[interview by Erik Threlfall]
Three years ago, in an office far, far away, I reviewed the 1981 campus based slash-fest 'Final Exam', on the Internet Movie Database. I had gone on a reviewing rampage around this time as I got a cheap thrill from seeing my name posted on the net (and no, I still haven't got a life). This led to some contact with other fans including one bloke who was obsessed with cheesy mid 80s WIP flick 'Bad Girls Dormitory' which I had reviewed (and highly recommend by the way). Anyway, there I was, a few weeks back browsing through my e-mail when lo and behold, I get an e-mail titled 'Final Exam'. Imagine my surprise to find I had just been contacted by Timothy L Raynor who played the killer (and was described by Justin as 'some hulking bloke in a green army jacket'). Indeed, his menacing physique is all thanks to nearly 40 years of martial arts training, not to mention a stint in the US Navy. Along with acting, Tim also performs stunts and is a fight choreographer and provides an executive protection/bodyguard service. And if that isn't proof enough that's he a bit tough then he also dabbles in herpetology, which is the study of snakes and reptiles (something I could never do considering I spent most of last Wednesday standing on a chair in the kitchen and screaming like a girl cos my apartment was invaded by ants !)
Q: Can you give me some background information on the film and explain how you got involved ?
The film was shot around September and October of 1979 at E. O. Motion Picture Studios in Shelby, North Carolina. Same studio that did the Abyss. We shot at several of the local colleges at that time. We shot for around 10 weeks. Cecile and I were the last ones to stay and finish up the last scenes in the tower. She was great to work with along with Joel Rice (Radish) and Ralph Brown (Wildman) as were the others.
I had a friend that had worked with (Director) Jimmy Huston in a film and he introduced me to him. One thing led to another and I ended up auditioning for the part. Not that it was a speaking part - but they (Jimmy Huston - Director/Writer and John Chambliss - Exc. Producer) wanted to see how well I handled myself. They were impressed with my martial art abilities and needed to know if I could perform as a knife wielding killer. And yes - the knife was real - very sharp! So they needed to see if I could handle the weapon safely and choreograph the action and killing scenes. So basically I got two credits for the film. Acting and Stunt/fight choreography. Not bad for your first film.
Q: The Killers actions seem to be motiveless. The trend in slasher movies of this time was to have some kind of climactic unmasking where the killer turns out to be the son of the woman murdered ten years ago, or something like that. Was there ever a back story for your character in the script or were the makers deliberately trying to break the mold?
If you listen to the conversation Radish has with Courtney and Lisa as they walk towards a test after the first killings - Radish is so "up" on KILLERS and HOMICIDAL MANIACS that he seems to "conjure" this one up and bring him to their college. I don't know if there was any intention of "breaking the mold" so to speak - but no - there was no explanation of where the killer came from or why he was killing. He just was!
Q: Any interesting anecdotes from the set?
Wow - that's an interesting question. A lot happens on a set like that. So much going on. A few things come to mind. When Radish discovered the body of Wildman in the locker room - he runs across the campus to warn Courtney - right? Well - we did the scene several times and as you know - Radish runs up to the door of the dorm and whips it open and runs inside - right? Well - as we were getting ready to do another take - Jimmy came over to me and asked me if I could do something to cheer people up - it was late and people were tired - cause a lot of the film was shot at night. I said "sure - have Joel do the scene again where he runs up to the door and whips it open without filming." So - they set up like they were going to do the scene again and Joel went around the side of the building to prepare for his scene - now remember - he had already done this several times - including running across the campus once. Well - Joel was ready - and Jimmy was ready. So I walked over to the door that Joel whips open and walked inside. I dropped down behind the door out of sight and grabbed a hold of the "emergency release bar" on the door and braced my feet up against the sides of the door. Jimmy yelled "ACTION" and Joel psyched himself up to do a great entrance. When he ran up to the door - and expecting it to open - he grabbed a hold of the door handle and pulled "hard!" So hard in fact that his hand slipped off the handle cause it wouldn't open and he went flying back several feet onto his ass! He didn't understand what happened until I stuck my head up in the window and smiled at him from inside. The whole crew and cast broke up laughing and that eased a lot of tension for the night and the rest of the filming that day went well.
Another thing - not so funny was when Ralph and I were doing the fight scene in the gym. We had done it several times without a hitch and it was Ralph's first time doing a scene like that. As you remember - the Killer wraps the cable of the weight machine around Wildman's neck and pulls the weights and Wildman up and out and then let's him go - making him fly back and he is killed. Well - they wanted to do a close up of the death scene and at this time a local newspaper reporter wanted to interview me about the film and the part I played. I usually handled the setup of the scene - wrapping the cable around Ralph's neck etc. This time - since I was busy - Ralph took it upon himself to do it. Anyway - they yelled "ACTION" and Ralph threw himself up against the weight machine and did his "dying" act. Only this time it was almost real. As Ralph slumped forward - the cable tightened around his neck in such a way it put an instant strangle hold on him! He started to shake and vibrate there "for real" and everybody thought he was acting. I knew better. I ran over - pushed John Chambliss out of the way - into Jimmy and grabbed Ralph and ripped the cable off his neck. He had already passed out and didn't even know what happened. Another few seconds and it could have been serious. Luckily it wasn't. So things on a set like that can be humorous at times and even dangerous if you don't know what you are doing.
Q: Have you kept in touch with any of the other actors and/of do you know what they are up to now?
Actually no. I haven't heard from anyone since we did the film. Cecile seems to have vanished - I don't know where she went to - and she was such a talented person. As for Joel - I believe he is a big time Executive Producer for TV now - he too was very talented and gifted so I'm not surprised where he is today - AND IF YOU READ THIS JOEL - I'M READY FOR MORE WORK!!:) Ralph Brown has done a few things but as far as the rest of the cast - I don't know - nor have I heard from or about the Producers or even Jimmy Huston - I hope they are all well and safe.
Q: Were you (or are you) a fan of slasher movies from that era and what do you make of the current crop (Scream, Urban Legend etc)?
I can't say I'm a fan of that type of genre/film. I enjoy action films - be it horror or action/adventure or Sci-Fi and I especially like doing them! So the horror films fall into that category - especially if they are done well - and since I starred in one - as the "Killer" I pretty much know how the plot goes and ends - but they're fun to watch anyway. Films today have come a long way from the '80's. Special Effects - Settings - Actors - Equipment - etc...so the quality is often better - though the plot is usually the same - just paced differently - especially in the sequels. And - in some - you may even hear of your own film being mentioned - as I believe Final Exam was mentioned in Scream - 1 or 2 - I can't remember right now - but it was nice to hear (It was in Scream 2, Randy lists off some 'killer on campus' movies shortly before being killed). There are several things people - especially "critics" (if you want to call them people) have to understand before you start cutting down a film - no matter what genre it is - is that - No 1 - the film has been made/produced! No 2 - The writers - actors - producers - distributors have all made a ton of money from it and are laughing all the way to the bank! No 3 - they have done something you (a critic) has not! So if you want to criticize a film - no matter what kind it is - think about it before you do. The people involved have done something special - they have completed a dream - so if you don't like the film or who or what is in it - then take pen to hand or whatever you use to communicate your thoughts to paper and write a better one and get that produced! Then you might find out just how really hard it is to get to that point - that you - as a critic - dislike - before you know how much work actually goes into a production or even getting it into the "preproduction" stage. So - don't open mouth and insert foot before you understand what the business is all about! Regardless of the film - many horror films have launched magnificent acting careers - which someday I hope will happen to me.
Q: Can you briefly discuss any other involvement you have had in the horror genre?
I have done several Indie films up to now. Most have not been released yet - but will someday. I was in THE RELIC - nothing big - you can see me in the formal scene at the Museum - the camera is on me as I come through the doors and when the creature attacks - I pick up a woman after everyone crashes through the windows and carry her down the steps towards the oncoming police cars.
At this time - other than teaching the martial arts - I am doing a lot of writing and have one screenplay "A THIEF'S SHADOW" that has been optioned and I am slated to star in with Carel Struycken "Lurch" of the Addams Family Movies and "Mr. Homm" of Star Trek-TNG - if the producers see it that way. I am also finishing up a screenplay called "MAXIMUM EFFECT" - AN UNEARTHLY LOVE STORY. A Soldier of Fortune, who is a "Werewolf" and has lived for over "three hundred years," along with a Chicago Policewoman Detective, that survived the encounter her mother had with a "Vampire," a "hundred years ago" while still in the womb and now possesses the night creature's "abilities" and "longevity," form an unlikely partnership in an effort to save humanity from an evil more sinister than their own supernatural afflictions! The problem is - Vampires and Werewolves are natural enemies! Think - "BEAUTY AND THE BEAST" meets "FOREVER KNIGHT"
I'm also involved in other projects and - as with everything else in this business - it is a waiting role we all do.