WRONG TURN **** USA 2003 Dir: Rob Schmidt. 84 mins
Ditching the self-conscious, post-modernist attitude infecting too many post-SCREAM slasher movies, this commendable attempt at an intense latter-day DELIVERANCE from Stan Winston’s studios nicely taps into the paranoia of rural in-breds familiar from 70’s horror. As with DELIVERANCE, the villains are given names reflective of their physical appearance (Three Finger, Saw Tooth and One Eye) and as with THE HILLS HAVE EYES, supposedly civilised city folk (six photogenic twentysomethings headed by BUFFY’s Eliza Dushku) are forced to act like violent primitives to stay alive. Evocatively shot by X FILES veteran John S Bartley, the movie was gruesome for the tame era of pre-HOSTEL U.S. horror movies, with Emmanuelle Chriqui copping an axe to the face and a grim extended suspense set piece in which our heroes are forced to watch their friend’s mutilated body treated like a slab of meat by the in-breds while cowering under a bed in the villains’ shack. It’s a shame the wrap-up is routine and leading man Desmond Harrington is so dull, as WRONG TURN otherwise does almost everything right.
WRONG TURN 2: DEAD END **** USA 2007 Dir: Joe Lynch. 96 mins
Conceived as an unrated straight-to-DVD sequel to the straight-faced, theatrical release WRONG TURN, Joe Lynch’s gleefully grisly follow-up was, oddly, one of three American horror movies within a year to feature equally gross mutant-birth sequences (the others, if you’re keeping a checklist, were THE HILLS HAVE EYES PART 2 and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE THE BEGINNING). Lynch set out to make a latter-day “video nasty”, and his movie pulls off the ambition with inventive zeal even if its script hinges on an old-hat reality TV premise already used in HALLOWEEN RESURRECTION. Great casting saves the familiarity of the backdrop : Henry Rollins is priceless as the host of “The Apocalypse : Ultimate Survivalist”, in which six contestants compete for a $100k prize and, thanks to the filming location of deepest darkest West Virginia woodland, end up being picked off by an extended family of mutant cannibals. Aside from the shock that Disposable Black Guy Texas Battle is portrayed as a sensitive, non-cocky jock AND survives to the end, this movie far outdoes the original for gore and boobs: a vacuous blonde is bisected in the very first scene, Crystal Lowe is an ill-fated slut and Erica Leehrsen is a self-mutilating Vegan who is force-fed entrails. The splatter-filled second half is particularly satisfying.
WRONG TURN 3: LEFT FOR DEAD ** USA 2009 Dir: Declan O’Brien. 92 mins
The kind of low rent mutants-in-the-woods sequel in which only one of the original mutant brothers bothers to turn up, the third WRONG TURN has some face-slappingly rubbish CG gore and the sort of embarrassing back-projection that we all thought was outmoded in 1965, but is undemanding fun if you catch it in a very forgiving mood. The opening, building on the jokey splatter direction taken by the second movie, is promising as a bunch of dumb teens are tri-sected and, in a movie highlight, a self-aware hot slut has her eyeball popped and an arrow through one of her self-described “perfect tits”. After that, it turns into WRONG TURN meets CON AIR as a bus-load of hard-core criminals, in the middle of a transfer, end up in the path of Three Finger. This Bulgaria-shot movie has a lot of British actors sporting dodgy US accents and overdoses on scenes of rent-a-thug Tamer Hassan punching everybody in the face like a Bulgaria-dwelling Vinnie Jones. The mutant make up this time has the impact of a $30 HILLS HAVE EYES joke shop mask, and there’s no excuse for all the wobbly digital FX, but when faces are being sliced off, at least it has a pulse. Director Declan O’Brien (he made SHARKTOPUS!) was kept on-board for the next two, equally cheap but surprisingly better sequels.
WRONG TURN 4: BLOODY BEGINNINGS *** USA / Germany 2011 Dir: Declan O’Brien. 88 mins
The third of Fox’s unrated DVD sequels to the comparatively restrained WRONG TURN follows the prequel route of various earlier genre franchises, but the use of a 1974 prologue and a main story unfolding in 2003 is really just an excuse for more mayhem shifted away from the usual backwoods backdrop into an abandoned West Virginia asylum. After a marvellous bout of limb-yanking and eyeball gouging at the outset, returning director Declan O’Brien acknowledges his target audience immediately by delivering explicit hetero sex, lipstick-lesbian oral sex and three sets of bare boobs within the first 10 minutes. Aside from the 21st century genre standard of “Does anyone have a signal?” (answer: fuck no!), the movie’s standard dialogue is as follows: “What’s that huge dark shape by the side of the bridge?” / “I think it’s a building!” There is, however, a lot of fun to be had from its embrace of 80’s slasher clichés (including much weed smoking and the presence of an asshole character staging fake scares) and from the wise decision to mute the shitty CG of part 3 with a rousing array of largely practical splatter set pieces, including a bravura phallic pneumatic drill impalement in the final reel. As it’s a prequel and demands no survivors, you also get a splendidly sour double-beheading punchline reminiscent of the end of the 2001 MANIACS remake. It’s the best of the three later WRONG TURN sequels, and it probably features the greatest single line of dialogue from any of them : “They’re eating him alive like some fucked up fondue!”
WRONG TURN 5: BLOODLINES ** USA 2012 Dir: Declan O’Brien. 87 mins
Opening with FRIDAY THE 13TH-style naked tent sex ending in a silly false scare, this studio-bound fifth entry opts for a mild bit of self-referencing by unfolding during the 10th annual Halloween “Mountain Man Music Festival”. Here, many of the attendees wear “Mountain Man” masks similar to the cheap ones adorning returning cannibals One Eye, Saw Tooth and Three Finger, all now played by anonymous Eastern Europeans since the series’ shift to foreign climes with part 3. An interchangeable bunch of young campers plan a weekend of pranks, fucking and shrooms at the festival while Doug Bradley plays a patriarch to the three brutal hillbilly villains, spending most of the movie incarcerated like a low-rent Hannibal Lecter. After the brisk BLOODY BEGINNINGS, this one drags in between all the tits and gore, largely due to the clunky performances, an odd stagey look reminiscent of the heavily green-screened FEAST sequels and the decision to play the villains so broad that there’s no sense of real threat. Nonetheless, the girls are super-pretty, you get three sex scenes and the sequels’ trademark OTT gore is here in abundance. There’s a SAW-like ingenuity to some of the more elaborately sadistic set pieces, but the simplest stuff – multiple leg breaks, a girl force fed her own innards – tends to work best. The consistent cynicism ranges from Bradley threatening “I’m gonna cut your titties off as a souvenir” to a mean-spirited ending in which the two survivor girls die horribly at the point where they look like they’re getting away.
WRONG TURN *** USA / UK / Germany 2021 Dir: Mike P. Nelson. 109 mins
Initiated by an effective teen DELIVERANCE two decades ago, the WRONG TURN franchise descended into Eastern European-shot splatstick a long time ago and is now eligible for the faddish not-quite-a-sequel-or-a-remake revival movie appropriating the title of its original incarnation. After establishing a highly familiar set-up, this wanders off on its own agenda while restoring the seriousness of the first film.
A framing story follows Matthew Modine’s search for his teenager daughter – missing with her boyfriend in the Appalachian mountains. His encounters with unhelpful cops / grim-faced locals are interwoven into six-weeks-earlier flashbacks documenting his tomboyish daughter (Charlotte Vega) on vacation with a very 21st century friendship group encompassing same-sex couples and multiple ethnicities. The obligatory flat tyre and warnings of sticking to the mountain trail in what is termed “Bumfuck, Virginia” are in place, but the characters are smart and no one gets their bum out. Though, in what seems an unintended concession to an earlier age, a gay character is the first to die horribly – gruesomely crushed in an incident confirming an unforgiving environment.
This offers a self-sustainable, fully functional secret society of families dating back to pre-Civil War U.S.A. Familiar 80s slashers trope (what to do with this person we’ve just killed?) alternate with trip-wire traps and spike-pits before the protagonists are captured and put “on trial”. The accompanying commentary as the two disparate groups meet isn’t subtle (yep, someone asks aloud “Whose world is more barbaric?”) but the backdrop of the “Foundation” is vividly realised and it’s refreshing to see the series dispensing with grinning, farcical cannibal in-breds.
It’s great to see the series dispensing with the grinning, farcical cannibal in-breds – though Ari Aster’s Midsommar seems to be an influence for its new “threat”. The violence, when it comes is sometimes startlingly brutal, and it also pulls off an astonishing double fake-out involving breakfast table ultra-violence before an eerie single long take in long shot over the end credits captures the heroine’s final revolt back in leafy suburbia, supposed civilisation. Ruby Modine’s “This Land is Mine” plays out the picture. Written by the original film’s Alan B McElroy, the film’s one moment of self conscious humour acknowledging its place in a long running series is the heroine mentioning at the end that her brothers have chosen an inbred cannibal flick (again) for movie night.
Reviews by Steven West
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