Final Destination Creator Jeffrey Reddick Says Films Are Still Horrifying 20 Years On Because We All Fear Death
Cinema’s pre-millenium ‘reapers’ were always tangible, whether it was Ghostface, Kruger or Death himself.
Then came time for a new sensation; 20 years ago, Final Destination’s reign of trauma began.
Passing away is a crushing inevitability; it’s the circle of life, after all. But do we meet our demise by chance, or is it written in the stars? If Jeffrey Reddick’s gruesome vision is anything to go by, we should not rage against the dying of the light.
Many moons ago, the screenwriter read an article about a woman who got off a plane because her mum had ‘a bad feeling’. Later, it crashed, resulting in several fatalities. ‘That kind of put the seed of an idea in my head – the idea of a having a premonition and missing your time to die,’ Reddick told UNILAD.
From this kernel of tragedy, Reddick created the Final Destination franchise, birthing its first entry in 2000. James Wong, Glen Morgan and Reddick all worked on the screenplay, with Wong helming the production.
In its inception, the concept was designed for an episode of The X-Files. However, when producer pal Chris Bender advised Reddick to upgrade it to a feature, plus Scream’s influence on teen horror, the series quickly took flight.
Reddick explained: ‘It was a tough sell – New Line Cinema wasn’t sure how you could have Death but not show it. So we went back and forth on that, then when we threatened to take it to Miramax, New Line bought it [laughs]. They had me write the script, but that’s the creative process – you never know how you’re gonna start with something over here and end up over there.’
During development, Hellraiser‘s Clive Barker was the first choice to direct, which even Reddick thinks ‘would have been pretty twisted’. Eventually, it fell to X-Files alumni Wong and Morgan, ‘which was karmically kind of cool’.
Final Destination follows Alex Browning (Devon Sawa), a high school student en route to Paris with his peers. After briefly falling asleep on the plane, he has a dream it explodes in a horrific blaze of blood and fire.
He panics, begging to get off, inspiring a few others to follow before take-off. Minutes later, an inferno lights up the sky. It’s no wonder Phoebe’s cries of a problem with the ‘left phalange’ inspire hysteria in the Friends season finale.
You can revisit the plane crash sequence in the video below (Warning: induces sweaty palms):
Alex and his friends getting off the plane was not part of Death’s plan. Soon, all those who got off start dying in mesmerising, outrageous fashion. While one girl is splattered by a bus (the ‘best crowd-pleaser moment’, Reddick says), another’s head is sliced in half by railway shrapnel.
It’s this exploitation of depraved, ubiquitous happenstance that’s insured the franchise’s legacy through multiple, grisly instalments – the sequel’s log truck highway pile-up is arguably the best movie car crash sequence of all time, and Reddick’s favourite moment in the series.
If you’ve got the stomach for it, here’s Final Destination 2’s legendary set-piece in its entirety:
On the strength of the concept, Reddick said:
I think everybody is afraid of dying – I mean, everybody’s going to die. So I think everybody goes in with a fear of that, but I think the movie taps into that in a fun way. That’s what horror does – good horror can scare you and make you think or entertain you and make you think.
I think the film just tapped into that fear of dying and the fact we didn’t give Death a face… no matter what religion you carry or culture you’re from, it applies to you. In a lot of places, Death is like the Grim Reaper or something else specific. So the fact we never showed Death and made an effort to not do that, and kept it as a presence, that gave it a broader appeal.
Its impact on the psyche cannot be understated; nobody looks at those log trucks the same way now (Reddick jokingly insists he’s ‘saved lives’), anyone who’s seen Final Destination 3 is less likely to go for a sunbed, and don’t get me started on the collapsing glass pane. Yet, despite their visceral effect, morbid curiosity brings us back time and time again.
Dr. Alexander Swan, psychologist and creator/producer of the CinemaPsych podcast, shed more light on the matter:
I think people are fascinated by death. We don’t know much about it, and we definitely don’t know what happens after it (religious ideas notwithstanding). And then we’re also fascinated by the idea of free will vs. fate, and the movie makes it pretty clear you can’t escape death, which means you are fated to die when you’re supposed to die.
I would say we are also attracted to the gore factor: it’s fantasy, so these deaths aren’t real. We get our kicks knowing full well each of these people are fine. We get to see fictional characters cheat death and tempt fate when we know we shouldn’t ourselves. It goes back to the old chestnut regarding cinema in general: it’s escapism.
Indeed, we are fixated on the guilty glory of death. Online, swathes of images and clips of heinous violence are spread everyday. However, what’s particularly curious is upon seeing a particularly convoluted, Rube Goldberg-ian passing in real life, it’s a common instinctual response to exclaim: ‘That’s like something out of Final Destination!’
Despite his lukewarm feelings on the franchise, even Swan admits to invoking its name. ‘We go to what’s familiar, so if a person is aware of these films or have seen these films, it’s only human to make these comparisons,’ he said.
When asked if he ever expected his creation to bear such a legacy, Reddick said:
I was confident that we would have some sequels… but no [laughs]. It’s very humbling, it’s part of the public lexicon now, they’ll say: ‘That’s a Final Destination moment.’ You don’t hear that about many other horror movies. I never expected that – I thought we’d get some sequels, but I never thought it’d be what it is. Again, it’s very humbling and awesome.
The deaths are the lingering takeaways of a Final Destination movie, in all their cursed ingenuity. For example, Todd’s excruciatingly-teased clothes line garroting, or Val Lewton’s catastrophic overkill (even funnier considering the actress, Kristen Cloke, is married to scriptwriter Morgan).
Once upon a time though, the murderous rampage of Death through diabolical manoeuvring of everyday objects was actually a much darker beast – originally, the survivors killed themselves.
Basically, Death exploited some fear or guilt of theirs until they committed suicide. It was a little heavy [laughs]. For example, Alex’s best friend Todd was battling these visions of people who died in the crash. So his father gets a call from him and Todd’s just apologising, so his dad is rushing home to see what’s wrong.
When he gets home and opens the garage, we realise Todd’s wrung a noose around the garage door so when it opens he hangs himself. Obviously, Death was changed with the Rube Goldberg aspect of Death being around you, which I think made it more mainstream, whereas my script – while I loved it and the studio loved it – was more hardcore, dark horror.
The screenwriter added: ‘In a way I think we’re [our] own worst enemies in life, in terms of insecurities and holding ourselves back, that was something originally important – what’s in front of us can destroy us.’
Such bleakness may have led the series down a different path of success. Nevertheless, the first two movies captured a bloodlust in the market, sparking three further sequels with a sixth rumoured to be in the works.
According to reports, it’s set in the world of first responders, but there’s no concrete details as of yet. ‘It’s a great formula.. a lot of horror franchises will milk it until it’s dead then they’ll reboot it. But the fans really seem to want another Final Destination,’ Reddick said.
Reddick is currently working on two animated shows for Netflix, as well as having recently directed a film called Good Samaritans. Fans of Reddick’s style can sleep easy though, as his twisted nature seeps into ‘pretty much everything’, despite loathing violence in real life. Soon, he hopes to come up with another original IP outside his inaugural creation.
On handling the onus of movie-goers’ trauma and his inadvertent influence on our reception to tragedy, Reddick added:
After growing up as a horror fan, to have something that horror fans and people who don’t normally watch horror watch… I’m very grateful to have that kind of lingering effect on people. It’s cool. It was a big bar to set coming out of the gate, I’ve gotta top that one.
‘You can’t forecast the hour of death.’ Through Final Destination, Reddick turned that existential nausea into an evil game, with a ticking clock we can’t hear and an endgame we can’t see. ‘No accidents, no coincidences, no mishaps and no escapes.’
Steer clear of those log trucks.
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