David R. Ellis, the Hollywood stuntman who went on to direct one of the most quoted exploitation action movies ever made, died today in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was 60.
Born in Los Angeles on September 10, 1952, Ellis got his start in Hollywood performing stunts in such action flicks as “Smokey and the Bandit,” “Scarface,” “Lethal Weapon,” “Road House” and “Days of Thunder,” and even some non-action flicks like “Fatal Attraction,” “She’s Out of Control” (remember that one?) and “The Freshman.” He segued into second unit directing work with the 1986 TV movie “Condor” and served as second unit director on such high-profile blockbusters as “The Matrix Reloaded,” “Waterworld,” “The Perfect Storm” and “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.”
Ellis truly made his mark as an exploitation director, bringing his expertise with large-scale action sequences to outrageous fantasy scenarios. After making his directorial debut with “Homeward Bound 2: Lost in San Francisco” (1996), he came into his own with “Final Destination 2” (2003), considered by several fans to be the best of the many “Final Destination” sequels, and returned to the series for the franchise’s first 3D installment, “The Final Destination” (2009). Ellis also brought the 3D mayhem for the recent absurdist mini-classic that brought bloodthirsty sharks to an idyllic lake community, “Shark Night” (2011).
Photo: EverettHowever, the Internet will probably best remember Ellis for “Snakes on a Plane” (2006), a film that should’ve made a bajillion dollars at the box office if all the online hype had translated to people actually going to see the movie. The film, which proudly displayed its own pitch as its title, featured Samuel L. Jackson taking on an outbreak of deadly reptiles at 30,000 feet, where he shamelessly spewed gloriously profane B-movie dialogue such as “I am sick and tired of these motherf**ing snakes on this motherf**king plane!”
Ellis was in South Africa preparing for his latest directorial effort, “Kite,” an adaptation of the popular anime about a young girl trained as an assassin after the death of her parents that was set to reunite him with his “Snakes” man Jackson. He also served as second unit director on three upcoming 2013 releases: “47 Ronin,” “R.I.P.D.” and “Winter’s Tale.”
See the trailer for ‘Snakes on a Plane’: