Death watch

12 January 2013

9:00 AM

12 January 2013

9:00 AM

Some people say TV is a bad thing for families but I say don’t knock it. It was thanks to TV this school holidays that I almost got vaguely, slightly, accepted by Boy. Fathers of young teenage males will know exactly what I’m on about here. There comes a point — quite often bang on your son’s 13th birthday — when he suddenly decides that you’re the lamest, dumbest, uncoolest Dad in the entire history of fatherhood. And you spend many anxious months wondering how on earth you’re ever going to win him back.

Well, in my case TV has been the answer. We have bonded through our shared love of South Park and teen slasher movies, neither of which I would ever have been allowed in a million years to watch on my own because the Fawn doesn’t like such things. If I say I’m doing it as part of the vital father/son bonding process, though, I get instant permission. ‘Result!’ as we boys say.

I had, I must admit, been getting slightly worried about Boy’s tastes. In his 14 years, I’ve never once known him express the slightest interest in war, nor in violence generally. But then, over Christmas, he casually let slip that there was a film with any number of hideous deaths in it that he’d recorded off Sky. Did I fancy watching with him? ‘Does Freddy Krueger wear a stripy jumper?’ I would have replied, except I doubt he’d have got the reference.

Anyway, the film was called Final Destination and it’s about a group of American teenagers who’ve boarded a plane to Paris when one of them suddenly freaks out, having had visions that the plane is going to explode and they’re all going to die. He and several of his mates are escorted off the plane. Shortly after take-off, the plane blows up, killing everyone aboard.

It’s a great premise for a film, not least because we’ve all been there: you’re strapped in your seat thinking, ‘Oh, my God. This is it! That dodgy-looking bloke three seats away is definitely the Shoe Bomber. Only this time he’s going to make it and we’re all going to die.’ The only things that stop you acting on your premonition are a) the huge costs you’d incur and b) the knowledge you’d be arrested and then probably banned for ever by the airline. ‘Then again,’ you think to yourself, ‘maybe those would be small prices to pay if my hunch is right…’


So these kids — they’ve all cheated death and Death doesn’t like it. That’s why, in the course of the rest of the film, he bumps them off, one by one, in a succession of freak accidents in the exact order they would have died had they been on that plane. Implausible throttlings, electrocutions and decapitations ensue. It’s very gory and very, very silly. But it’s also, I like to think, a vital part of a teenager’s emotional development — which is one reason why, as a responsible father, I think it’s important that Boy and I be allowed further quality time together to watch Final Destinations 2, 3, 4 and 5.

Some parents appear to think that their children need protecting from this kind of stuff but it seems to me that it serves an important, underrated function. Why is it mostly teens who are drawn to this schlock? Because, while they may hitherto have been aware of Hammy the Hamster’s mortality, this is probably the first time in their lives that they’ve begun to become properly aware of their own. Seeing kids roughly their own age being cartoonishly bumped off in divers hideous ways is their initial step towards dealing with something we all have to face in the end: no one gets out of here alive.

This, as Wes (Nightmare on Elm Street) Craven once told me, is the essence of the genre’s appeal. ‘One of our primal horrors is the vulnerability of the human package. Our skin is so thin; we don’t have claws, fangs, horns or armoured plates. The merest jab will put us in trouble immediately. So we’re walking around in this incredibly vulnerable position while trying to act like we’re safe and we’re going to live for ever. But no. We’re just a knife-thrust away from being dead.’

Obviously, it saddens me a bit to realise that Boy is of an age where he can no longer trip around going ‘hello, trees; hello, sky’ but instead must for ever mull darkly over the axeman in the shrubbery and the taipan in the grass. But not nearly as much as it gladdens me to have acquired such a valuable, new comrade-in-arms in the great Delingpole household TV wars.

The Fawn: ‘Oh, don’t be ridiculous. You’ve seen that Lemmiwinks episode a million times. You can’t watch it again.’

Me: ‘Yes, but it’s not me who wants to watch it. It’s your boy. I’m just to trying to keep him happy.’

The Fawn: ‘Oh, all right.’

Exeunt boys, sniggering conspiratorially and exchanging high fives.

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Show comments
  • Sarah

    Only problem is that in many teen films, the girls’ deaths are often strongly linked to sex, and what’s more often made titillating.

    Echoing down the ages from the Ancient Greek rationalists with their fear and loathing of Goddess worshipping, the underlying American, puritanical Christian message is, sex is bad for you and you deserve to be punished for being sexual by men.

    I’m sure that’s a message that is profoundly bad for both boys and girls and is responsible for many a “act like a slut, be treated like a slut” attitude, of which there are several examples on display amongst middle aged men on this very website.

    So I hope as a good father you do a better job than previous generations and help your teenage son to recognise media messages so they grow up to be good men. I hope you prompt them to question why the female victims are always beautiful and frigid, disparaging or “slutty” inventions; are often in their underwear, in the shower or going past first base when targetted by the baddies, why the camera spends longer on the deaths of females than males. Why the survivor is always the girl next door Tom Boy who treats men as they like to be treated and why sex murderers aren’t cool.

    It’s not all the responsibility of parents of teenage girls to teach them to run faster than the other prey.

    • BorderlineFascist

      You’re a one trick pony Sarah, on and on you drone and spout your tedious cobblers. Stop waving your handbag about and go and cook a pudding or something.

      • Sarah

        Oh good, the one donkey of the apocalypse has turned up.

  • Teacher

    As a teacher, over 32 years I observed that the reason many teenagers could not control their emotions and desires and behave in a mature fashion was because their parents were also in a state of self indulgent, arrested teenage development and so were not setting them a good example. Eschewing or restricting indulgent appetites is hard and you become a ‘grown up’ when you manage it. Your wife is an adult, Mr Delingpole, and the grown ups should reinforce each other’s rules for the sake of the children. I realise that this reads as dry and schoolmarmy but the philosophers would endorse it.