Cue another round of "truth in advertising" jokes, film fans: the fifth Final Destination hits theaters this week, bringing moviegoers one more round of screaming teenagers meeting their doom in a variety of fiendishly clever ways. Like the romantic comedy, we love to disparage the "dead teenager" movie (the term was famously coined by Roger Ebert as a pejorative for 1980s slasher flicks), but we clearly can't get enough: some of Hollywood's longest-lasting franchises (not to mention a few horror classics) have been built on the fresh corpses of teen characters who ran afoul of supernatural forces or homicidal maniacs. For this week's Total Recall, we decided to take a look back at a few noteworthy examples from an often critically maligned -- yet always quite popular -- subgenre. Which ones made the (ahem) cut? Read on to find out!
Cross Scream with The Blair Witch Project and you've got Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, a mockumentary-style look at the trail of bloody terror left by a budding serial killer (Nathan Baesel) who's so excited about his new career field that he invites a film crew along to watch him plan (and, ahem, execute) his dastardly deeds. "The dialogue has wit, and the rug gets pulled out from under us and the characters in several short, sharp jolts. At a certain point," observed the Boston Globe's Ty Burr, "Behind the Mask loses the tatty digital-video and immerses us in cinema."
Repressed sexuality, religious fundamentalism, peer pressure, high school cliques, bullying -- Stephen King rolled them all into one tightly wound bundle of supernatural horror with his debut bestseller, and Brian De Palma brought it screaming to the screen with this 1976 adaptation. Starring Sissy Spacek as the miserably put-upon victim of her brutally vindictive peers -- not to mention her lunatic mother (Piper Laurie) -- Carrie includes some of the most memorable sequences in the genre, as well as what TIME's Richard Schickel called "An exercise in high style that even the most unredeemably rational among moviegoers should find enormously enjoyable."
There's nothing quite like the bond between a young man and his first car -- especially when that car is a 1958 Plymouth Fury with a bloodthirsty evil spirit lurking under the hood. It's kind of a silly premise, but it was explored effectively by Stephen King in his 1983 bestseller Christine -- and, later the same year, by John Carpenter in the film adaptation, starring future Waking the Dead director (and noted cinematic nerd) Keith Gordon as Arnie Cunningham, a high school misfit who develops an unhealthy bond with the titular, murderous vehicle. But as much as Arnie loves Christine, the car loves him even more -- which is why anyone who hassles him, including the pack of delinquents who vandalize her to teach him a lesson, soon tastes hot asphalt. "This is the kind of movie," wrote an appreciative Roger Ebert, "where you walk out with a silly grin, get in your car, and lay rubber halfway down the Eisenhower."
Starring the redoubtable Clint Howard as a military school outcast who copes with his torment by using his computer to translate the Satanic texts of a long-dead priest (played by Richard Moll!), Evilspeak is an early '80s masterpiece of so-bad-it's-good horror. What can you say to a movie that includes a pentagram-flashing computer, supernatural black boars, a gratuitous shower scene, Clint Howard wielding Satan's sword, and a puppy named Fred? Only that it is, in the words of Movie Gazette's Anton Bitel, "a satisfying blend of Revenge of the Nerds and satanism."
By the year 2000, teenagers had been getting chased around by serial killers in movies for decades, and it was hard to imagine a new film coming along and bringing anything new to the dark, vicarious thrill of watching young malcontents run for their lives. And then came along James Wong's Final Destination -- which, if it didn't put an entirely new spin on the genre, at least added a deranged layer of intricate art to the mayhem. Here, the villain isn't a psychotic murderer or impossible-to-kill boogeyman -- it's actually Death himself, annoyed because a group of teens cheated him out of his due by getting off a plane before it explodes. Their punishment? A series of hands-over-eyes-worthy Death traps, unleashed with Rube Goldbergian panache. "There's some mind-numbing dialogue as teenagers spout philosophical soundbites about Life and Death," admitted Jumana Farouky of the Boston Phoenix, "but it's worth the wait just to see a guy's head sliced in half by a sheet of steel."
Its name has become synonymous with low-grade teen slashers, but before Friday the 13th was a franchise based on a lumbering goon who roamed with woods with a limitless supply of lives and an axe (or machete, or meat hook, or anything else he could use as a weapon) to grind, it was a cautionary fable about teen bullying, promiscuity, and the importance of swimming lessons. As Film Threat's David Grove put it, "Long before Jason, and the endless machinations of dumb sequels, Friday the 13th represented the purest form of terror."
It's been one of the more thoughtlessly curated franchises in the genre, but before all the cheap sequels and the Rob Zombie reboot, John Carpenter's Halloween scared the heck out of audiences -- and earned almost universal praise from critics -- with its smart, minimalistic, and utterly brutal take on the tale of a boy who grows up to be a silent, remorseless serial killer simply because he's evil. Starring Donald Pleasance as the doctor who pursues the escaped Michael Myers, Jamie Lee Curtis as Myers' screaming teen quarry, and future Major Payne director Nick Castle as Myers himself, this 1978 classic inspired Roger Ebert to write, "Halloween is an absolutely merciless thriller, a movie so violent and scary that, yes, I would compare it to Psycho."
Blending Cheech and Chong-inspired stoner humor with a soap opera's casually impermanent approach to death, Idle Hands is one of the more decidedly strange entries in the genre, but it does have a certain kooky charm. The tale of a lazy teen (Devon Sawa) whose right hand becomes possessed and goes on a killing spree, Hands features a pair of undead slackers, bit parts for Fred Willard and Connie Ray, and a final act that includes a scene where the evil disembodied hand is felled via hotboxing. It was not, in other words, a hit with most critics -- although Slasherpool's Andreas Samuelson praised it as "stupid, silly fun with a decent amount of gore and heavy dose of teen humor."
Adding a slick dollop of 1990s style to the "mysterious campaign of bloody revenge for accidental death cover-up" motif previously explored in Prom Night, Jim Gillespie's I Know What You Did Last Summer united some of the decade's freshest young faces (including Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, and Freddie Prinze, Jr.) against a hook-wielding maniac. Of course, the kids did sort of start it when they ran over a guy and dumped his body in the ocean, but that didn't make the movie any less enjoyable for the Sacramento Bee's Joe Baltake, who wrote, "Teasing and taut, I Know What You Did Last Summer is a teen horror flick with a different kind of kick to it."