significant contribution to the horror genre, however, as it reveals- at long last!- why a character might stay on in a bad place where all her friends are turning up murdered. Sayeth one of the skanks after two murders, “This whole thing has me freaked out. I probably shouldn’t think about it anymore.” That’s the answer: if you find yourself stalked by a slasher killer, simply ignore the problem! Just turn your brain off and take off your shirt. I recommend that approach to watching Final Examination as well- bare breasts, of course, are optional.