Jeffrey Reddick was flying home to Kentucky when he came up with the idea for Final Destination, the 2000 horror movie in which death stalks a group of travelers after they get off an ill-fated airliner. Reddick and two supernatural veterans then wrote the script, got it made, and saw it become an instant hit. After helping construct Final Destination II, Reddick produced episodes of the LGBT soap Dante's Cove (on the here! network, a sister company of The Advocate) and wrote the remake of George Romero's Day of the Dead. As Final Destination 5 opens today in theaters, Reddick, 42, talks about the $500 million franchise he helped create, the allure of horror movies to LGBT people, and his next projects.
The Advocate: Tell us the experience of working on the first film.
Jeffrey Reddick: Well, I’m a lifelong horror fan. I worked for New Line Cinema, the studio that produced the films, starting when I was 19 years old. In 1997, I had been working on the treatment for Final Destination — it was originally called Flight 180 — with these two producers, Craig Perry and Warren Zide, and we set the project up at New Line. I wrote the first draft of the script, then the studio went to writers James Wong and Glen Morgan, probably best known for X-Files and Millennium. They came on the project and did their draft — I think it turned out really well. It’s interesting because it was always a tough concept to get the studio behind because we had death as the killer. They were like, “You can’t see death and you can’t fight it — it doesn’t make any sense.” In my original draft, they made me have death take form in the final showdown. When James and Glen came along they wanted to keep death as more of a force. I think that probably was one of the things that made the film seem more elevated than a lot of horror films.
What gave you the idea for the film?
The original seed came when I was on a plane, flying back to my home state of Kentucky. I read a story in a magazine about a woman on vacation in Hawaii and her mother called her the night before she was supposed to fly home and said, “Don’t fly home tomorrow. I have a bad feeling about it.” So the woman changed her flight and the plane she was supposed to be on crashed. So I was reading that on a plane and that’s what started the idea percolating. I started thinking, Did she miss her time to die? That evolved into the film concept.
Did you foresee all the success?
I was hopeful. I thought if they marketed it right, it could really take off. The interesting thing is that it didn’t open in the top two or three; I think it opened at number 5. But then it stayed in the top 10 for longer than any other movie that month. It actually started rising after a few weeks.
Have you seen the latest film?
Yeah — it’s really good. I try not to be biased when I say the first two are the best, but I do. I don’t think it’s because I worked on them; other people have said that as well. I think this one is up there with the second one.
What’s your favorite death scene in the series?
I have a favorite scene and a favorite death scene. My favorite death scene is the bus hitting the character of Terry Chaney [Amanda Detmer] in the original; that was actually a scene that James and Glen came up with. The way it was shot, it was so unexpected. But the opening car accident [involving an out-of-control log truck] in the second film is my favorite scene — I live in Kentucky and I would pass trucks like that all the time. We were trying to think of an opening for the second movie, and I was home in Kentucky driving behind a log truck. I called up the producer and I was like, “I got the opening!”
There are so many queer horror aficionados. What's the appeal?
I think part of the reason is that the lead character, the hero, is often not popular — not the cheerleader or the jock. Many LGBT kids feel like outcasts. Most gay fans also have a favorite “final girl” from a film franchise — all the gay men love Amy Steel from Friday the 13th Part 2 because she’s a tomboy. She’s really pretty but also smart and tough. Films always allow us to project our hopes and dreams, and having outsiders triumph really resonates.
There's certainly been a lot of lesbian or gay writers behind horror films — Rita Mae Brown and The Slumber Party Massacre, Silvio Horta and Urban Legend, Kevin Williamson and Scream.
I’m actually good friends with Kevin, and like me, he was a huge fan of horror films from a very young age. I think the gay connection drew us to these films, but what we bring to the table is the fact that many gay men have a thing for strong females. Kevin does this very well, and I’ve tried in my work to not write a straight-male version of what a tough chick is — a woman with a big rack, an hourglass figure, and wearing spandex. I think we’re more mindful of creating full-blown female characters, who are usually the leads in these films.
Did you consider having gay characters in your films?
In the first film I didn’t. Even though I worked at the studio, writers don’t have a lot of say in casting. But in the first one I was more interested in making sure there was a racially diverse group of teenagers, and I wrote that intentionally because it took place in New York. Of course, they cast the film and it was all white. I told the producer about it and they added a bit of diversity. I think as part of the tapestry of the films, it would be great to have gay characters. I tried to make sure there were no gay stereotypes or bashing in the film — that riles me. I worked on the first two films, and there were a couple of goofy comments in the later films that irked me.
Any future projects on the horizon?
I have a supernatural horror script that’s making the rounds that I’m excited about — it’s about sleep paralysis. I have another project where you’re not sure if it’s supernatural or a straight-up thriller. I’m also working on a TV series with [writer and producer] Gale Anne Hurd that’s in the supernatural genre — she's having a lot of success with The Walking Dead, so I’m excited about that.
Sounds like supernatural is where you’re headed.
Nightmare on Elm Street is my favorite movie of all time. That kind of supernatural horror, with that fantasy element that deals with the subconscious and fears and insecurities, has always intrigued me.
Have you thought about how you’d like to die?
Peacefully and painlessly and later in life.