Generally, horror films tend to err on the side of brevity. You can’t show a monster for 80 minutes and expect them to remain scary. You can’t kill off 18 people in 120 minutes and expect the viewer to remain sensitized to the violence. Despite the lengthier, gloom-and-doom approach of Hereditary, Midsommar, and Get Out, audiences tend to expect to get in, get off, and get out in around 90 minutes, a pretty well-organized amount of time that doesn’t linger any longer than it needs to. With 1990’s Fatal Exam, the abundance of reviews and comments about its nearly 2-hour runtime pretty much outweigh any of the good that might be discussed about Jack Snyder’s proto-paranormal slasher. That’s unfortunate, too, because while Fatal Exam desperately needed some editing, it certainly has an interesting story tucked away somewhere in its excesses, and the atmosphere is pretty much the only thing that keeps the viewer holding on.
The movie follows a group of parapsychology students who are recruited by their professor to participate in a paranormal investigation at a house where the inhabitant murdered his wife and children. If this sounds like The Haunting of Hill House or The Legend of Hell House or any number of other paranormal-tinged investigation movies, you’re not far off – except there’s almost no haunting elements at all in the movie. Instead, its group of students loiter around the house drinking beer, examining dusty drawers, watching video cameras, and performing other extremely interesting acts of loafing while they wait for something – anything – paranormal to happen. There’s the occasional head in a bureau or appearance of a curiously-festooned ghost, but otherwise, Fatal Exam has a whole lot of sitting around.
But you know what? Despite the pretty bad acting, occasional continuity errors, and sometimes questionably incestuous dialogue, Fatal Exam could have probably been a better movie if it had just cut down about 40 minutes of its time. And to be honest, it wouldn’t even be that difficult – Snyder spends way, way too long following characters doing mundane tasks, or even just sitting on close-up shots of their reactions. It’s clear that Snyder, who did his own editing as well, was just not able to take a step back to look at the problems with the film’s bloat. Atmospherically, the house setting is sort of eerie, aided by a pretty great soundtrack full of ambience. While not much of it takes place at night – and some shot day-for-night – there’s a moody personality at play in Fatal Exam, if only it was allowed to resonate a bit more. And unfortunately, the lengthy unnecessary moments detract from the film’s ability to effectively convey its twist, since all of the exposition is dumped right at the end of the movie.
Fatal Exam is not horrible, though it is probably going to be a trying experience for most moviegoers to sit through. A bit of editing, some pacing modifications, and a little more action could have resulted in a much better film. However, it’s unlikely many people will survive one attempt at Fatal Exam, let alone multiple watches.
Full uncompressed screenshots from this Blu-ray release.
Vinegar Syndrome has given Fatal Exam a new Blu-ray release as part of the Home Grown Horrors set (see also Beyond Dream’sDoor and Winterbeast) with a new 2K scan of the film’s 16mm negative. The results are as good as can be expected; the film looks a little rough around the edges in spots, with a few scan lines and warping happening in various scenes, but otherwise it fares well with this scan. A heavier grain scale is present but thankfully due to the lack of darker scenes, the grain does not become obstructive or overwhelmingly chunky. Color timing is well-preserved and overall definition is quite good, especially apparent in close-up shots.
The audio is a DTS-HD 1.0 mono track and it sounds particularly strong, with no drops in volume or noticeable clarity issues. Soundtrack sounds quite robust. English subtitles are included as well.
Extra features include a new group commentary with a variety of cast and crew including director Snyder, actor Terry Comer, the composer Carl Leta, and a few others (see below for complete listing). Also a welcome addition to this release is an extensive making-of documentary totaling nearly 50 minutes in length (that’s less than half the film runtime though!) that goes into great detail about the production – a recommended watch to give you more appreciation for the end result. Finally, new reversible cover artwork is included.
NEW 2K RESTORATION FROM THE ORIGINAL 16MM CAMERA NEGATIVE
NEW Group commentary track with: Jack Snyder (director), Terry Comer (actor), Carl Leta (composer), William Crawford (sfx), Mike Coleman (actor), Dave Mayer (actor)
NEW “Fatal Examination” – an extended making-of documentary featuring interviews with the cast and crew (HD; 47:40)
NEW Reversible cover artwork
English SDH subtitles
While most viewers will probably find Fatal Exam a snooze, it’s not entirely without merit and dedicated low-budget film fans may find a few things to like about it. Luckily, the Vinegar Syndrome release does provide some good incentives to check it out including a strong transfer and a detailed making-of featurette.
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