I'm used to teenagers getting pumped at horror films, treating them as trash comedies of fear. Yet as I listened to a mostly young preview audience react to the gruesomely elaborate deaths in Final Destination 3, the cheers, laughs, and awestruck ''Whoaaas!'' growing more delirious with each slaughter, I thought, Why stop there? Bring on the gladiators!
The Final Destination films, in case you missed the first two, are the modern mall equivalent of those guilty-pleasure Omen sequels. It's not so much that the devil is involved (though, in a vague sort of way, he is). No, it's all about the deaths. Final Destination 3 opens with a huge roller-coaster crash (a follow-up to the plane crash and traffic accident that kicked off the first two films), and then, one by one, a handful of high school seniors who were ejected from the ride at the last minute get what's coming to them anyway. It's an escalating contest of can-you-top-this brutality, with each death staged as the final link in a Rube Goldberg chain reaction. As a dude sits in his car at a fast-food drive-in station, a truck spins off the road at the last minute, and when it smashes into the back of the car bzzzz! the guy's head gets meloned by a whirring fan blade.
What makes all of this ''fun,'' instead of dark or threatening, is that the victim was an idiot who leered at the class teases with horny glee. Take that, perv! But, of course, the babes get it too; they're each trapped in a tanning chamber, the camera lingering on their singed naked flesh. In Final Destination 3, all the victims are spoiled pills who razz one another with toxic distaste. When they get offed, they're being punished not for their sexuality (as in a slasher film) but simply for the crime of being the annoying scuzz they are and the audience, grooving on the bad vibes, goes wild.
Wendy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who's the closest thing the movie has to a virginal nice-girl heroine, has taken pictures of each one of the victims that foreshadow their grisly ends; the murders, in other words, arrive by cosmic design. But where is the grand mysterious force of evil coming from? At a horror roller coaster as breezy in its blood thrills as Final Destination 3, it almost seems to be coming from the audience.