With a lot of horror films, plot is somewhat of an afterthought. This is particularly apparent in long-running franchises where the number of sequels and installments begins to outnumber the amount of braincells it took to write each respective script. Saw, Hostel, and Friday the 13th are all series in which is becomes increasingly clear over time that the stories for each film were being written around the kills, rather than the other way around. Set pieces and memorable moments are prioritized over a cohesive or satisfying narrative, paving the way for disjointed, lazy plots designed solely to push the audience forward towards the next extravagant display of violence.
Basically, the filmic equivalent of a theme park ride: The story doesn’t matter as much as the overall experience, the highs and lows, the twists and turns, and the sheer spectacle of the whole affair.
While this is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when a franchise leans into it with an air of self-awareness, it does often result in a franchise that feels overly stilted and repetitive. In short, they often hit a point of diminishing returns on the gimmicks that they’re aiming to accentuate, and often begin hemorrhaging audience numbers as the franchise goes on, which usually results in worse and worse quality with each subsequent film.
One of the most guilty properties in this regard is Final Destination. The films follow a group of teens as one of them receives a mysterious vision of impending disaster, which allows them to narrowly escape from their grisly fate. Death is none too pleased about this, and proceeds to hunt them down and murder them in a ridiculous, gnarly fashion. While the original film is an inventive and unique take on a relatively untouched horror movie premise, that Death itself is coming to get you, the plot became more and more watered down with each passing sequel. The series redeemed itself at the end with a clever and genuinely watchable final entry, but is ultimately just another franchise that was milked to death and bled dry in an attempt to cram as many spectacular and increasingly ridiculous kill scenes into the films as possible,
But what sets Final Destination apart from other franchises like Saw is the fact that the deaths in these cheesy, mostly terrible films are actually pretty fun. There’s no prolonged misery and dour mood present like many of the series’ contemporaries, just goofy, hilariously tasteless, Rube Goldberg-esque sequences of over-the-top violence that are essentially the horror version of an OK GO music video.
I thought it would be fun to take a look back at a few of the franchise’s goofiest, funniest, and most impressive displays of death and destruction, in order to spotlight a franchise that seems to understand exactly how stupid it is and simply chooses to roll with it:
(Note: I’m splitting each film into 2 distinct categories, based on the standard structure of the series premise: The opening accident “vision” deaths, and the deaths from the remaining bulk of the film as Death picks off the survivors one by one)
The original film, in which protagonist Alex has a prophetic vision of a terrible plane crash.
Best Accident Kill: Alex’s roasting face as the plane explodes. Not a lot of options here, as the franchise had yet to fall into the groove of treating it’s opening scene like a Roland Emmerich disaster movie.
Best Death Kill: Terry catches a bus. Cliché now, the “randomly getting hit by a car mid-sentence” was a new gimmick here, and it works remarkably well. Let that be a lesson, people: Don’t be a bitch in a horror movie.
Final Destination 2
The first sequel, which features a cataclysmic interstate pile-up as its accident du jour.
Best Accident Kill: The poor cop, who only reinforced by belief that following too closely behind a logging truck is just asking for trouble
Best Death Kill: Tim being crushed into an accordion by plate glass. Absolutely brutal, in a Looney Tunes piano drop sort of way.
Final Destination 3
Starring a then Scream-Queen Mary Elizabeth Winstead, this installment follows a group of teens after they miss their ticket for a deadly amusement park slaughterfest.
Best Accident Kill: Death by roller coaster. Kind of a gimme, since it’s the only real bit of carnage in this scene. Not very dramatic when compared to some of the stuff we’ll see later in the series.
Best Death Kill: Oh, god, the tanning bed. The tanning bed STILL freaks me out. The way the skin bubbles, absolute nightmare fuel.
The Final Destination
It’s death by NASCAR this time, as the group of doomed teens avoid a motor speedway race gone horribly wrong in this follow-up.
Best Accident Kill: Crushed by an engine block. Cartoony as all hell, but still a major “oof” moment to see onscreen.
Best Death Kill: Hunt and the fuel pump. Way to validate another childhood fear of mine, Final Destination.
Final Destination 5
The final film in the franchise (so far), and arguably the best in the series, the fifth sequel justifies all your fears of suspension bridge technology as one of these structures serves as the setting for the film’s mandatory opening act of death and destruction.
Best Accident Kill: David Koechner gets tarred. That’s gotta hurt.
Best Death Kill: Candice the gymnast gets snapped like a Slim Jim. One of the simplest, and still most brutal deaths in the whole series.
According to producers, another film in the series (likely a reboot) was in production prior to COVID, so I imagine we haven’t seen the last of Final Destination. I certainly hope not. There’s always room in the genre for a franchise that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that always delivers on creative, inventive ways to murder its fictional victims.
And that finds ways to make me deathly afraid of mundane household objects.
What do you guys think of the Final Destination franchise? Any stand-out deaths you think deserve a shout-out? Let me know in the comments!
As always, Happy Halloween!