Gay Horror Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy
There's Something About Radish...
In one of the horror genre's finest examples of Hollywood nepotism gone awry, John Huston’s son Jimmy turned in one of the worst slashers EVER, the alternately boring and confounding “co-eds in peril” flick Final Exam. Boasting one of the dowdiest Final Girls ever, a mystery killer with neither an identity nor a motive, and more random scenes of people arguing on campus grounds than in your average Paper Chase episode, Exam is interesting from a generic perspective but wholly unentertaining save for the presence of one character:
I’ve actually taken my sweet time in reviewing this film because of the problem of Radish, the consideration of which has sent me back to my very moral core to resolve. See, the problem is that while this is a gay horror site, I never had and still do not have the intention of “outing” queer folks in horror. I’ll leave that to Access Hollywood (who will leave it to the Enquirer, who will leave it to Wendy Williams, who will be too busy getting her back waxed to care). Let’s face it – there are plenty of “suspicious” types out there, actors and directors and whatnot who likely are gay but aren’t comfortable professionally making it public. And more power to them – I can’t imagine how hard it is to sell yourself as an actor in the first place, much less if you’re risking pigeonholing yourself as the Sassy Neighbor at every audition. It’s a business decision as well as a personal decision, and I totally respect that.
Now, this has fallout of sorts: since I’ve decided not to speculate about the sexuality of actors, it then follows that I can’t really comment too much on the relative, well – queeniness of actors, for lack of a better word. We’ve all seen movies where an obviously gay actor (for whatever reason – be he effeminate, unusually sensitive, or boasting kickin’ early-80’s piano-lounge-hair) turns in a perfectly fine performance regardless, which is perfectly natural – after all, these people are actors, and their job is to convince us of an alternate kind of reality. Even watching openly gay actors playing straight characters doesn’t ruin the illusion, and vice versa. I’m all for equal-opportunity casting.
But then, my friends, there are times where even the most clueless viewer crinkles his nose and says, “hey – why’s that guy talking to her? Shouldn’t he be off making throw-pillows or something?”. And honestly, people – these folks are fair game. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being queeny or femmy or what-have-you – I can scream better than any woman I know and half the time when I open my mouth a purse falls out. But you know what? I’m not trying to convincingly portray a heterosexual man romantically interested in a woman. When worlds collide and your central love story is more like When Mary Met Sally, there’s no point in trying to dance around the giant white elephant standing in the middle of the room.
And ladies and gentlemen, today’s giant white elephant is Radish.
Radish (Joel S. Rice) is ostensibly the romantic lead of Final Exam, and his limp-wristed yet earnest presence is the one thing that makes this otherwise forgettable slasher entry worth watching. Precious, well-meaning, and genuinely sweet, Radish and his fumbled and wholly unbelievable romantic overtures toward Final Girl Courtney (the drab, vaguely unpleasant Cecile Bagdadi) are simply heartbreaking, on several levels. As a Romeo, he’s wistful and creepy. As a friend, he’s well-meaning but useless. And as either, he has the added misfortune of being horribly miscast, which serves to add another layer of pathos to the whole ordeal. He’s meta-pathetic.
My favorite Radish moments are legion, really – any time he is on screen my jaw is in my lap and my head is slowly shaking back and forth in dull, numbed denial. There’s Radish freaking out at the terrorist attack, when he earnestly tries to convince authorities that he’s witnessed a massacre. There’s Radish joking around with the frat guys, taking it on the chin when they give him guff and standing his skinny-legged ground. And most importantly, there’s Radish the Casanova, the romantic schemer determined to get into the tight-rolled jeans of the mousy heroine. He awkwardly hovers around her dorm room. He continually returns to bother her. He makes inappropriate overtures. He makes an ass of himself. Luckily, he gets it in a manner actually pretty horrible, compared to the other bloodless deaths that the movie offers.
To be fair, no one else fares much better. The characters are so instantly forgettable that I spent half of the movie thinking that Courtney’s roommate was two different characters, depending on how she wore her hair. There’s standard hijinx (pledges are hazed, the frat boys drink, the slutty girl has an affair with a gross teacher, the nerds study, blah blah), and then there’s non-standard hijinx, including a ridiculously elaborate scheme to help a frat brother pass a test that involves faking a terrorist attack on campus, including squibs, fake blood, and dozens of extras. It also takes control of the plot for about 15 minutes even though it has nothing to do with anything, other than to make Radish (ahh… Radish) look like the Boy Who Cried Wolf later on.
And to be even more fair, Radish is not the only queen in this deck: there’s also the issue of Wildman, a beefy frat guy who seems to take an inordinate amount of interest in Gary the Pledge (at one point he smells him and nibbles on his ear while holding him from behind – um, personal space?) and would probably be voted Most Likely to Lose the Soggy Biscuit Contest on Purpose. For more on soggy biscuits… well, look it up. Normally, Wildman’s obvious repressed homosexuality would no doubt result in the merciless flogging of Radish, who is infinitely more secure in his fagginess. Instead, Wildman diverts his attentions to Gary, whom he obviously just wants to hump. Those crazy Greeks!!
There’s also an extended bit of pledge-abuse that involves wee Gary being stripped to his butt-huggers and tied to a tree, at which point everyone on campus – including the security guard – takes the opportunity to either ogle or fondle him (I do not need to see middle-aged men with flashlights making reference to college boys’ baskets, filled with ice or no, outside of a Victor Salva film). I think it may be one of the first in-depth explorations of the Pass-Around-Party-Bottom phenomenon in popular cinema.
In all, a pretty sad entry into the budding slasher genre that is saved from utter banality by a few batshit elements (the arrival of the killer via cafeteria-tray-conveyor is also an interesting, if not entirely logical, moment). Perhaps had we been given just a tiny bit more information about the killer – you know, who he is, why he’s killing everyone, what his point might be – a favorite color, maybe? – the messy elements might hold together a bit better; as it is the lack of any sort of narrative sinks things, rendering even moderately interesting inclusions (the scene in the piano studio is actually quite odd and kind of creepy) instantly forgettable, as they’re not tethered to any sort of spine.
Except Radish. May god bless his faggy little heart.