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Final Destination 3 (2006)

06/13/2011 1 comment

One of the most intense fears humanity has, one that is almost unique to our species, is the fear of losing control. This fear can run under the surface of many disorders, like OCD and its milder cousin, the “control freak” instinct. Of course, no matter what people do to control their environment, to make things as safe as possible, all that gets tossed out the window when Death points a bony finger in your direction…

Final Destination 3 is a horror film directed by James Wong, the third movie in the Final Destination series. It stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ryan Merriman, Kris Lemche, Alexz Johnson, Sam Easton, Jenne Moss, with Tony Todd providing the voice of the Devil (no, really).

Six years have passed since the Flight 180 tragedy (see also Final Destination). A group of high school students visit an amusement park as a last huzzah before graduation, and they decide to ride a roller coaster called the Devil’s Flight (with a giant fiberglass devil out front hawking the ride). Control freak and school photographer Wendy has a premonition that the ride will crash and kill everyone aboard, and freaks out enough to get herself and a bunch of her fellow riders removed, while her boyfriend rides on in another train. Hilarity ensues as she foresaw, and as she mourns the loss of her boyfriend, life goes on. She plans to pick up her diploma and get the hell out of McKinley and its tragic memories, never to look back. Of course, this being a Final Destination movie, the laws of physics and narrative horror have other plans in mind, as the people scheduled to die in the roller coaster crash start getting picked off in the order they would have sat on the roller coaster train, Wendy finds herself in a race against time to unlock the clues in her amusement park photos and save people from the laws of physics…

The overall concept of the third movie remains sound within the FD-verse, opening with the roller coaster as a metaphor for loss of control and the “safe” scares of horror movies in general. This time, though, the cast of victims are unconnected to Flight 180 aside from knowing about the events surrounding it (whereas the bunch in FD2 had been saved in roundabout ways by the initial survival of the cast of the first movie), and therefore their place in Death’s plan is incidental at best; they were supposed to die, and they didn’t. Regardless, Death seems to be getting a little peeved at people surviving the disasters he cooks up, so the deaths are becoming more brutal: death by burning in a tanning booth, an engine fan to the back of the head, death by nailgun, and so forth. After the engine fan death, Wendy even notes that the accident seems pretty vicious. It seems that this time around it is less about balancing Death’s books and more about punishing the escapees. Cleverly, though, if you pay attention during the opening, an alert viewer will notice that every single death is foreshadowed at the amusement park, and not just through Wendy’s prophetic photos.

Of course, escalating the level of violence in a horror movie can still work, if you have a good cast of talented actors portraying sympathetic characters. Here, you have three fairly sympathetic characters (Wendy, her sister Julie, and her boyfriend’s best friend Kevin) alongside a couple of snobby Paris Hilton clones named Ashley and Ashlynn (urgh…), an oversexed douchebag with a video camera named Frankie, an arrogant football star named Lewis that cares more about the game than the harbingers of doom, and the Wonder Goth Twins Ian and Erin, who call each other Zip and Pip. However, amid the expected failures in failsafe devices and basic common sense, Ian is briefly redeemed by following basic safety procedures on the forklift at the hardware store where he works with Erin, narrowly avoiding turning that sequence into a rehash of Forklift Driver Klaus and instead turning it into a freak-accident shout-out to The Nailgun Massacre. Then he snaps out after Erin’s death and we start waiting for him to die horribly. However, while FD3 tries hard to put the fear of freak accidents into its viewers, and at least one of the death sequences does offer a nod to urban legend (the tanning bed sequence), it appears that the Final Destination franchise is starting to lose steam in this installment, relying more on gore and shock value for its scares than building suspense.

While Final Destination 3 is starting to show signs that the franchise is going a bit stale, fans of the first two installments and slasher movies in general should largely enjoy this contribution to a world where mechanical safeguards can be rendered moot by a force of nature. Afterwards, why not go to a park this summer and ride the roller coasters? After all, they’re perfectly safe…

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Saw III (2006)


According to the Scream series, horror movie installments follow certain conventions. The third movie, for example, tends to be bigger, more shocking, and more over the top than its predecessors, winding up to a climax that will leave you gasping for breath. Saw III is no exception, as torture masterminds Wan and Whannell wanted to wind up the series and end it with a bang. (It didn’t work, incidentally, but the thought was there.)

Saw III is the third movie in the Saw series, directed by Darren Lynn Bousman and written by James Wan and Leigh Wannell. It stars Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Angus MacFayden, Bahar Soomekh, and Donnie Wahlberg.

Three interweaving storylines unfold during the course of this movie. In one, the police investigate the latest string of Jigsaw-style traps, discovering that these have been rigged in various ways to be inescapable. In another, Jeff Denlon, eaten up by grief over the death of his son, who was hit and killed by a drunk driver, is kidnapped by Jigsaw and forced to perform a series of tests to face his feelings of vengeance against those he sees as responsible for the driver escaping justice with a slap on the wrist. In a third, Dr. Lynn Denlon has also been kidnapped by Jigsaw – actually, his apprentice Amanda. Denlon’s task is to keep Jigsaw, now bedridden from advanced brain cancer, alive until Jeff completes his gauntlet of tests. If Jigsaw dies before then, a trapped collar around her neck will fire shotgun shells into her head, effectively erasing same. However, Amanda has become increasingly unstable since becoming Jiggy’s apprentice, believing that people cannot be redeemed and thus setting up in escapable traps. As Jeff is forced to confront his own demons and Jigsaw’s condition deteriorates, the question of who will survive this twisted game becomes less and less clear with every passing minute…

When I went to see this movie in the theaters, I already know what sort of movie I was getting into. You can imagine my surprise when, while I was waiting for the movie to start, I saw two theoretically responsible adults enter the theater with an eleven-year-old girl. WTF? Thinking that maybe they’d wandered into the wrong theater, I warned them that this movie wasn’t really for kids, but they said they were fine. Okay, I think, your therapy bill. And I was right – this movie is brutal. I’ve seen my share of gory slashers and other horror movies before, but Saw III went for the guts in a way few horror movies have before. Not only are the traps gut-wrenching and physically traumatic, but the story that unfolds with Jeff’s journey makes the audience understand him and sympathize with him, even if they don’t agree with him. He is forced to choose between his vengeful grief, which he has been holding onto for so long that he’s forgotten how to live otherwise, and forgiving those he believes has wronged them. The choices that each room gives him kick him repeatedly in the nuts – he wants vengeance at all costs, but you get the idea that he’s a good man underneath, warts and all. Lynn’s subplot is also hard to watch – kidnapped by a pair of psychopaths, forced to keep one alive even as he’s dying from cancer, while the other one seems to be growing more unstable by the minute. And the climax where everything crashes together in a giant pileup to rival the opening sequence of Final Destination 2, based on the fateful decisions of two of the players in this game, nearly had me on my feet screaming at the screen.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Saw without the deathtraps, and they are accordingly efficient and diabolical. The simplest one would have to be the Meat Locker, in which a witness to the hit and run is chained up naked in a giant freezer and periodically sprayed with water, while the most nauseating is the one where the judge is locked to the floor of a collection vat, slowly filling as rotting pig carcasses are liquefied and the soup poured in. This is obviously not a movie for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. The torture happens to so many levels – physical, psychological, and emotional, and would have made an effective ending for the series had the studio execs not decided keep the franchise going for the sake of profits.

Saw III is a brutal film that will leave you feeling queasy and wrung out, and emotional roller-coaster that goes for the guts in ways few modern horror movies have. If you think you can handle it, though, check it out, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Final Destination 2 (2003)


One year has passed since the disaster of Flight 180 and the series of bizarre freak accidents that picked off the survivors one by one. Now, only one of the Flight 180 survivors remains, and things are about to start all over again…

Final Destination 2 is a horror film directed by David R. Ellis and the first sequel to Final Destination. It stars A. J. Cook, Michael Landes, T. C. Carsen, Jonathan Cherry, and Keegan Connor Tracy, with Ali Larter and Tony Todd reprising their roles as Clear Rivers and Mr. Bludworth, respectively.

On the one-year anniversary of Flight 180, Kimberly Corman is about to embark on a road trip with several friends when she has a premonition about a horrific multicar pileup on the highway ahead, in which she and her friends are all killed. She blocks the entrance ramp with her S.U.V. to prevent the other potential victims from entering the highway, attracting the attention of a police officer in the line, and as he questions her the nightmarish pileup happens right on schedule. While those whose lives she saved are initially relieved as the collectively dodged bullet, it soon becomes clear that Death is going to be balancing the books again, with a twist: the ones saved from the impending pileup are all connected in a very specific way, and Death is working backwards to tie up all the loose ends…

Like its predecessor, FD2 opens with what would become the series’ trademark – a horrific deadly chain reaction with a high death toll. This time around, it’s a pileup on the highway, a sequence that has been lauded for its sheer engineered chaos by everyone from New York Magazine to Quentin Tarantino. The other death sequences in this movie are also creatively engineered, as Grimmy toys with his victims, sometimes offering a promise of escape before kicking them in the nuts once and for all. The use of CGI, in addition to models and castings of the actors, strategically stuffed with bloodpacks and innards, enhanced the deadly domino effects, where lesser effects might have left them looking fake. This is still early in the franchise, to there is still a fair variety of “commonplace” freak accidents scattered between the deadly dominoes and step-and-die deaths, leaving even those who had seen the first movie guessing how a particular sequence might end, without violating the laws of physics too much. The only times when conventional physics were really “enhanced” for the sake of the story were the logs falling off the truck to start the pileup, and the flying barbed-wire fence.

The acting was still mostly good in this one. While the only familiar faces were Clear (who had committed herself to a long stay in a padded room after seeing Alex killed offscreen) and Mr. Bludworth (creepy as usual), the newcomers did well, with Kimberly conflicted and tortured by her visions of potential disasters even as she tries to convince the others that everything happening was not just a series of twisted coincidences, and there is enough variety in the other leads to offer variety without lapsing into horror movie victim cliches. Rory the ambiguous cokehead was the only really “standard” slasher victim, and even he was interesting enough. The characters reacted plausibly to seeing companions and loved ones massacred; Nora is believeably traumatized after seeing her son flattened by a sheet of glass, and the numb despair that starts to set in once the others start to believe that Death is out to get them is plausible.

I enjoyed Final Destination 2 almost as much as I did the original. While the easy way out would have been to just retread the plot of the first, FD2 manages to keep the concept relatively fresh without losing the spirit of the first. Fans of Final Destination and slasher movies in general will enjoy this sequel.

Saw II (2005)


This is the story of eight strangers… picked to be trapped in a house that is slowly filling with nerve gas… forced to work with each other to escape and have their experience taped… to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start freaking the hell out.

Sounds like the premise for a new reality TV show, right? Wrong.

Saw II is a horror film and (obviously) the first sequel to Saw. It was directed by Darren Lynn Bousman and written by Bousman and Leigh Whannell (writer of the first movie). It starts Tobin “I want to play a game” Bell, Shawnee “Didn’t you already escape one of his traps?” Smith, Donnie “The Sixth Sense” Wahlberg, Frankie “The Italian Job” G, Glenn E. “Speed” Plummer, Beverley “7th Heaven” Mitchell, Dina “Starship Troopers” Meyer, Emmanuelle “Secondhand Lions” Vaugier, and Erik “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” Knudsen.

A police informant wakes with an iron maiden-like device around his head; a videotape informs him that the key to unlock the trap has been surgically implanted behind his left eye, and he is given a scalpel with which he must retrieve the key before time runs out. Naturally, he can’t, and his head gets crunched when the traps springs shut. Detective Eric Matthews (Wahlberg) is called to the scene after police find a message addressed to him. He follows a SWAT team to an abandoned steel factory, where they find John Kramer (Bell), a.k.a. Jigsaw, waiting for them, weakened by cancer. Nearby, monitors show a group of eight people trapped in a large house – and among them is Daniel (Knudsen), Eric’s son, and Amanda (Smith), the only known survivor of a Jigsaw trap. The victims have two hours to figure out how to escape the house before the nerve gas slowly filling the structure kills them, but Jigsaw assures Eric that he will see his son “in a safe, secure state” if Eric just talks to Jigsaw for a while. Eric reluctantly agrees, hoping to buy time for the tech guys to trace where the video signal is coming from.

Inside the house, the prisoners are told that there are antidotes scattered throughout the place to save them from the nerve gas, but each one is in a deadly puzzle-trap that must be solved to retrieve the prize within. As the people in the house race to find and unlock these precious antidotes, we learn that they have a connection: they are all people that Detective Matthews has had jailed, meaning Daniel could be in real danger if this detail were uncovered. Meanwhile, Jigsaw engages the detective in apparently meaningless small-talk, during the course of which we learn about his backstory and how he came to test people’s will to survive. And all the while, traps and betrayals are whittling down the number of players in his sadistic game…

I found Saw II to be a worthy follow-up to the original Saw, and Jigsaw’s brief biography was engaging as a study of the making of a madman. The main story within the trapped house also had me on the edge of my seat, knowing from the first movie that not everyone would get out alive, despite Jigsaw’s reassurances. Rather than keeping Jigsaw as a faceless entity, here he is established as a real person, with real motivations beyond being a sadistic bastard, and while I don’t agree with his methods, I could see how he can to settle on them. The ending gave me whiplash, as it had in the first movie, and only provides further proof of Jigsaw’s status as the ultimate chessmaster – he plans for every eventuality.

The traps were as diabolical as those in the first, but some of the house victims seemed mainly to get snared by their own stupidity, like in the razorblade trap. A few of them could be chalked up to desperation and a keep knowledge of human nature, though, like the peephole trap, but many of them appeared to be pure sadism, knowing that people wouldn’t be thinking straight with the threat of death by nerve gas hanging over their heads. One trap that is definitely worth noting for the sheer cringe factor, though – the needle pit. I don’t like needles anyway, even in a safe, sterile environment at the doctor’s office – and here Amanda gets shoved into a pit FILLED with used syringes! ARGHHHHHJJHYMNQMBDTRD…

In total, Saw II continues in the tradition of its predecessor, with a decently engaging story coupled with diabolical traps. Fans of the first will not be disappointed.

Final Destination (2000)


Is it possible to cheat death? Could you avoid a grisly fate if you just had enough warning, a premonition that things were about to go horribly wrong? What if you did? What if you were able to prevent a handful of deaths on the eve of a horrifying disaster? Now, Death’s books must be balanced, and he doesn’t like things to be left untidy. It’s nothing personal. Just business.

Final Destination is an American horror film writted, produced, and directed by James Wong, based on an idea written by Jeffrey Reddick and originally pitched as an episode of The X-Files. It was distributed by New Line Cinema (the House that Freddy Built). It stars Devon “Idle Hands” Sawa, Ali “Heroes” Larter, Kerr “Lucid Days in Hell” Smith, Kristen “Stay Tuned” Cloke, Daniel “The Fugitive” Roebuck, Roger Guenuer “No, that’s not The Rock” Smith, Chad “Disturbing Behavior” Donella, Seann William “Dude, Where’s My Car?” Scott, Amanda “Saving Silverman” Detmer, and Tony “Voice of the Antichrist” Todd.

Alex Browning (Sawa) is about to go on a high school field trip to France with his French class. Shortly after boarding, Alex has a vision of the plane exploding shortly after takeoff (in a terrifying sequence depicted more or less from Alex’s point of view – that is, from inside the fuselage… yeep). He wakes from this nightmare and, finding that events are unfolding just as he saw them in the dream, he appropriately freaks out, screaming that the plane was going to explode. His freakout and the resultant brawl in the aisle gets himself and a handful of others removed from the plane, including French teacher Ms. Lewton (Cloke), jerkass Carter Horton (Smith) and his girlfriend Terry (Detmer), and his friend Tod (Donella). Billy (Scott) is caught out due to being in the airport bathroom, and Clear (Larter) leaves of her own accord, sensing something wrong. Airport security, naturally, takes this thing very seriously, especially after the plane actually explodes as predicted. The survivors are devestated, and two FBI agents (Roebuck and Smith) question them, especially focusing on Alex’s vision.

A month passes before Alex starts to see the darker consequences of his apparently miraculous. As his entire class has heard about the incident, he is treated as a pariah already, so when Tod apparently hangs himself in the bathroom (actually a freak accident) Alex is blamed, bit Clear isn’t so sure. After a brief encounter with the mortician in charge of preparing Tod’s body for burial, Mr. Bludworth (Todd, as himself), Alex and Clear learn that Death has a design – and that Alex has messed up this plan. As a result, Death is trying to set things right by making sure that those that were scheduled to die, do die, by accidental methods as intended. Fortunately, Death still has a pattern, and if Alex figures that if he can figure out this pattern, he might be able to cheat death a second time – but how long can he outrun Death?

Final Destination was a pleasant surprise when I first saw it in theaters. After nearly a decade of unscary gorefests, I was delighted to finally find a horror movie that genuinely put the fear of death in me. Much of the paranoia fuel come in not knowing where or when the deaths would come – and because it’s Death himself stalking the leads, there is literally no escape – if he wants you, he will get you, and it will virtually come out of nowhere. The randomness of the accidents was most believeable (though Ms. Lewton’s death seemed like teabagging after a certain point), and I found myself walking into a room afterwards and subconsciously counting the ways it could kill me. On an interesting note, when I first saw FD in theaters, I was in this state of situational paranoia when I went to drive home, and discovered that it had started pouring down rain during the movie. And I had to drive home in that. Yaaaaay.

Another pleasant surprise was the quality of the acting. While many horror movies I’ve seen feature Bad Bad Acting, the leads were plausible as survivors of one disaster trying to outrun others. Sawa seemed a bit flat at times, but this is easily excusable as residual shell shock. They appeared to be believeable, rounded people, so that even Carter’s increasing douchebaggery when confronted by a threat he couldn’t fight seemd to fit. I felt genuinely bad for Alex as his class and fellow survivors turned on him, but fear does strange things to human nature. Tony Todd, the only actor I recognized during my first viewing, makes a very creepy Mr. Exposition without his scene seeming shoehorned (and he would reprise his role as Bludworth in FD2).

Final Destination was the first movie I’d seen in a long time to genuinely scare rather than simply shock. Therefore, it ranks amongst my favorite horror movies, and I would definitely recommend it for people who want a scary movie that doesn’t rely on gallons of blood to make its point.

Saw (2004)


Hello. I want to play a game.

What would you do to survive? If you had to kill a complete stranger or mutilate yourself to save yourself or a loved one from a horrible fate, would you? How much do you value your life? How willing are you to survive?

Jigsaw wants to know. And he’s willing to put you to the ultimate test.

Saw is an Australian-American horror movie directed by James Wan and written by Leigh Whannell, based on an idea by Wan. It stars Cary “Dread Pirate Roberts” Elwes, Danny “I’m getting too old for this shit” Glover, Tobin “Mississippi Burning” Bell, Shawnee “The Desperate Hours” Smith, and Leigh “The Matrix Reloaded” Whannell.

The primary plot revolves around two men, photographer Adam Stanheight (Whannell) and oncologist Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Elwes), who wake up in a dilapidated bathroom, each man chained by the ankle to a pipe at opposite ends of the bathroom. Lying between them is a corpse in a pool of blood, with a revolver in one hand and a tape recorder in the other. Adam and Dr. Gordon each have a cassette tape in their pocket; using the tape recorder, they learn that Adam has been tasked with escaping the bathroom, while Dr. Gordon must kill Adam before six o’clock or his wife and daughter will be killed. Congratulations, guys, you’ve been taken by the Jigsaw Killer… you’re both screwed.

As the movie progresses, we learn more about the mysterious Jigsaw Killer. Believing that people don’t truly appreciate their lives, Jigsaw places them in elaborate, poetic deathtraps and challenges them to escape. The only known survivor of one of these traps is Amanda Young (Smith), a heroin addict who had to cut open her dealer’s stomach to retrieve the key to a device locked onto her head, designed to tear her lower jaw off when time ran out; in her statement to police she asserted that the experience “helped” her. Jigsaw would frequently observe these games, directly or otherwise, apparently enjoying having a front row seat. Dr. Gordon’s heard of him, having briefly been accused of being him when his penlight was found at the scene of one of the traps.

Meanwhile, Gordon’s family is being guarded in their home by a man who is watching the prisoners’ plight through a camera behind one of the bathroom mirrors. The Gordon house in turn is being watched by Detective Tapp (Glover), who became obsessed with finding Jigsaw after viewing Amanda’s testimony, but an illegal raid on one of Jigsaw’s hideouts left his partner dead from a shotgun trap and Tapp himself discharged from the force. As Adam and Gordon learn what their connection is to each other and to the mysterious Jigsaw, they are forced to come to a dire conclusion: Play Jigsaw’s game, or suffer the consequences.

While Saw has been credited with inspiring the “torture porn” subgenre of movies that subsequently became popular, this first movie actually contains very little gore, and most of the violence is offscreen. Others have compared Saw to other psychological thrillers like Se7en, both favorably and unfavorably. I found Saw to be a tight little suspense movie that gave you every reason to sympathize with the subjects of Jigsaw’s experiments. They are real, flawed people who may have made a single mistake that landed them in this mess, but none of them seemed unrealistically whiny about it.

The traps themselves are cruel and efficient, and the traps were often “real” devices: the reverse beartrap of Amanda’s test, for example, was made of metal and fully functional. The gritty, rusted appearance of all the traps, as well as the used, “abandoned” look of the rooms made them look inherently more dangerous than a sterile setting with clean, polished traps might have been.

Saw holds a special place in my dark little heart. While the rest of the franchise has become largely hit-and-miss, the original introduced me to a truly demented villain in Jigsaw, and I enjoyed putting the pieces together as the ending came from a surprising direction. By all means, see this movie. You won’t be sorry.