Final Destination 5 is a chronicle of carnage in which a group of good looking young people die in the most terrible ways imaginable, usually preceded by the tell tale line, “Something’s wrong!”
For example, a gymnast earns a 9.5 from the Splatterville judge and star Jacqueline MacInnes Wood succumbs to laser surgery gone horribly wrong. It’s the kind of movie which makes audiences shout, “No, you didn’t!” and “Awwwwwwwwwwwww! I can never un-see that!” usually while laughing and having a gruesome good time.
This week I asked Wood why people would pay money to go see her movie.
“We’re all twisted,” she said. “That’s the answer.”
Others have different ideas. In his excellent book Shock Value author Jason Zinoman suggests that one of the pleasures of getting scared at the movies is “that it focuses the mind.” He uses the example of a baby being born. “Try to imagine the shock of one world running into another,” he writes. “Nothing is familiar and the slightest detail registers as shockingly new. Think of the futility of trying to process what is going on. No wonder they scream.
“Overwhelming terror,” he continues, “may be the closest we ever get to the feeling of being born.”
Whether it’s as deep seeded as that or not, there is no denying that terror is a primal feeling. Its part of our DNA but, counter intuitively, it isn’t horrible when experienced at the movies. As Eduardo Andrade and Joel B. Cohen said in a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, “the most pleasant moments of a particular event may also be the most fearful.”
A Saturday matinee screening of Paranormal Activity was the first and only time I ever heard anyone actually scream in a theatre. I don’t mean a quiet whimper followed by an embarrassed laugh or a frightened little squeal. No, I mean a full-on, open throated howl of terror. But the woman didn’t run from the theatre. She stayed and enjoyed the rest of the film, so she must have liked the cathartic release of tension the scream gave her.
Alfred Hitchcock, knew how to scare the wits out of people. The shower scene in Psycho, for example, is a benchmark in cinematic fear. If he had any doubts about the effectiveness of that sequence they must have been put to bed when he received an angry letter from a father whose daughter stopped bathing after seeing the bathtub murder scene in Les Diaboliques and then, more distressingly, refused to shower after seeing Psycho. Hitch’s response to the concerned dad? “Send her to the dry cleaners.”
The director was always quick with a line, but when it got down to the business of terrifying audiences he summed up the appeal of the scary movie in one brief sentence: “People like to be scared when they feel safe.”
When the first Final Destination movie was released in 2000, no one could have predicted the success of the horror franchise. No one that is, except for maybe Devon Sawa, the Canadian-born actor who played Alex Browning, the film’s character gifted with second sight.
At the bloody heart of each of these gory horror movies is a character with premonitions of the future. Usually he or she has forewarning that all his/her good-looking friends will die in the most terrible way imaginable. When the vision comes true—usually preceded by the tell tale line, “Something’s wrong!”—whoever survives ends up dying anyway, in increasingly complicated ways. With Final Destination 5 opening this weekend it seemed like an appropriate time to look back at other movie characters that have had creepy visions.
In The Gift, the movie Sam Raimi directed just before spinning the web for his Spider-Man trilogy, Cate Blanchett plays a psychic who helps the police locate a missing girl.
Billy Bob Thornton, Blanchett’s co-star and the movie’s screenwriter, based the character on his mother, Virginia Thornton Faulkner. Like the character in the movie, the psychic Mrs. Faulkner was a widow who raised three boys and used her extra sensory ability to make extra money.
In the hauntingly surreal Don’t Look Now, John Baxter (Donald Sutherland in a curly wig) has a premonition that something awful is about to happen to his daughter. Sure enough, seconds later she falls in a pond and drowns. Later in Venice, John and his wife (Julie Christie) meet an elderly psychic who claims to see apparitions of the dead daughter which triggers John’s own otherworldly visions.
Adapted from a short story by Daphne Du Maurier, the psychic thriller has become a cult classic since its release in 1973, inspiring filmmakers like Danny Boyle, who cites it as one of his favorite movies and E=MC2 a Top Twenty hit by Big Audio Dynamite.
Finally, some call these premonitions ESP, others, like author Stephen King, call them The Shining. In King’s novel, Stanley Kubrick’s film and the television movie of the same name, both Danny Torrance, the telepathic son of the winter caretakers of the remote Overlook Hotel and chef Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) have visions and premonitions. King says the title was inspired by the Plastic Ono Band’s song, Instant Karma which features the chorus, “We all shine on.”