I do not own the rights to the film Final Exam or any of the characters therein.
Okay, so I'm semi-obsessed with this film because it was filmed on the campus of my alma mater, Limestone College. This story was written as a silly (and maybe twisted) homage to both the school and the movie.
"Final Exam…never heard of it."
Kent looked over at Jenny and raised his eyebrows. "How can you never have heard of Final Exam?"
She shrugged and said, "I'm just not into horror. I've never even seen any of those Saw movies that are so popular, either."
They were sitting next to each other at the bank of computers near the back of the campus library. The other four computers were not in use, the library nearly deserted at 3:30 on a Wednesday afternoon.
"But Final Exam isn't just any old horror movie. I thought all the students here at Limestone had seen it at least once."
Jenny finished up the email to her mother and sent it before turning back to Kent. "So the movie's that good, huh?"
"Are you kidding? It's terrible."
Jenny frowned and was about to respond when from behind them someone said, "It's not that bad."
She and Kent turned to see a scrawny kid with glasses and shaggy hair sitting in a chair by the magazine rack. Jenny recognized him from her Art Appreciation class, a freshman named Rick something.
"Don't get me wrong," Kent said. "It's a fun movie and all, for obvious reasons, but from a filmmaking perspective, it's just pathetic."
Rick came over and sat at the computer on the other side of Jenny. "I'm not saying it's an Oscar-worthy masterpiece or anything, but I do think it stands out from other slashers of its era because it honestly tries to have character development and to focus on suspense over gore."
"Yeah, well, trying to do something and actually succeeding at it are two entirely different things. The whole production looks like it was operating on a budget of twenty-five cents."
"I'm confused," Jenny said, lowering her voice when she saw the gray-haired librarian glaring at them. "If the movie is so bad, Kent, then why are you so hell-bent on me seeing it?"
"It's a rite of passage for all Limestone students. I don't know how you made it to your senior year never having seen it."
"Or at least heard of it," Rick added.
"And just what exactly is so special about this film?"
"What's so special," Kent said, "is that it was filmed right here."
"And when you say right here…?"
"I mean right here at Limestone College."
"You're shitting me?" Jenny said, her interest finally peaked.
"For real. Our illustrious campus was host to an honest-to-God movie production."
"There were a few scenes shot just over the state line at Garner Webb College," Rick added, "but for the most part, it's all Limestone."
"That's so cool. I can't believe I haven't heard about this."
"In your defense, the movie's pretty old. Early 80s, I think."
"81, to be exact," Rick interjected. "It's nearing the 30th anniversary of the film's release."
"Still, you'd think the school would want to capitalize on the fact that a movie was made here, even if it was nearly three decades ago."
"Did I mention it was terrible?" Kent said with a laugh. "I mean, students get a kick out of it because it's our school—the slut gets it in the Carroll Music Building, the virgin has the final showdown with the killer in the Winnie Davis Hall—but for non-students it's probably painful to watch."
Rick seemed irritated by this assessment but turned his attention back to Jenny. "I actually think the school is kind of ashamed of the movie."
"Because it's so bad?"
"I guess the administration thinks so. The movie wasn't a hit, that's for sure, and despite a DVD release a while back, it's still a pretty obscure film. Not to mention the fact that with all the school violence nowadays, a film showcasing a bunch of students being murdered on campus probably isn't a big selling point."
"Yeah, I guess that makes sense."
"Still, I think they're missing out on a great opportunity here. Like it or not, horror is a huge industry with a loyal fan base. I mean, for a certain kind of student, knowing that Final Exam was filmed here could be a big draw."
"Yeah, for freaks like you," Kent said. "Maybe Limestone isn't interested in attracting your kind."
"I'm sure you're right. They only want brain-dead jock assholes like you."
The librarian shushed them harshly, and Jenny jumped in to dispel the tension she felt mounting between the two men. "In any case, I'd love to see the movie."
Kent immediately forgot about Rick and turned a smile on Jenny. "It just so happens that I have an old VHS copy I bought at Warehouse Video last year. You're more than welcome to drop by my place sometime and watch it."
Rick perked up. "You know, I've got it on—"
"We could do it tonight," Kent interrupted. "After your biology lab, we can go out to eat then head back to my apartment and watch the video."
"I don't know…"
"Come on, it'll be a blast."
"Will Lisa be home?" Kent shared his apartment with a tough lesbian from the women's lacrosse team, and Jenny would feel a lot more comfortable if she and Kent weren't alone.
"Yeah, far as I know she'll be there."
"Well, okay then. I'm about sick of the cafeteria food anyway."
"Great. I'll meet you in the parking lot by Hamrick just after 5:30 then we'll head into town to grab a bite. My treat."
"Sounds like a plan," Jenny said then glanced at her watch. "But for now, I have to go suffer through another boring lab with Dr. Wicht."
Gathering up her books, she waved to the guys and hurried out of the library, exchanging tight smiles with the librarian behind the counter.
"You know," Rick said after Jenny was gone, "I have the movie on DVD. Widescreen, much better picture quality than that old VHS. I could—"
"Forget about it, dork," Kent said firmly. "I'm finally making progress with Jenny, and I don't want you getting in the way. I'm planning on having quite a cozy little evening."
"Yeah, you, Jenny, and the dyke. Real romantic."
"So naïve," Kent said, reaching over and patting Rick on the cheek. "Lisa left early this morning to go back home to Georgetown. Some kind of family emergency. Jenny and I will have the whole place to ourselves. The lights down low, candles burning, a scary movie playing on the TV. I'll have her snuggled up in my arms in no time. And from there, it's a short jaunt to the bedroom."
"You think Jenny's that stupid?"
"This isn't the first time I've done this, and it always ends the same. If you're a good boy, I'll share all the juicy details with you tomorrow."
* * *
Kent's apartment was just off Rutledge Avenue behind the public library, ten or fifteen blocks from campus. It was two stories, the downstairs consisting of only the living room and kitchen, a narrow staircase leading up to the bedrooms and bathroom. Jenny stood in the center of the living room, which contained a worn futon, a couple of thrift store end tables, and a thirty-two inch flat screen television, obviously the most expensive thing in the room, possibly the entire apartment. The beige paint was peeling off the walls like dead skin, and there were no photographs or prints to liven things up. It was a Spartan room, not much of the personalities of either of the roommates in evidence.
"So, where's Lisa?" Jenny asked
"Probably upstairs on the phone with her latest girlfriend-of-the-week."
Jenny smiled, familiar with Lisa's prowess around campus. "She's not with Staci anymore?"
"Oh no, Staci was last semester. Now it's some mousey little freshman. She was over here the other weekend, and I actually heard her say that she wasn't a lesbian but was hetero-flexible."
"Ah, sounds like just Lisa's type."
"Tell me about it. Can I get you a drink?"
"Any kind of soda is fine."
"You got it. Back in a flash."
As Kent disappeared through the archway into the kitchen, Jenny perched on the edge of the futon, not looking too closely at the stains on the fabric. After Bio lab, Kent had met her in the side lot outside Hamrick as promised, waiting in his Mustang convertible with the top down despite the autumn chill in the air. They'd driven to the Boulevard and eaten at Ruby Tuesday then headed over to Wal-mart where Jenny had bought some index cards and graph paper, and Kent had loaded up on CDs and video games. They'd arrived at Kent's apartment just before 8 o'clock.
"Shit," Jenny heard from the kitchen.
"What's wrong? Out of soda?"
"No," Kent said, coming back into the room with a piece of notebook paper in his hands. "Lisa's gone back to Georgetown."
"According to this note, her father got sick."
"Oh, I hope it isn't anything too serious," Jenny said, reaching out and taking the note from Kent, quickly scanning the page. Not that she didn't trust him, but Kent had a reputation on campus and she had no intention of falling into one of his little seduction traps. But she instantly recognized Lisa's serial killer scrawl from the time she'd borrowed Lisa's notes when she'd missed a week of Abnormal Psych. What she didn't know was that while Lisa had in fact written the note, Kent had originally found it stuck to the refrigerator with a banana-shaped magnet first thing this morning before leaving for his 9 o'clock World Civ class.
Jenny folded the note and sat it on the upside down crate that served as a coffee table and stared around the room, which suddenly felt even emptier. So it was just her and Kent, alone in the apartment; it made her uneasy.
"You know, if you would rather go, we can do this another time," Kent said, as if reading her thoughts. "I'd completely understand."
"No, don't be silly," Jenny said, laughing at her own silliness. "I came to watch the movie, so let's watch it."
"Positive. Now stick it in." Jenny blushed at the unintended suggestiveness of that last statement.
"Still want that soda?"
"Nah, forget about it. Let's just see the movie."
Kent opened the door to a tiny closet underneath the staircase and pulled out a cardboard box and began rummaging through a collection of DVDs and VHS tapes. It took him a few minutes, but finally he found what he was looking for. He removed the tape from the case, popped the movie in the VCR, and took a seat on the futon, not uncomfortably close to Jenny. He passed her the movie case.
She glanced at the cover and felt absurdly excited. The cover art showed the dark silhouette of a hulking figure, and in the background was the easily identifiable shape of Winnie Davis Hall, stuck between the Granberry Art Building and Fullerton Auditorium. Even though it was obvious just by looking at the VHS case that this was a cheap production, it was still a movie filmed on the same campus that she traversed daily. She couldn't wait to see it.
And she didn't have to wait long. This tape didn't have any coming attractions at the beginning, just the FBI warning then straight to the movie. Started with a long shot of the Quarry down by the dining hall then cut to two kids making out in a parked car. Typical slasher movie stuff. The guy's hot and heavy, the girl is unsure but willing to be coerced, then a mysterious stranger shows up with a knife and spoils the party. The acting was atrocious, the girl taking these peculiar long pauses between screams. Jamie Lee Curtis she was not. Hell, she wasn't even Jennifer Love Hewitt. The movie was only two minutes in and Jenny was already losing interest.
Until the next scene started. A succession of shots of the buildings of Limestone's campus. The library, Granberry, Hamrick, the Curtis Administration Building, finally zeroing in on Winnie Davis. A couple of characters were engaging in a walk-and-talk down the quad, but Jenny barely registered the dialogue as she delighted in seeing all the familiar places in the background.
"So what do you think so far?" Kent asked, kicking off his shoes and putting his feet up on the futon.
"Well, you were right. It is terrible, but in a fun way."
Jenny glanced at the screen as a couple of the characters went into a classroom to take an exam, and she squealed with delight. "I had Statistics in that room! It's upstairs in Hamrick, but those are the old desks they still use over in Montgomery."
Kent just looked at her then chuckled affectionately.
"Are you laughing at me?"
"No, it's just that you're so excited about it."
"I know," she said, blushing again. "But I can't help it. If you're from a big city, you may be used to seeing places you recognize in movies, but when you're from a small town in South Carolina, going to college in an even smaller town in South Carolina, it's kind of a big deal."
"They filmed that James Cameron movie The Abyss here in Gaffney too, you know."
"Yeah, but that was filmed in a giant tank, it's not like you could recognize the town or anything. But this, this is all the places I see everyday. If only the movie wasn't such a stinker."
"Just wait, it gets worse."
And it did. If not worse, at least more boring. Jenny sat through what had to be another half-hour to forty-five minutes of the movie without another murder, just a bunch of inane chatter from a lot of inane characters. The character development of which Rick spoke, apparently. She recognized more rooms, more areas of the campus, although there was much changed since 81. There was a scene in an office that Jenny didn't recognize until she noticed the view out the window and realized she was looking at what was now the Commuter's Lounge. The dorm rooms shown in the movie were now administration offices on the top floors of Curtis. There was a scene outside the dining hall that made the Quarry look so much more picturesque and beautiful than it seemed normally.
Even though Jenny was no fan of horror films, she was almost relieved when the killing started again. Annoying characters started dropping left and right, and she noticed Kent edging slightly closer to her. "You okay?" he asked.
"You sure? I know you don't like scary movies."
"Really, I'm fine." And she was. It was hard to be scared by a movie this ineptly made, and the novelty of seeing the film unfold on the Limestone campus was quite frankly starting to wear off.
"You know what would be cool?" Kent said, placing a hand on her knee. "If I turned off the lights."
She shot him a heated glance and brushed his hand away. "I don't think so."
"Come on, horror movies should always be watched in the dark. Heightens the effect."
"I'll pass. In fact, I think it's about time I get back to the dorm."
"But the movie's not over yet."
Jenny looked at the screen, where the heroine's trampy roommate was walking through the Carroll Music Building before it had been remodeled. "I think I can predict the rest. Everyone will die but the plain girl with the frizzy hair. She'll finally best the killer, but not before she thinks he's dead and he jumps up for one final scare. If only Calculus had formulas this predictable."
She got up from the futon, prompting Kent to quickly do the same, positioning himself between her and the door. "You've got to at least stick around for the end. There's this great stunt during the climax. Don't you want to stay for the climax?"
Gracing Kent with a knowing half-smile, she said, "There will be no climaxing here tonight, you can bet on that."
Jenny went to go around Kent, but he moved with her, still blocking her way. "That's not very polite of you. Accept a guy's invitation to watch a movie then leave before it's finished."
"This is finished, Kent. Trust me on that. Finished."
"There's no need to be a bitch about it. After I bought you dinner and everything."
"I hardly think that cheeseburger and fries obligates me to you."
"That's not what I mean."
"Isn't it?" she asked, raising one eyebrow.
"Oh hell, so what if it is? Would it be so horrible to spend the night with me?"
"Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn't. We'll never know because it's not going to happen."
Kent smirked at her, a hard glint in his eyes. "Maybe Lisa's more your type, is that it?"
"Enough's enough, I'm out of here." Jenny stepped around him, heading for the door.
"I'll tell you when it's enough," Kent said and grabbed her arm, squeezing a little too hard.
Acting purely on instinct, Jenny swung around and delivered a vicious slap to his right cheek, using her nails to gouge four tracks down his face, breaking the skin. When Kent looked at her, she cringed back because she saw hatred and potential violence in his eyes, but then they cleared and she saw nothing but a bit of stunned confusion. "You didn't have to get so nasty," Kent said, tentatively touching his cheek, wincing, and staring down at the blood on his fingertips. "It's not like I was going to hurt you."
Jenny almost allowed herself to feel guilty then reminded herself that he had gotten her over here just to try to bed her. Hell, he'd probably known all along that Lisa wasn't going to be here. "I'm going now, Kent. Goodbye."
"Hold up, let me get my keys. I'll drive you."
"Come on, you can't walk. It's dark out."
"And I'm a big girl. It's just down the road a piece. I'll be fine."
"Seriously, just let me—"
"No," she said as she opened the door. On the TV screen, the heroine of Final Exam was screaming bloody murder as she ran frantically across the quad. It was kind of absurd when you knew the geography of the school; if the girl just picked a direction and ran that way for two minutes, she'd be off campus.
"Jenny, please," Kent said, a pleading whine edging into his voice. "Isn't there anything I can say to get you to stay?"
Instead of answering, Jenny walked out, closing the door behind her. Kent swore loudly and threw the TV remote across the room, where it struck the wall and flew into several pieces.
* * *
Jenny followed Rutledge Avenue until it ran into College Drive, then she took a right and headed toward campus. She wondered if she had overreacted. After all, Kent hadn't committed a capital crime or anything. He'd just tried to get into her pants, which guys had been trying to do since tenth grade. It wasn't like he'd gotten overly aggressive, although he had blocked her way to the door at first then grabbed her arm hard enough to cause some pain. It was probably best that she'd left when she did, even though she regretted scratching him like that.
Kent had said she shouldn't walk back to Limestone because it was dark, as if this were some cheap horror movie where monsters may be lurking in the shadows and the damsel in distress needed some chivalrous gentleman to escort her safely home. Perhaps if this had been a rougher part of town Jenny may have felt a bit uneasy, but College Drive was an affluent neighborhood of large homes, manicured lawns, and regularly spaced streetlamps banishing the shadows along the sidewalk. Nothing spooky here at all.
Except for the Oakland Cemetery. Still several blocks from campus, the graveyard came up on her right. The grounds weren't fenced or walled in, just an open expanse of monuments and markers like some kind of stone garden. There were no lights inside the graveyard, as if all the shadows that had been shooed away by the streetlamps had taken up residence here, breeding and multiplying among the graves.
Jenny laughed at herself; now she was thinking like she was in some horror movie. Foolish of her, but she nonetheless crossed to the opposite side of the street away from the graveyard and didn't look over in that direction until the cemetery was behind her. She checked her watch and saw that it was 9:53, not that late, but already the street was deserted. There were a few porch lights on, but most of the houses were dark, and there had been no traffic since she'd left Kent's apartment. It was like she was the last person on earth or something.
"Stop it," she muttered to herself. She was being ridiculous. She could hear televisions playing from a couple of the houses, and even spotted a few people moving around behind windows. Her feeling of isolation was entirely in her head. Perhaps that stupid movie had freaked her out more than she'd realized.
She rounded a curve in the road and the campus was a straight shot, three blocks ahead. She quickened her pace, not running but definitely moving more briskly than an amble. She didn't imagine she heard footsteps closing in from behind her the way young women walking alone at night always did in the movies, but still she felt an urge to get back to the dorm quickly.
Jenny passed the black wrought-iron sign that marked the entrance to the Limestone campus and hurried down the brick walkway that ran between the library and the Montgomery Building. Her dorm, Ebert Hall, was on the far side of the quad, next to Curtis. Luckily, Limestone was a small campus, and she should be securely tucked away in her room in five minutes or less.
She froze in her tracks, her blood turning to ice at the sound of her name being whispered so harshly. Now she did hear footsteps approaching from behind, but she was too afraid to turn her head to see who it was.
"What's wrong? You look like you've seen a ghost."
Her paralysis broke when she recognized the voice, and it wasn't harsh at all. Relief rushed through her like a tidal wave, and she laughed as she turned around, a goofy smile on her face. "Hi, Rick. What are you doing out so late?"
"Trying to get in some last minute research for my American Lit paper that's due Friday," he said, indicating the books in his arms. "I always wait until the last minute."
Yes, it was just after ten; the library would have just closed for the night. There was no one else wandering the quad, but students rarely went to the library so late unless it was a term paper emergency.
"Just getting back from Kent's place?" Rick asked.
"You'd think he'd have offered you a lift back to campus."
Jenny just nodded, tight-lipped, not really wanting to discuss the evening's events with Rick.
"So, what did you think of Final Exam?"
Jenny took a beat before answering. She knew Rick was a fan of the movie, and she didn't want to offend him. "It was a real hoot seeing Limestone there on the screen."
"I know. This campus is a part of movie magic; I mean, it's like we're living in the midst of the Hollywood dream or something."
"Well, I don't know if I'd go that far."
"I think it would have been so cool to see it on the big screen," Rick said, his eyes going sort of glassy and faraway. "Now that would have been something."
"I think you were born a decade or so too late for that," Jenny said with a nervous twitter. Rick was getting a little creepy, or it could have just been residual unease from her walk back to campus.
Rick focused back on Jenny. "You never know. They do movie revivals all the time. The Exorcist, Star Wars, E.T."
"No offense, Rick, but I don't think Final Exam is exactly in the same league as those other films."
"It could always attain a cult following."
"I sort of think if it was going to reach cult status, it would have happened sometime in the past thirty or so years. It would probably take a miracle or something to renew interest in Final Exam this late in the game."
"Yeah," Rick said, his voice suddenly devoid of inflection, "or something."
"Well, I'm beat," Jenny said, already edging away from Rick. "I'm going to head on back. Good luck with your paper and all."
Jenny turned to head back toward Ebert, but as soon as her back was to Rick she felt something heavy smack into the back of her head, knocking her to the ground. She rolled over and saw Rick standing over her, his eyes lost in shadow, a thick volume of Emily Dickinson in his hands. She opened her mouth to cry out, but before she could the book smashed down toward her face, and all those shadows from Oakland Cemetery suddenly filled her head.
* * *
Rick stood at the very top of Winnie Davis, up in the building's tower, sweaty and panting. Jenny lay limp at his feet, the tiny rising and falling of her chest the only indication that she wasn't dead. Yet.
It hadn't been easy dragging her up all the stairs to the top of the tower, Rick not being a particularly strong young man, but it had to be here, nowhere else. At the end of Final Exam the killer had fallen from the top of the tower, by far the film's most impressive sequence. When Jenny's body was found broken at the bottom of the building tomorrow morning, the parallel would be impossible to miss.
Rick had been a fan of the film Final Exam since he had discovered it on late night cable when he was ten years old. He had badgered his mother about it until she'd located a used VHS copy online and ordered it for him. His affection for the movie grew over the years, and he did some research to find out where the film had been shot. During his senior year of high school, Limestone was the only college to which he'd applied, determined to go to school at the place where his favorite movie was filmed.
Which was why it had come as a great shock and disappointment to him when he got to Limestone and discovered that the movie was not a big deal here. The administration tried to bury that part of the school's history, and there were several students—not just Jenny—who had no idea that a film had ever been made here. And those who were familiar with the movie saw it as a joke. Even Final Exam's eventual DVD release had not warranted a mention at the school, as if Limestone had no connection with the film. It was like it had never happened.
But that would change. A death on campus, recreating the movie's most spectacular scene, coinciding with the movie's 30th anniversary, that was sure to draw some interest, get people talking about Final Exam again. It was the least a fan could do to help the movie get the credit it deserved.
Rick was smiling and didn't even feel the pain in his back as he lifted Jenny in his arms and prepared to toss her over the edge.