Final Destination series

This article was originally published on 12ft.dwende.com on 12 August 2011.

Sometimes you don’t need a guy in a hockey mask or the ghost of a murderer to haunt your dreams. Sometimes things like a mask of human skin and a chainsaw or an endless knowledge of slasher film trivia are just overkill. Sometimes all you need is a slight breeze and a series of Rube Goldberg-style accidents. That’s the basic premise of the Final Destination franchise. It started with two reasonably clever and fun flicks, followed by two very stupid but very fun sequels. The premise is simple enough: a group of people are somewhere or other. They all die horribly in some sort of large-scale accident, but then said large-scale accident is revealed to the dream of one character. When some of his dreams starts coming true, that character wigs the fuck out and soon several characters (but not everyone) leave right before the large-scale disaster actually happens. All grateful to be alive, they go on living their lives until one by one they succumb to individual freak accidents. You see they cheated Death, and Death is pissed off and coming after them with a vengeance. The formula works and all the films stick to it. The fifth Final Destination film comes out today, but first let’s take a trip down memory lane through the bloody past…

Final Destination (2000)

Opening disaster: Plane explodes upon takeoff

So this movie was originally conceived as an episode of The X-Files (which is probably why there are two FBI agents in this movie, played by Daniel Roebuck and Roger Guenveur Smith). I would have been somewhat interested to see that, but instead we got a splatter-happy series of horror flicks so I like the way things worked out just fine. The first movie spends more time on character than any of its sequels, though some characters still remain shallow. It’s enjoyable and at the time seemed somewhat original, though The Omen series also featured people dying in complicated freak accidents. But that was Satan. This is Death. Big difference. 15-year-old Jake saw this movie twice in theaters and many more times on disc. It is the only film in the franchise I actually own (though if they ever do a Blu-ray box set I’m getting that). This film also has the characters see a dark shadow before their deaths or almost-deaths. That visual element was kind of cool, if unsubtle, and I wish they’d kept it up in the sequels. While this film featured no killer, it did have a someone intense mortician who seemed to know more about what was going on than anyone else. He was played by Tony Todd, from The Rock and Platoon but most famous for the Candyman series of horror films. He’s clearly having a blast during his one and only scene.

Fun fact: many of the characters’ surnames (Browning, Chaney, Hitchcock, Lewton, Schreck, Murnau) are those of notable horror film directors or actors.

[Pseudo] Famous People: Besides Tony Todd… Devon Sawa from one of my favorite guilty pleasures Idle Hands, Kerr Smith was at the time riding his Dawson’s Creek fame, Seann William “Stiffler” Scott, Ali Larter from Heroes.

Gratuitous Nudity: None, which is a damn shame for a movie that contains Ali Larter and Amanda Detmer.

Notable deaths: Stiffler’s head gets sliced in two at the jawline. A teacher gets shards of gas in her throast then is next to an explosion before being stabbed by a falling knife… which is driven deeper into her chest by a falling chair. Then she blows up. Also amusing, someone slips in the bathroom and is strangled by a laundry line. Despite the very improbable series of coincidences necessary to make this happen (no big deal as the series is built on those types of things) the victim’s parents and the authorities rule the death a suicide because fuck forensics.

Death toll [excluding plane crash]: 5

Final Destination 2 (2003)

Opening disaster: Massive highway pile-up

You know I really like this one. It might be my favorite in the series. Granted, the original is probably a stronger film due to its extra emphasis on character development compared to the rest of the series, but this is the one that just goes for broke. The kills are all much more elaborate and the flick is all about misdirection. You think someone is going to die a dozen different ways and in most cases, death comes from somewhere unexpected (in fact, if you haven’t seen it, you might want to skip the “notable deaths” section below in order to be surprised). All of the films do that to some degree but this is the one that masters it. The death toll is more than double the previous film. More than that there’s a reasonably clever twist. All the characters that were supposed to die in the highway accidents were supposed to have ALREADY died, but Death’s plans got waylaid by the events of the first movie. There is an endless ripple effect every time something gets changed so death’s list just keeps getting longer and longer… The further sequels didn’t really build on this idea at all but I like to think that the events of the entire franchise have been set in motion because 11 years ago some kid freaked out on a plane…

Fun fact: the director’s names gimmick continues with characters names Corman and Carpenter.

[Psuedo] Famous People: More Tony Todd and Ali Larter… and a trio of TV actors: Justina Machado from Six Feet Under, Sarah Carter from Falling Skies, and Aaron Douglas from Battlestar Galactica.

Gratuitous nudity: a biker girl flashes some characters on the highway for no apparent reason.

Notable deaths: Most of them, I’d say. A lotto winner escapes a fire to discover the dangers of the fire escape. A kid gets crushed by plate glass. A woman loses her head in an elevator. After surviving a car accident a woman is killed by the airbag. A guy gets all sliced up by an explosion-propelled barbed-wire fence.

Death toll [excluding highway pile-up]: 11

Final Destination 3 (2006)

Opening disaster: Roller coaster breaks down

The plot of these movies really doesn’t change much, so the quality lies in the details. This one attempts to bring back some of the characterization that was missing from the second film. It does this pretty clumsily though with lines like “you know how I need to be in control” and “I’m not the dumb jock you think I am.” I guess someone’s writing teacher never told them to “show, not tell.” However, as the other light-on-character-development installments prove, who the characters are is not nearly as important as how they die and there are some pretty great ones in this one (see below). In this film the girl with prophetic visions finds she can predict people’s causes of death through photographs she took the night of the roller coaster crash. It’s kind of cool way to help the characters (and, by extension, the audience) wildly speculate about how people die. It’s also totally ripped off from The Omen, but originality isn’t exactly the priority of the series.

Fun fact: This is the first of the series without everyone’s favorite creepy coroner, William Bludworth (Tony Todd), but Todd still has voice-over cameos as an animatronic devil at the amusement park and a subway conductor towards the end.

[Pseudo] Famous People: Mary Elizabeth Winstead enjoys “scream queen” status due to her roles in this, the remake of Black Christmas (by original Final Destination duo Glen Morgan and James Wong), Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, and the upcoming prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing (confusingly titled The Thing). She’s since gone more mainstream with Live Free or Die Hard and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Alexz Johnson (yes I spelled that right) is a Canadian pop star. Amanda Crew still pops up in teen movies like Sex Drive and Charlie St. Cloud. Cory Monteith from Glee has a one-scene, no-line role.

Gratuitous nudity: Topless tanning.

Notable deaths: Two airheads are cooked and electrocuted by tanning beds. Damaged gym equipment helps a guy very quickly lose about eight pounds. A cute Goth chick gets nailed in a Home Depot-like store.

Death toll [excluding roller coaster crash]: 7 (with the implication of another large-scale accident claiming several more)

The Final Destination (2009)

Opening disaster: Car crash at a crowded racetrack

There was an annoying tendency for a while to omit numbers from sequels. The third sequel to The Fast and the Furious was simply called Fast and Furious. Likewise the third sequel to Final Destination is called THE Final Destination, as if to somehow make you forget that it’s the fourth movie in a franchise. Are you supposed to think it’s a remake or reboot or what? It doesn’t matter. Storywise, this movie breaks absolutely no new ground but it is the first film in the series to be in 3D. I have touted the merits of 3D before while at the same time decrying its unnecessary and ineffectual usage in many a summer blockbuster. However movies like this (or Alexandre Aja’s Piranha remake or Patrick Lussier’s 3D remake of Canadian slasher flick My Bloody Valentine) use it in a delightfully gimmicky “let’s just throw shit at the screen to make the audience flinch” approach that may not be the most artistic use of the technology but is a whole lot of fun.

Fun fact: McKinley Speedway is named after the town of McKinley, where the third film was set. Clear Rivers (a brand of water advertised on a bus stop) was the name of Ali Larter’s character in the first two films.

[Psuedo] Famous People: Krista Allen (Feast, Anger Management, also softcore movies from late night cable… not that I’ve seen them), Mykelti Williamson (Bubba from Forrest Gump)

Gratuitous Nudity: The jerk of the group decides if he’s going to die, he might as well get laid… which actually makes a lot of sense. Anyway a very dissatisfied topless girl at his country club helps him meet that goal.

Notable deaths: A mom tells her kids “I’ve got my eye on you.” Guess what happens. Douchebag gets his insides sucked out through pool drain (somewhat reminiscent of the Chuck Palahniuk story “Guts” from Haunted). Loudmouthed woman gets rather graphically decapitated by a tire.

Death toll [excluding racetrack accident]: 10 (plus an extra vision of an averted movie theater disaster that would have killed dozens)

Final Destination 5 (2011)

Opening disaster: Suspension bridge collapse

This movie does what a sequel should do: it takes the same premise and builds on it. Creepy coroner William Bludworth (Tony Todd) is back and advises our main characters that if you can get someone to take your place in death, you get their life. Of course this is the same guy who said “only new life defeats death” in Final Destination 2, which didn’t really work out very well for those characters (if a deleted scene on the Final Destination 3 DVD is to be believed). I’m not sure why people listen to him. Being a creepy coroner doesn’t exactly make you an expert on the supernatural. Either way the new “kill or be killed” angle does put a new spin on the struggle to survive. The deaths are messy and satisfying for the gore-hounds among us. What this movie really amps up in comparison to the previous films is the cringe factor. You know you can see someone cut in half in a movie and you chuckle at the over-the-top-ness of it all but if you see someone get a paper cut, you’ll wince? Final Destination 5 ups the wince factor. There is a scene set at a gymnastics practice and the constant suspense of what would go wrong was pretty intense. You get a few misdirections too. You focus so much on the squirmy discomfort aspects that you tend to overlook the things that will actually kill the unlucky bastards (even though all the pieces are there if you’re looking for them). Lastly I will say that this movie has an unexpected twist that I will not spoil, save to say that all the pieces are there throughout the movie (a song, a cell phone, a restaurant) and I never put them together (and, after watching five of these movies in a week, I feel I should have). I’m not going to pretend a review was absolutely necessary for this movie. Did you like the first four? You’ll like this one. Graphic dismemberment and thin character development not your thing? You should probably skip it. I had fun. Blood, guts, a surprising twist, and the same kind of gimmicky 3D that just throws body parts at the screen: all ingredients for a fun time at the movies.

[Pseudo] Famous People: TONY TODD IS BACK!!! Nicholas D’Agosto was on Heroes and in one of my favorite recent teen comedies Fired Up! Emma Bell is something of a scream queen due to her roles in Frozen and The Walking Dead. Also, WHAMMY!

Gratuitous Nudity: None.

Notable deaths: That would be spoiling…

Death toll [excluding bridge collapse]: 10 (plus a bunch of extras in another large-scale disaster)

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  1. […] I think I covered everything that there is to say about this movie in my previous article on the entire series. The kills are good. Gratuitous nudity is unfortunately absent. The opening bridge collapse is […]



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