Final Exam (1981): Movie Ending, Explained – Who Is The Killer and What Was His Motive?

Final Exam (1981): Movie Ending, Explained - Who Is The Killer and What Was His Motive?

Final Exam (1981): With the release of Scream (1996), the various slasher films of the eighties became a point of mockery. The stock characters, repeated clichés, and familiar narratives in several films of the Golden Age of Slasher Films would ultimately be deconstructed by Kevin Williamson/ Wes Craven in their remarkable feature.

The campus slasher, Final Exam (1981), is a part of the wave of eighties killer features that rehashed the same formula which was highly prevalent during the era. A low-budget standard fare that borrows aspects from John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) and Friday The 13th (1980), Final Exam revolves around a bunch of college students as a psychotic murderer stalks and kills them.

In this article, we examine the film’s ending and answer some of the questions in the narrative. As always, a SPOILER ALERT for the entire film.

Final Exam (1981) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:

 The film begins with two college students from March College who are making out inside a car near a deserted road. Before they can proceed, they are interrupted by someone hitting their car from outside. Just as the duo can escape, they are attacked by a middle-aged psychotic killer who stabs them to death. The infamous news soon reaches Lanier College students preparing for their final exam before graduation.

Little do they know that the killer has already chosen Lanier as his next destination to unleash carnage and mayhem. Radish (Joel S. Rice), a bookish nerd, soon realizes that something is off and must act in time to save other students, especially his crush, Courtney (Cecile Bagdadi). Can Courtney and Radish escape from the clutches of this diabolical killer?

Who Initiates The Shooting On The Campus?

Early in the film, as the students are giving their chemistry exam, a group of masked men in a van interrupt the campus and begin shooting—causing mass hysteria and outrage. Radish manages to escape and calls the local Sheriff (Sam Kilman). It is later revealed that this shooting was just a prank initiated by some frat bros of the Gamma Fraternity so that one of their fraternal brothers could use the distraction to cheat during the test.

When the Sheriff arrives, he is aghast to learn that he has been fooled by a prank and chides Radish for the complaint. The Sheriff further castigates two frat bros, Wildman (Ralph Brown) and Mark (John Fallon), but the two are saved by the intervention of their Coach (Jerry Rushing).

Who Ends Up Becoming The Victims of The Killer?

As Courtney is preparing for her exams in the dorm room, she is stalked by the killer (in a sequence reminiscent of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978)), who watches her from the street. Later, Courtney visits Radish, and when she returns, someone seems to have moved her stuff.

Meanwhile, the college bros take a pledge called Gary (Terry W. Farren) and tie him to a tree because he has given his pin to his girlfriend, Janet (Sherry Willis-Burch). At night, Gary’s ropes are suddenly untied by someone. Believing that Janet has come to rescue him, Gary proceeds to look for his savior. Suddenly, the killer jumps from the tree and stabs Gary to death. As Janet later arrives to untie Gary, she mistakes the killer’s silhouette for Gary and chases after him—before being ultimately grabbed and killed by him.

On the other hand, Wildman and Mark hatch a plan to steal some pills from the gym and frame Radish for it. Wildman heads to the gym, where the killer overpowers and strangles him using ropes from lifting equipment. Mark goes to look after Wildman and is shocked to find his body in a locker. He runs into the power room, where the lurking killer stabs him in the chest.

Radish steps into the gym and finds Mark and Wildman’s corpses. Radish immediately realizes that the killer from March College has made his way into their campus and decides to call the cops. The police however again believe it to be some kind of college prank and dismisses his calls. Radish rushes to warn Courtney to ensure her safety, but the killer already happens to be inside her room and grabs Radish. When Courtney returns to her room, she sees Radish’s corpse hanging on her door. Initially believing it to be Radish’s prank, Courtney is horrified when she realizes that Radish is not moving. A shocked Courtney runs out to seek help on her deserted campus.

On the other hand, Courtney’s roommate, Lisa (DeAnna Robbins), is in the art room to have a sexual liaison with her Professor, Dr. Reynolds (Don Hepner). The killer blows the light out and begins to fondle Lisa, who mistakes him for Reynolds. Before she has the time to realize it, Lisa is stabbed by the maniacal killer.

Who Is The Killer, And What Was His Motive?

Unlike other slasher films, which feature a supernatural masked murderer (Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and Michael Myers), the killer in Final Exam is a seemingly ordinary jeans-donning middle-aged man whose face we are shown right at the beginning of the film. Throughout the film, we are not given anything about his identity, motives, or even a traumatic past that led him to commit these gruesome atrocities.

This killer bears a much closer resemblance to Michael Myers from the original 1978 Halloween. In John Carpenter’s original film, Michael also seems to stalk and murder his victims without any apparent reason, although the sequels laid out several familial and supernatural theories to account for his murderous actions. Similarly, the killer in Final Exam is just an evil force of nature bent on wreaking havoc on college students.

Final Exam (1981) Movie Ending, Explained:

How Does Courtney Manage To Defeat The Killer?

After discovering Radish’s corpse, a horrified Courtney goes to find help in and around her deserted campus. She heads to the art room, hoping to find Lisa, but is shocked to find the killer there, who begins to follow her—choosing her as his next target. Courtney enters the cafeteria and locks the doors, but the killer manages to make his way through the dish-washing mechanism. Courtney manages to trap him inside the bathroom door by hitting on his head, but he manages to escape.

Courtney rushes to her campus’s clock tower as she is chased to the balcony by the killer. Before the killer can catch Courtney, the Coach arrives on campus. Courtney calls for help, and the Coach rushes to save her. Reaching inside, the Coach shoots a hunting arrow at the killer. The killer manages to evade the arrow and stabs the Coach.

Just as he is about to kill Courtney, the killer’s legs are trapped on the old wooden floor. Courtney seizes the opportunity to hit him on the head with a wooden plank and throw him from the balcony. Thinking that her ordeal is finally over, Courtney heads downstairs. Just as she is passing by the killer’s body, he suddenly comes back to life and grabs her feet. Courtney takes his knife and repeatedly stabs him to death.

The film ends with a traumatized Courtney—emerging as the film’s final girl. As she sits on the steps outside the building, the frame freezes, and the credits begin to roll.

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Watch Final Exam (1981) Trailer:

Final Exam (1981) Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia
Final Exam (1981) Cast: Cecile Bagdadi, Joel S. Rice, Ralph Brown
Where to watch Final Exam
Parth Pant

Worshipper at the altar of the holy trinity of Sidney Prescott, Wes Craven, and Kevin Williamson. A connoisseur of everything related to cinema, especially the dark and depraved.