“Wrong Turn” represents a cheerful and welcome return to real depravity and sickness in cinema, a style of horror that I assumed had died off with films like “From Beyond” and “Re-Animator” and, before that, “Dawn of the Dead,” the godfather of the modern geek horror film. “Wrong Turn” is kind of like that. It’s not nearly the achievement of any of those films, but, on its own modest and blood-soaked terms, I think it’s as successful as any of the recent horror films that I’ve seen.
It all starts out very innocently as we see a group of friends, in a Range Rover, traveling along an out-of-the-way highway near the backwoods of West Virginia. When the tires on their jeep get slashed, they’re stalled in the middle of the woods. When another young traveler, Chris (Desmond Harrington), low on fuel, literally runs into them, the twentysomethings band together to look for help. They travel deep into the woods and, much like the characters from “The Blair Witch Project,” it seems like they’re going around in circles until they discover a remote mountain cabin. The cabin’s filled with ominous totems and gruesome trophies and we’re reminded that there are still places in America, especially in the Deep South, that should never be explored.
It’s here that we make the discovery of the film’s villains: a group of mountain mutants, their features horribly disfigured through generations of inbreeding. They murder two of the youngsters who had stayed behind at the car wreck while the others slowly realize that they’re the latest in a long line of hunted prey. The hillbilly mutants have names like Three Finger, Saw-Tooth and One-Eye, but, um, I didn’t see anyone making chili or selling ribs. The mutants’ lair is filled with cold body parts and, in a funny touch, scores of camping supplies, obviously taken from dead campers.
The best thing about “Wrong Turn” is the familiarity that it has with its influences. Weren’t the motorists in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre low on fuel and didn’t the characters in that film discover a secret lair filled with gruesome remnants? “Wrong Turn” puts a new spin on the story, slightly, by transforming the setting into that of the “Deliverance” universe. It’s nice when a horror film pays respect without being a direct rip-off and although “Wrong Turn” might be cut from the same old cloth, it has a nice weave. Stan Winston’s effects are very good too, revealing generations of horror with flashes of blood and makeup and crudely misshapen forms. The cast members are adequate, nothing more. They’re suitable victims in sweat-tops; I was cheering for the killers which is always kind of fun.
The fact that “Wrong Turn” isn’t at all original (it most resembles the little-seen 1981 horror film “Just Before Dawn) prevents it from being anything special, anything more than ninety minutes of fun. Actually, my biggest disappointment with “Wrong Turn” is that I don’t think director Rob Schmidt went far enough in terms of the gore and visceral imagery. Maybe he was handcuffed by MPAA-conscious producers, but I think if “Wrong Turn” had gone for that extra level of bad taste and become something truly disgusting, it would’ve been even more entertaining. I don’t want to see a gorefest (was “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” really that gory?), but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a horror film that really pushes the boundaries of bad taste and makes you think, “Gee, that director’s really sick.”
“Wrong Turn” is more than passable entertainment for horror-starved fans, especially after the boring (and wimpy)House of 1000 Corpses. It’s much more entertaining, for example, than Jeepers Creepers which had an intriguing first act, but not much else. “Wrong Turn” is proof that an old genre can still have life as long as filmmakers are willing to fill it with energy, humor and respect for the genre. Add cannibals and beautiful teenagers and you’ve got an entertaining horror film.