Tuesday, September 25, 2018


Spawned at the turn of the century with little fanfare or major star power, this horror franchise from New Line Cinema cranked out five installments over the course of a dozen years, with Death itself the successor to such classic movie murderers as Freddy, Jason, or Michael. With a fantastic (and repeatable) formula of having individuals escape their pre-destined demise only to be subsequently knocked off on a one-by-one basis, it reinvigorated the body count movie, spinning the rudder away from the relatively bloodless ’90s by re-embracing the gore of yore to the tune of over $700 million worldwide.

Final Destination (2000) d. James Wong (USA)

While boarding Flight 180 to France with his class, Alex (Devon Sawa) has a frightening and vivid premonition of the aircraft exploding. His panic gets him and six of his fellow passengers off the plane... which then proceeds to explode as foreseen, but as the days following the accident demonstrate, Death is not happy to be cheated. With a terrific high-concept by Jeffrey Reddick (fleshed out into a shared screenplay credit with Glen Morgan and director Wong), an attractive and enthusiastic ensemble of young players, and a never-ending parade of “creative” offings, it’s not surprising this moderately budgeted zippy flick resonated with fright fans exhausted by a glut of Scream knock-offs. Genre aficionados will also enjoy the fact that most of the characters are named after famous horror icons (Browning, Lewton, Chaney, Hitchcock, Murnau, Schreck, Weine, Murnau, Waggner) and a cameo from Tony (Candyman) Todd.

Deaths: asphyxiation in shower, hit by bus, impaled by knife then blown up, beheaded by flying piece of metal, hit by falling sign

Final Destination 2 (2003) d. David R. Ellis (USA)

Kicking off with arguably the best of the opening set-pieces, an explosive highway pile-up, this is one of the rare sequels that actually improves on the original, sharpening and sweetening the formula without losing an ounce of fun. Kimberly (A.J. Cook) is the one who has the premonition this time around, stalling her SUV in the exit ramp and saving another half dozen people from their fiery fate, but when her friends start kicking off, she seeks out the only survivor from the previous film, Clear Rivers (Ali Larter) to change their fates. The diverse array of onscreen mortality is applause-worthy while the trend of giving characters famous genre surnames continues (Corman, Lewis, Carpenter), albeit a bit more haphazardly this time around.

Deaths: impaled through the eye by fire escape ladder, crushed by falling plane of glass, beheaded in elevator, airbag/PVC pipe combo, sectioned by flying barbed-wire fence, incinerated in hospital explosion, BBQ explosion

Final Destination 3 (2006) d. James Wong (USA)

If you liked the first two... For our third go-round, it’s a rollercoaster disaster foreseen by a formerly non-psychic character (pre-stardom Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and death is averted for the time being. But the Grim Reaper will not be put off and soon those who escaped being rail-kill are creatively dispatched through an array of gruesome “accidents.” The set-ups are silly and the characters paper-thin, but the multitude of gory money-shots is what we came for and director Wong and co-screenwriter Glen Morgan (who wrote and directed the Black Christmas remake the same year) deliver the goods.

Deaths: tanning bed two-fer, engine block to the back of the head, weight plate skull-crusher, nail gun (repeatedly) to back of head, impaled by flagpole, crushed by metal support platform, and an impressive subway splatterfest finale which takes out four named characters in one fell swoop!

The Final Destination (2009) d. David R. Ellis (USA)

With 3D making its big comeback, it was only a matter of time before various sharp and/or heavy objects started hurtling toward the screen in grand destructo fashion, and what better series to make use of such an opportunity? The setting is a motor speedway, the opening incident is a grand guignol of flying metal and rubber, and the ensuing multitude of murderous mishaps are pleasingly messy, but the efforts of Ellis, solo screenwriter Eric Bress (both returning from the superior FD2), and our CG team feel a little anemic in all arenas. Similarly, the cast are all pretty pretty pretty and vacant vacant vacant, with even genre vet Justin Welborn (The Signal, Dance of the Dead, The Crazies, Halloween II) phoning it as a character listed on IMDb simply as “Racist” (even though he is clearly referred to as “Carter Daniels” in the film). The equivalent of a horror film Milky Way bar: You couldn’t live on it, there’s no substance, it isn’t entirely what you wanted, but somehow suffices anyway.

Deaths: decapitated by flying tire, dragged down street on fire and then exploded, lawnmower-launched rock through eye, launched into and sectioned by chain-link fence, gutted by pool drain, therapy tub falling through ceiling, hit by ambulance, skewered in cinema by flying spike (explosion provided by “spontaneously combustible” oil drum), escalator munch, truck-through-cafĂ©-window three-fer (computer-generated x-ray vision, no less)

Final Destination 5 (2011) d. Steven Quale (USA)

With a new director (Quale, making his big screen debut) and screenwriter (Eric Heisserer, who also penned the Nightmare on Elm Street remake, The Thing prequel, and Lights Out – a feature-length version of the short film – before earning an Adapted Screenplay Oscar nod for 2016’s Arrival), this installment served as a big bounce-back for the flagging franchise. An in-your-face 3D suspension bridge accident (the most lengthy and elaborate of the bunch) serves as the curtain-raiser, and with established character actors such as Courtney B. Vance and David Koechner elevating the proceedings, the cavalcade of carnage is expertly executed (heyo) and perfectly punctuates the better-than-usual plotline, up to and including the last-second twist ending/beginning. The “greatest hits” final credits featuring most of the series’ 60+ onscreen deaths is the icing on proverbial cake, and even Tony Todd returns (having taken the previous chapter off) to cash his check and rumble his rumbles.

Deaths: gymnastics free-fall, acupuncture blaze followed by Buddha head-bash, lasik surgery mishap/tumble out high-rise window, heavy machinery head hook, wrench to the face, rotisserie skewer, airplane explosion, airplane wheel from sky.

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