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.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 12 January 2013