Wrong Turn (2003)
Cast: Desmond Harrington, Eliza Dushku, Jeremy Sisto, Emmanuelle Chriqui
Director: Rob Schmidt
Synopsis: Texas Chainsaw meets Hills Have Eyes in this fun if derivative shocker
Wrong Turn arrived in the early summer months of 2003 almost out of the blue and pleasantly surprised a few Horror buffs out there who had grown tired of special effects wizardry and a succession of dead people coming back to life and yearned for some good old fashioned no nonsense, nasty blood and guts in the vintage Texas Chainsaw style.
Though the film was largely shunned by the mainstream, some horror fans had given the film a fairly emphatic thumbs-up and so one had been literally drooling in anticipation of the DVD release having missed the film during its now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t theatrical run. Does the film manage to live up to the pools of anticipatory drool or is it yet another hum drum let down that only flattered to deceive. The answer is both Yes and No because though the film manages to do an efficient job as an entertaining Texas Chainsaw meets the Hills Have Eyes update, it falls victim to its own “strengths” – those being the Hillbilly creations of special effects wizard Stan Winston who most horror fans will remember endearingly for having directed Pumpkinhead.
The plot is refreshingly simple; a group of attractive young people get lost in the woods somewhere out in the West Virginian outback and are brutally set upon by a posse of mutated cannibalistic Hillbillies – survival is the name of the game. The film borrows shamelessly from the film it’s inspired by, namely the legendary Texas Chainsaw Massacre and also Wes Craven’s early horror hit The Hills Have Eyes. The scenes where the besieged group come looking for a phone and stumble upon a ramshackle yard strewn with wrecked cars and strewn with debris is straight out of Texas Chainsaw. Once inside the foreboding house they seem to forget that they were looking for a phone and proceed to pry into every room in the house finally making a most grisly discovery.
Rather like Goldilocks caught in the house of the big bad bears, our PYT’s find that they are suddenly trapped in the house as their murderous, cannibalistic guests roll into the driveway in their trucks bearing some freshly butchered, still warm human cadavers. The rest of the film is basically a case of “Who will survive and what will be left of them” all over again.
To the films credit, it manages to achieve a certain amount of tension right from the shock opening and our group of potential victims are a less irritating bunch than one has grown accustomed to in horror movies of late. Also a positive factor is that the film is played dead straight and avoids the cheap one liner approach and the gore is to the point, brutal and nasty rather than spectacularly mounted as one of the stylish “creative deaths” brigade.
The acting too is solid and thankfully we are free of the usual nerd or stoners to provide cheap comic relief. Where the film loses points is when it shows us the mutants too clearly because once we have seen just how ugly they are, there is nothing worse left to imagine. Far more effective are the scenes when the cannibals are initially introduced, where all the audience gets to see is some fleeting close ups of the mutants. A close up of the hideous mouth of the mutant as he licks his protruding lips is far more chilling than revealing the person completely. Though there are those who have raved at Stan Winston’s Hillbilly creations for the film, we believe that showing far less of them would have helped make them appear more menacing and that by showing us exactly what they looked like; somehow it takes away from their invincibility. The mutants are certainly hideous but the question is wouldn’t the audiences imagination fired by the fleeting visuals of the rotting teeth and the mutated limbs manage to create monsters far more hideous than those that are shown to us so clearly on screen?
On the whole one can understand exactly why this film has been fairly well embraced by horror fans on the basis that it is a throwback to the days of vintage no nonsense, no budget , no frills horror films exemplified by Tobe Hooper’s seminal masterwork. However this film doesn’t hold a candle to those it has attempted to emulate and in a certain light the film appears to be little more than a rehashed modern rip-off of a couple of 70’s gritty horror classics (though The Hills Have Eyes can hardly be mentioned in the same breath as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), basically Wrong Turn is just an insipid and sickly imitation. However in kinder the light the film might pass as an enjoyable modern homage to one of the great horror movies of all time and that’s fair praise coming from a reviewer who worships The Chainsaw. Despite its flaws and derivativeness as well as the risible climactic scenes swaying in the trees like Tarzan and Jane, Wrong Turn turned out to be one of the more enjoyable American horror movies of 2003.