We revel in the sadistic joy of horror masterpiece Final Destination 2

With superior horror sequel Final Destination 2 newly arrived on Netflix, Dominic Corry revels in the film’s blackly comic appeal. A deadly amount of spoilers follow…

Final Destination (2000) is a nifty little turn-of-the-millenium supernatural horror film centered around a novel high concept represented by a (then) innovatively intangible antagonist. Final Destination 2 (2003), however, is a straight-up Grand Guignol gonzo horror masterpiece that unshackles itself from its predecessor’s relatively self-serious tone and unleashes a hilariously sadistic parade of some of the greatest death scenes ever committed to screen.

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The first film introduced a formula that sustained a five-film franchise, but that formula was still being defined by the time the second film came around, and the subsequent entries leaned more into the tone of part two than the original.

The illuminating commentary track on the DVD hints at various conceptual roads the production considered going down, and the remnants of some of those appear in the finished edit. The essential thrust is: a bunch of people die in a large scale accident that is then revealed to be a short-term premonition by one of the “victims”. That victim then prevents those people from dying in the accident, and they go about their lives. But then these “survivors” subsequently individually die in increasingly Rube Goldberg-esque “accidents” that are theorised to represent “Death” itself stalking victims that erroneously escaped its grasp due to the intervention of the psychic premonition.

Yes, it’s all pretty ridiculous (it’s always struck me as weird that they never address how or why each film’s protagonist has the premonition in the first place), and little more of an excuse to pay extended homage to a style of “suspiciously accidental” death scene pioneered by director Richard Donner and screenwriter David Seltzer in their 1976 classic The Omen. But what glorious death scenes they are! The gory set-pieces that populate Final Destination 2 are true works of art, and the franchise spent three more movies chasing their heights without ever quite reaching them. (For the record, here the FD films in descending order of quality: 2, 5, 4, 3, 1)

It’s telling that the director, David R. Ellis (who sadly died in 2013) is a former stuntman/stunt coordinator, as he demonstrates a talent for practical staging in these set pieces that prioritises stunt work over CGI.

To celebrate Final Destination 2‘s presence on Netflix, I am going to chronologically rate each death set-piece in the film out of a possible ten severed heads, and cite a delightfully sadistic flourish from each one. I realise I’m probably ensuring my own ironic convoluted death by doing this. But hey, live by the Final Destination 2 sword….well, you know.

1: Highway Pileup

The film’s glorious opening gambit ensured that anyone who saw it would forever feel uneasy when driving behind a logging truck. A broken chain unleashes a bunch of felled trees from the back of a big rig on to a highway, where they bounce about unrealistically, creating all a chain of vehicular havoc that wildly escalates. Ellis’ work as a second unit director on monumental car chase films like To Live and Die In LA and The Matrix Reloaded really comes through in this set-piece—there’s never been car carnage like it.

After the pileup is revealed to be a premonition by FD2 protagonist Kimberly Gorman (A. J. Cook), she immediately stops the car she is driving on the on-ramp, blocking it. But then the fellow teens she is travelling with all suddenly get pummelled by a truck anyway, a nice upending of the expectation that the sequel will simply follow another bunch of comely high schoolers facing down death. We will instead travel with a mixture of types who were stuck behind Kimberly on the onramp (and thus prevented from dying in the pileup) to their…final destination. (I get to do this once).

Rating: Ten Severed Heads. It doesn’t get better than this.

Best Sadistic Flourish: Motorcyclist Eugene (T.C. Carson) coming off his bike, skidding along the road, and then getting smooshed against a log by his own motorbike, which was skidding along behind him. Harsh.

2: Fire No Escape

Petrolhead douchebag Evan (David Paetkau), who has just won the lottery (hinting at an otherwise untapped thread that the survivors now have amazing luck), faces down a bunch of nicely escalating potential threats (a grease fire, an exploding microwave, a garbage disposal) in his apartment, only to escape out the window and get brained in the alleyway by the plummeting fire escape ladder.

Rating: Seven severed heads. A satisfying first “second” death.

Best Sadistic Flourish: Evan’s death in the alleyway is preceded by him slipping over on last night’s spaghetti, which he had previously chucked out the window. Littering should get you killed.

3: A Pane-ful death.

Final Destination 2 has a lot of fun with bait-and-switch death scenes, placing our characters in situations where they keeping seeming like they’re gonna get it, only to not. And then they die anyway. This is perhaps the best example as young Tim almost expires from a variety of methods while at the dentist (electrocution, suffocation by rubber fish), but emerges unscathed. As Kimberly and Officer Burke (Michael Landes) arrive on the scene to try and warn Tim and his mother Nora (Lynda Boyd) that Death is still stalking them, the little shit decides to run through a flock of pigeons (John Woo would be proud), which startles a construction worker, leading to a giant pane of glass falling and crushing Tim right in front of his horrified mother.

Rating: Eight severed heads. The grue that collapses out of Tim’s folding body is full-on.

Best Sadistic Flourish: The dental drilling is simply excruciating.

4: Going Up

In an elevator with Eugene and a creep holding a box of prosthetic hook arms, a panicking Nora gets her ponytail caught on one of the hooks, tries to exit the elevator, then gets her head stuck in the malfunctioning doors. The elevator begins to rise, with her body on the outside, and as the next floor is reached, she is relieved of her noggin.

Rating: Six severed heads. Perhaps ironic considering this actually involves a head being severed, but they don’t really show it happening, so points off.

Best Sadistic Flourish: Nora screaming “I don’t wanna die!” just before she does. Yeesh.

5: The Jaws of…

After some business in which the survivors realise their connections to the plane crash from the first film, a car accident occurs that injures Eugene and sees Kat (Keegan Connor Tracy) trapped in the driver’s seat having narrowly avoided her head being impaled by a pointy PVC pipe that pierced her SUV and poked through her headrest. When a helpful fireman uses the jaws of life to try and open her crushed door, it triggers the airbag which violently pushes her head back into the PVC pipe.

Rating: Nine severed heads. Possibly the most surprising death of the entire film. A true shocker. Bravo.

Best Sadistic Flourish: The fireman being kind of a dick to Kat just before he causes her death.

6: Segmented

After Kat’s death, her limp hand drops a lit cigarello (!?) that ignites fuel leaking from a news van, leading to an explosion that propels a barb wire fence at drug fiend Rory (Jonathan Cherry), who is laterally sliced into parts that slowly slide away

Rating: Nine severed heads. Another shocking triumph that arrives quickly after the last one.

Best Sadistic Flourish: Rory’s visible intestines poke out above his hips as his body falls apart. Meaty.

7: Boom

Eugene is in a hospital bed following the car accident, and Final Destination 1 survivor Clear Rivers (Ali Larter) is in the room when an oxygen leak and an electrical fault causes an explosion that kills them both.

Rating: Three severed heads. I admire that they try to show Clear’s face being burnt off, but I’m not here for bog-standard explosion deaths.

Best Sadistic Flourish: The fact that Clear’s name is spelled C-L-E-A-R. That’s effed up.

8: Finalé

Look, I’ve spoiled enough here, I’m not gonna ruin the ending of the film. But know that it involves an outdoor barbecue. Be careful this summer people!