As we approach Halloween1Which seems to be taking over a year at this point, since people keep getting started earlier and earlier, I keep seeing recommendations for good scary movies to enjoy. And I feel left out, because I’m not very good at horror movies and haven’t seen a lot of them.2In case you were wondering, I have been to Knott’s Scary Farm and Universal Hollywood Horror Nights since writing that, I enjoyed the heck out of both of them, and am now a regular haunt-goer. But I realized I can do a better job at recommending the Final Destination movies — or at least, the first three, which are the only ones I’ve been interested in watching — than I have in the past.
I was surprised to stumble onto my old reviews written right after watching the movies for the first time — which I won’t link here, for reasons that will soon become obvious — and to discover that they suck. I really enjoyed the series, but my blog posts about them are pretty insufferably condescending about them. There’s a sense that I need people to understand that I liked them but was well aware the entire time that they aren’t high art. If there is a recurring theme of this now-decades-old blog, it’s that I’m very focused on getting it, but it’s rare that I actually get it.
Anyway, these movies are clever, brilliantly manipulative fun, and they get better the more I think about them. They’re essentially horror movies reduced to their most basic components and then reassembled, making full use of their formula instead of being weighed down by it.
The premise is the same for each of the first three movies3Just assume I’m talking about the first three movies from here on out. I haven’t seen any of the reboots, mostly because I’m still baffled as why they decided to reboot/relaunch the franchise when the originals were still pretty fresh. Were smartphones crucial for the rest of the series, or something?: a group of people, mostly teenagers (or actors in their twenties or thirties playing teenagers), somehow manage to avoid being killed in a huge, gruesome accident at the start of the movie. This makes Death pissed off that it’s been cheated. Each of the survivors is now marked for death, and the rest of the movie consists of watching each one meet their doom in some convoluted and unpredictable “accident.”
Final Destination started out as a premise for an episode of The X-Files from Glen Morgan and James Wong, two frequent contributors to that series. I can’t imagine this working within a TV episode’s runtime, since the fun of it is in the suspense of the excruciatingly drawn-out death sequences. Each sequence starts with a teen in a mundane situation, going about their business while the camera lingers on every potentially lethal thing in the environment, inviting you to imagine all the different and gruesome ways they could kill you. The question is never will the character be killed, but how?
And unlike a slasher movie, where the threat is personified and visible, the suspense in Final Destination is more existential. Everything is dangerous. Everything could kill you. It’s actually kind of amazing that we’re able to survive our teen years at all.
I was reminded of the movies (and of my terrible reviews of them) because of a review of the third on Chris Stuckmann’s YouTube channel. He is absolutely correct in pointing out that an entire generation of us who watched Final Destination 2 are no longer able to drive behind a truck carrying logs or PVC pipes. It’s still the weakest of the three, in my opinion, but it’s got some very memorable sequences worth watching.
And I think I’ve now got a better idea of what the movies are all about, which is perfectly summed up in the differences between the first movie and the third. For the first movie, I listened to the audio commentary from Glen Morgan, and he was surprisingly down on the movie and disappointed in how it turned out. Overall it struck me as someone who wanted to make capital-A Art being upset at making something original, clever, fun, and well-crafted. Morgan and Wong returned to the franchise for the third movie, and it just feels more free and confident. It feels like a movie that knows what its strengths are, and that the art comes from playing to those strengths.
As a result, you get this package of wonderfully gruesome sequences, held together by a lead actor with an inexhaustible supply of charisma, with just enough of a script to keep things moving, and everybody involved has no apprehensions about being art or “just a genre film.”
- 1Which seems to be taking over a year at this point, since people keep getting started earlier and earlier
- 2In case you were wondering, I have been to Knott’s Scary Farm and Universal Hollywood Horror Nights since writing that, I enjoyed the heck out of both of them, and am now a regular haunt-goer.
- 3Just assume I’m talking about the first three movies from here on out. I haven’t seen any of the reboots, mostly because I’m still baffled as why they decided to reboot/relaunch the franchise when the originals were still pretty fresh. Were smartphones crucial for the rest of the series, or something?