By Martin Cizmar
Final Destination III Arizona Avenue and Frye Road Chandler
The good: Impressive acting, great props. The bad: Not as thought provoking as it could be, nor as controversial. The ugly: Long and slow line, too much time spent crammed together on dark and steep stairs.
I imagine some people might consider it imprudent to review a hell house the same way I’ve been reviewing regular ol’ haunted houses all month. But when judgment houses – run by evangelical Christian churches, they set out to scare you with earthly evil and it’s eternal consequences – market themselves as haunted houses, as Final Destination III does, I think it’s fair. After all, I know a few people who’ve set out to find a traditional haunted house and ended up at “a haunted house-style attraction” like this, watching a doctor hold down a screaming patient during a mock abortion.
Final Destination III certainly does little to make things clear, not mentioning anything about any church on their website and offering free posters to the decidedly un-churchy Saw V. The attraction is hosted at The Door Christian Church in Chandler, which has caused it’s fair share of controversy in the past, and The Door’s website says this is "our" haunted house, so I think that's who's getting my $10.
Anyway, a warning that “Live Hell House walk-throughs by television and/or print media personnel are available by appointment only” was enough to keep us from requesting media passes, since we do all our reviews anonymously. Instead, web editor Jonathan McNamara and I showed up with my friends Nicole and Laura, paying our way and waiting in line.
And, oh, what a line it was. We arrived just after the doors opened on opening night but waited nearly an hour to get to the house, without moving for most of that time. As we waited, secular music (Rihanna, Beastie Boys, Papa Roach and, curiously, R. Kelly) played and an emcee worked the crowd, hyping up the fear factor of the house and attempting to stir up rivalries between local high schools.
After a pretty cool mock elevator ride and a confusing introductory video, we were in to the house. The first scene depicted a drug deal gone wrong, including the execution of a small army of henchman before a middleman who didn’t show up with the right amount of money was beheaded in gruesome fashion. The acting and scenery were great, and the firing pistols provided some startles, but this scene felt a little hallow. I certainly don’t want to spark a theological debate here, but I think it’s fair to state that Jesus himself didn’t really say much about drug use and though intoxication is certainly condemned a few places in the Bible, it’s not really a major theme. Besides, this scene seemed to be more about the horrors that befall someone who gets involved in the violent drug trade, not someone who smokes some pot here and there, as I imagine some of the kids going through this house do. If the organizers want to get their message across, they need to make the story more relatable.
The next scene made even less of a point. After passing through a scary dungeon-like room where teenage girls are imprisoned we entered a typical girl’s bedroom to find her discussing plans to meet some dude she met on MySpace with her friends. Next thing you know, the lights flick off, the girl screams and we discover that “Tom” her friend from MySpace (nice touch) is some serial rapist/murder who captures her and brings her to the dungeon. So what exactly is the point here, from a moral perspective? Is MySpace somehow inherently evil? This subject feels more appropriate for McGruff or an after-school special than a proper hell house.
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The next scene, a school shooting, suffered from the same problems. An angry gunman murders his teacher and a few other students, then complains about how much he hates his estranged mom and dad, and his “faggot uncle” who molested him, before turning the gun on himself. The problem was a total lack of any moral conundrum. Atheists, Agnostics, Christians, Muslims and Jews can all agree murdering a pregnant woman because you hate your parents is a bad idea. So what’s the point here? Are the organizers really worried the kids coming through are contemplating such a thing? If not, maybe show us how listening to a little Tegan and Sara could make even you shoot up a school.
Things finally got controversial in the abortion scene. In the waiting room a spotlight shone in turn on three actresses as their inner monologue was played over speakers, a nice theatrical touch. The scene was, of course, ridiculous, as the doctor and nurse pulled pile after pile of bloody “tissue” from the screaming patient as she begged to be let go, failing in her attempts to fight off an evil nurse. After the demonic doctor's speech ("It's only a choice!") we were instructed to watch two TV screens, where the beating scenes from The Passion of The Christ played next to purported footage of abortions. Around us, some people shed tears.
After that came what was, for me, the scariest part of the night: a long wait packed together on steep, dark steps. Seriously, not a good idea. Then, it was off to hell for a recap of the sins demonstrated in the other scenes. After a few minuets of dialogue we were stuffed in to coffins, only to emerge on the other side where we got a pretty good sermon from a pastor and were turned loose.
Though the acting and production values are better than anything you’ll see in other area haunted houses, Final Destination III is pretty thin on genuine scares, and never really seems to put the visitors in the shoes of the hell-bound characters. Why not show someone failing to love his neighbor, or neglecting to turn the other cheek, then going to hell? That’d really shake people up.