Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Halloween Horrors: The Final Destination Series

Here is another in my series of quickie reviews, to help you get your Halloween viewing lists together.

One of the more interesting horror series out there is Final Destination. The name is taken from travel lingo, which is appropriate given that the series begins with an airline disaster. The double meaning is of course everyone's "final destination," death. The series features elaborate, improbable death scenes, and due to the way the stories are structured, many characters die twice.

[Editor's note: the first three movies were reviewed before part 4 and 5 had been released]

Final Destination (2000) - The first film centers around a teenager who has a vision as he's boarding a plane to France with his french class. A very vivid vision, which involves a horrific chain reaction of events which leads to the plane exploding. When he snaps out of it, and details start to match his vision, he freaks out and is removed from the plane, along with several friends, and his teacher. This was before 9/11, which is a good thing, because nowadays they would probably ground the plane, and hey, no movie.

After the group disembarks, the plane does explode, but the group that escaped starts dying one-by-one in the order they would have originally died had they stayed on the plane. A theory is cobbled together, that the characters "cheated death," and that death was working to set its plan right. But death doesn't just get them by natural causes. Death constructs elaborate Rube Goldberg-ian ways to do them in.
Final Destination 2 (2003) - The second film follows a similar setup, with a girl foreseeing a horrific multi-car pileup. It departs from the usual "kill the teenagers" formula by incorporating adults who are prevented from entering the flow of traffic by the girl. And it is linked to the previous film in a very novel way. Of all of these films, I've seen this one the most times. Here's a taste of what Part 2 has to offer...

Final Destination 3 (2006) - Part three again has a girl with a vision, this one predicting a roller coaster disaster, and preventing several friends from riding. It is only tangentially related to the other two parts, since 1 & 2 pretty much tied everything to each other. And while each film probably has realism problems (as do most horror films), the actual roller coaster accident is virtually impossible.

Parts 1 - 3 work very well when watched in sequence. The hook to all of them is the elaborate ways in which the characters are killed off, and the fact that there are both foreshadowing events, as well as red herrings. For the most part, the acting is well done and believable. And the effects are pretty spectacular.

None of these films is particularly scary. In fact, because the death scenes are so wacky, it almost works as comedy. The setups (plane crash, car crash, amusement ride tragedy) are relatable. Very few of us have not imagined such a scenario happening to us when we fly, drive, or pull the safety harness down. So they are unnerving. If you have any phobias about these things, you may actually get a jolt. But mostly, the special effects and gore are pure entertainment. If you're into that sort of thing!

Part 2 was my favorite, because of the novel way they wove the storyline together with the first. And the car crash is spectacular (as is a surprise event that happens right after). This movie had the best fake-outs, making you wonder exactly how they were going to do the characters in. And it takes risks that divert from the usual scary movie pattern.
Part 3 disappointed me the first time I watched it, because the link to the other two is tangential, and frankly unbelievable. But upon review--if you suspend disbelief on how quickly the protagonists figure out what is happening to them--it's actually not bad, and a decent entry into the series. And it takes the ultimate risk, with a surprise ending that goes totally against the horror movie rules.

[Now, parts 4 and 5]

THE Final Destination (2009) - Given that moniker, you would think it was the last one. It was also in 3D, and heavily promoted as the final installment. It was fun--involving a NASCAR racetrack-type disaster. I'm a binocularly-challenged person, with the unfortunate inability to see 3D movies. But I liked FD4, just the same. I thought it was better than 3, less than 2, about the same as 1. I'm in the distinct minority here, as part 4 is almost universally regarded as the worst of the series.

Final Destination 5 (2011) - That another sequel followed the "last" one wasn't surprising. What was surprising, was that the fifth movie would be as good as the rest of the series, or better. In fact, it's as good part two, and better than the original. It is also in 3D, incidentally.

Horror movies tend to be derivative. And part five can't offer originality. But the special effects, the acting, the surprises? Part five has them in spades. The only flaw for me was the law of diminishing returns. The spectacular opening can't be matched in later set pieces. While I had a lot of fun, the thrills tend to get smaller by half with each dramatic demise. If they had only ended the picture with a dramatic finale on the scale (or 3/5 of the scale) with the opening.
In conclusion, if you like elaborate, gory special effects, and you are tired of mindless slasher pictures, any of these films will satisfy you. And while the characters die in horrific ways, this is not Hostel or Saw-type torture-porn. Unlike Friday the 13th-type movies, you don't need nostalgia to have fun with them, and don't have to settle for "so bad, it's good." These flicks are actually well made. Just have your remote at the ready! You'll want to slo-mo something in all five movies!
Final Destination: Recommended
Final Destination 2: Highly Recommended
Final Destination 3: Recommended
THE Final Destination: Recommended
Final Destination 5: Highly Recommended


  1. Did you have no problem with the overall premise? I saw parts of the first and second movie, but just couldn't buy into, or be scared of or by, the idea of death being a thinking, scheming, creative, rational (allbeit unseen) being just trying to set things in order.. Not for me and I'm a little surprised it was for you.

  2. As we've discussed in the past, you have to go with the movie universe's rules. Only a couple of times do any of these films break the rules they set out. For instance, the leaking water that leads to a hanging death for some reason slinks away. That's out of character for most of the rest of the series.

    I loved the premise. You never "see" death, and it's never attributed to an actual character, more of a force (or forces). The universe course-correcting. You're over-thinking it!


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