If you’re a fan of “The X-Files,” you’ll recognize the story immediately from the infamous “Home” episode, which only aired on network prime time once because it was so disturbing. Deep in the back woods of West Virginia, rednecks have been inbreeding so much that they have produced a family of three brothers – all horribly malformed with genetic mutations that would make the Elephant Man heave. These brothers have been getting their kicks by kidnapping, mutilating and devouring anyone who comes down their lonely dirt road.
Five friends from school have been caught in their trap – a hunk of barbed wire stretched across the road. While waiting for a passer-by to pick them up, the five would-be campers encounter Chris (Desmond Harrington), a doctor taking short cut on his way to Raleigh for a job interview. Both cars are destroyed when Chris plows into their SUV, and the six characters are left to find their way out of the woods. Their situation goes from just a little scary to terrifying as the three deformed psycho killers stalk them in the woods, picking them off one by one.
Meant to be an homage to the gritty horror films of the 1970s like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, “The Last House on the Left” and “The Hills Have Eyes,” “Wrong Turn” walks a very, very fine line between respect and rip-off. There’s a needlessly blatant “Deliverance” reference which winks and nods to the audience too much. Still, any film that has marketing copy reading “cannibalistic mountain men grossly disfigured through generations of in-breeding” can’t be all that bad, can it?
For this film to have been perfect, it should have been shot on 16mm like these 1970s classics, and the degree of computer animation used is too much. Painfully cheap to shoot with a main cast of less than ten and most of the locations in the middle of nowhere, “Wrong Turn” would have actually been more impressive if it wasn’t a studio picture but a grass roots indie film shot on grainy film stock and starring unknowns.
Eliza Dushku, who made a name for herself in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and isn’t afraid to cash in on her fans by doing cheesy horror films, is the only really recognizable name and face. At least Dushku, who has appeared almost exclusively in teen flicks and horror movies since “Buffy,” is happy to work in the industry instead of torpedoing her career in the search for more significant roles like other stars like Rob Morrow and Gillian Anderson.
In general, the best aspect of “Wrong Turn” is, that while the filmmakers are paying homage to such old classics, they didn’t fall into the familiar horror movie traps. How many times have you watched a horror movie and asked yourself why the characters split up, why they run to the attic instead of out the front door and why do they not just get the hell out of the area to avoid the killer. In “Wrong Turn,” the scenario is such that the victims literally have nowhere else to go. It’s not like “Amityville Horror” when they just don’t leave the house. They’re in fact trying to get out through most of the movie. Of course, there are moments where the characters split up, but this is logical in the context of the film.
Other stand-bys in horror films, like teenagers having sex right before they’re killed, are poked fun at with tongue firmly in cheek. All in all, “Wrong Turn” does a better job spoofing the horror movie genre than films like “Scream” and “Scary Movie” did.
Another tightrope that the filmmakers walk – less successfully – is that fine, fine line between horror and gore. At times, they try the technique of not showing anything to make the horror more real. For example, when one of the killers saws the arm off a dead victim, we are only showed the dangling hand and the edge of saw with blood dripping on the floor. You never see the saw cutting into the arm. Much like the infamous meat hook scene in “Texas Chainsaw,” this is terribly disturbing specifically because of what you don’t see. However, the moment is lost two minutes later when you see the dead body lying on a table with its arm cut off.
For someone like me who has seen almost every major horror film ever made (including renting the DVD of “I Spit On Your Grave” because I wanted to see how they “digitally mastered” a movie so cheap that it had no musical soundtrack), “Wrong Turn” holds few surprises. In fact, it so perfectly emulates the classic horror movie that you can anticipate every jump, every scare and every surprise. But if you’ve got a girlfriend who hasn’t seen too many fright flicks, this is a great show because it will hold plenty of scares and shocks. And in a large audience, the movie plays very well and actually becomes fun as you yell at the screen things like, “Oh, he’s dead!” and “Don’t go in there!”