Take one huge, deserted West Virginia forest. Add a gang of six stranded teenagers, and put some inbred homicidal freakish hicks into the mix to pick them off one by one, and there you have Rob Schmidt’s Wrong Turn – all the right ingredients for the perfect slasher movie, but overcooked.
Enough with the Delia Smith-style film review. Wrong Turn claims to be a movie steeped in the traditions of 1970s horror. A more accurate description would be that it is a rehash of three films from that decade – (cite)The Texas Chain Saw Massacre(/cite} (1974), The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and Deliverance (1972) – a fact that is acknowledged with the occasional post-modern wink. It’s also strangely reminiscent of an episode of the X-Files called Home, in which Mulder and Scully investigate the deformed and cannibalistic Peacock brothers.
When Chris (Desmond Harrington) encounters a six-hour traffic jam on the way to a crucial job interview, he decides to find a way around the main road. He takes a dirt track that will, supposedly, bypass the highway log-jam and put him back on course. However, en route he loses control of his car and smashes into the back of a stationary Range Rover, owned by Jessie (Eliza Dushka) and her friends. They have been forced to the side of the road after running over some barbed wire stretched across their path. This, of course, is no mere prank, but a hunting technique of our inbred mountain men, leaving the tourists stranded and forcing them into the vast forest. Cue the chase, the nasty murders and a slowly dwindling group.
Fortunately, the teenagers in Wrong Turn aren’t your average horror flick victims – some are a dab hand with a tree branch, while others seem able to perform lemur-like leaps to escape their pursuers. The film goes for more gore, more gags, more more inventive murders, and more freakish sister-shaggers – but it all seems so staged.
Seventies horror this ain’t. How can the makers of Wrong Turn expect to recreate the sense of helplessness that Sally (Marilyn Burns), the main protagonist of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, feels when she is trapped, alone, defenceless, lost and chased by a giant skin-wearing maniac wielding a chain saw? Or Burt Reynolds’ look – a mixture of bemusement and terror – when the country folk in Deliverance start acting in a way that is as alien to his civilised suburban way of life as little green men from outer space?
Instead, Wrong Turn is at its strongest when it’s doing what comes naturally – thrilling and spilling blood by the bucket loads. It’s hardly surprising, since its main pull is special effects artist, Stan Winston, the man responsible for Aliens (1986), Jurassic Park (1993) and Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991). The murderous mountain men are hideous travesties of the human form and the teenagers meet their makers in increasingly gruesome ways. Rob Schmidt manages to pace the film well and, at a bite-sized 85 minutes, ensures the right balance of suspense and action.
Wrong Turn takes the isolation and trip-to-the-country-goes-wrong theme of a crop of 1970s horror flicks and gives it a make-over for the Scream generation. Beautiful teens deliver witty one-liners, think of innovative methods of escape and are given just enough time to have heart-felt reflections on fallen friends. They are eventually required to fight back and manage to muster heroism in the face of hysteria-inducing events. But lacking the political undertones of the films it emulates, Wrong Turn is