The Final Destination Green lightThe term ‘3D horror movie’ may not engender great faith among art lovers or film aficionados but for a select breed of laughers and screamers it sure sounds like a helluva way to spend a night out – an invitation to don those new and improved 3D shades and hoot and squeal through a couple of knee-slappin’ hours at the cinema, where good looking (typically American) young bods get slain, torn and mulched, miscellaneous bits of their anatomy hurled out of the screen and into a space perilously close – or so it seems – to your eyeballs.

If the genre can be justified in any way – if there is a point to it, a purpose, a reason for its existence, a raison d’être – 3D horror movies can be justified as carnival-esque entertainment cooked up for people with dark senses of humour, strong stomachs and a sick lust for watching the futility of life depicted via the merciless visual deconstruction (read: slaughtering) of hapless fictional others. In other words, people like me.

Of course, typical American mainstream horror/slasher movies (3D or nay) tend to be aggravatingly by-the-numbers. The actors often linger pathetically on the screen like carcasses waiting to be slain, the scares come on crassly via sudden nerve-pounding cataclysms on the sound track and pace, timing and tempo are words clearly outside the average director’s vocabulary.

The latter criticism is perhaps the most pertinent to the genre, at least in terms of pure entertainment value, and thankfully doesn’t apply to writer/director David R. Ellis’s The Final Destination. This diabolically fun no-brainer is fast, lean and mean trashy entertainment, the kind of guilty pleasure for which the term was coined. It’s currently screening in both 2D and 3D formats, but here’s the inside word: see the latter or don’t bother.

The essential difference between The Final Destination series and other similarly grisly genre pics is simple: the storyline has no tangible villain. There is no salivating yeti, no chainsaw wielding hic, no Krueger-like menace chasing the victims and chopping them into pieces. It is vaguely reminiscent of director Colin Eggleston’s 1978 Aussie thriller The Long Weekend, in which natures turns against the characters, but in this franchise man made inventions wreak the carnage.

Each instalment begins with the protagonist witnessing a premonition of a horrific accident. In the first it was a plane crash, the second a car/bike/truck freeway crash, the third a rollercoaster crash and, this time around, the mother of all grand prix crashes.

The protag – in this case a clean cut kid named Nick (Bobby Campo) – invariably freaks out and escapes the scene along with a bunch of people who would otherwise have died. Death is none too happy about it (off screen grumbling something, we assume, about the cheek of today’s yoof, escaping their destinies, defying the master plan and, worse yet, maybe even being nice to each other) so Death tracks them down and one by one sends them to their graves via a combination of outrageous ‘accidents.’

After Nick and his fellow photogenic Americans escape Death’s master plan at the grand prix he and his GF Lori (Shantel VanSanten) try to figure out what order the survivors will be disposed of, then how to break the cycle. Amusingly, one of the characters makes peace with his mortality and spends a day trying to top himself but fails every time; in other words, he’s incapable of killing himself but can’t escape a grim fate either. In these movies Death, you see, is a playful sunova…

The beauty of the setup is you’re never sure what’s gonna kill the characters or precisely when it’s gonna happen. Will it be the loosened ceiling fan swinging precariously above their heads? Could it be the fire in the microwave, the leaking bathtub upstairs, the distraught flock of birds, the, um, pebble underneath the ride-on lawn mower?

The elements-against-us format forces the filmmakers to be inventive, at least a little bit, and though most of the franchise constitutes a wasted opportunity (the first and the third film are particularly disappointing – too much yak, not enough whack) every once in a while it strikes gold. The opening premonition in the second instalment is a shrewd stretch of film, one of the most playfully layered car crash scenes committed to cinema in at least the last couple of decades. See it and say it ain’t so.

Up there with the biggest hoots in TFD is a fabulously squeamish water-themed sequence in which Ellis cuts between a car wash and a swimming pool. The pool tangent is conspicuously reminiscent of author Chuck Palahnuik’s brilliantly revolting short story Guts, live readings of which have become the stuff of legend.

The characters’ grisly ends are marked by impossible to believe combinations of everyday things that work against them: golf balls, coins, aerials, nail guns etcetera. Ellis would surely have thrown in the kitchen sink had it not already been checked off in Final Destination 2. The trick, though the director fails to achieve it far too regularly, is not to let the characters say very much. If they talk for too long – and I mean 30-40 seconds, max -the trashiness of the dialogue becomes exposed like an animal in headlights and the performances, brutally strained and unconvincing, don’t help either. On the upside you do get to watch these blabbering American w*nkers cop wildly brutal 3D-enhanced deaths and, as far as compensation goes, that’s not half bad.

At its best The Final Destination toys with the rules of suspense in its own garish way, ducking and weaving, faking out audiences before finally slamming down the guillotine. At its worst it’s cheap thrills dross; lazy, sleazy and sadistic, as deep as a spill of blood streaked across the floor. But if this movie plays in front of the right crowd – and you know who you are, you laughers and screamers, you lovers of bloodcurdling carnage, you cinematic sickos just like me – it makes for a gloriously deranged guilty pleasure.

The Final Destination’s Australian theatrical release date: October 15, 2009