Fifteen years ago I dragged a girl I was dating to see Wrong Turn. She wasn’t a fan of horror movies. Needless to say we didn’t date for very long but I’ll always have Wrong Turn. The “redneck” slasher movie that was part Texas Chainsaw Massacre and part Deliverance was released on May 30 2003. Though it did modestly well at the box office, critics weren’t very impressed. Yet somehow, in the years since its released Wrong Turn has spawned several straight-to-video sequels. Most recently, Hollywood even rebooted it with much better critical results.
Late for a job interview, medical student Chris Flynn decides to take a shortcut through the West Virginia wilderness. But Chris takes a “wrong turn”, inadvertently crashing into a car carrying five college students on a road trip. No one is hurt, but now they’re lost and stranded in the woods. Things only get worse when three mutated, cannibalistic mountain men begin hunting them.
Wrong Turn Chews on a Familiar Story
At the time of its release, Wrong Turn was neither a critical nor a financial success. The hillbilly horror flick grossed just north of $15 million against a production budget of approximately $12 million. Among other things, critics singled it out for its lack of originality. And it’s hard to argue that Wrong Turn isn’t a bit derivative. Cabins in the woods, wrong turns, attractive young people, and deformed cannibals – dozens of horror movies have followed that template. In spite of its lack of trailblazing, Wrong Turn is also an inherently watchable popcorn movie that lends itself to multiple viewings. Perhaps the best way to describe Wrong Turn is that it knows what audiences want and delivers on those expectations.
In spite of its lack of trailblazing in the horror genre, Wrong Turn is an inherently watchable movie that lends itself to multiple viewings.
A movie about cannibalistic mountain men needs to supply a healthy dose of gore. While Wrong Turn isn’t going to compete with more hardcore movies, like The Hills Have Eyes, it capably delivers on its cannibalistic carnage with severed ears, chopped body parts, and a pretty inventive ax killing. Director Rob Schmidt paces the admittedly rote scares at a quick pace. Wrong Turn keeps its mutant cannibal hillbillies hidden early on, building towards a big reveal that hits all the right creepy notes. Similarly, Schmidt methodically ratchets the scares and violence just enough. That opening scene is a brilliantly executed scare.
The Legendary Stan Winston and a Surprisingly Strong Cast Turn Out For Dinner
In spite of its run-of-the mill premise, Wrong Turn boasts a better than expected cast. Eliza Dushku (Soul Survivors), best known as Faith in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, headlines the the movie. Not surprisingly, Dushku is excellent doing the best she can with what’s pretty limited material. Buffy fans will likely be disappointed that Dushku’s character doesn’t get to flex her muscles as much as her television alter-ego. Wrong Turn’s screenplay wastes Dushku, regulating her largely to a “helpless victim” character, particularly in the climax. Wrong Turn fills outs the rest of the cast with familiar faces from the 2000s including Emmanuelle Chriqui, Jeremy Sisto, Lindy Booth, and Desmond Harrington. In particular, Sisto (May) shines with a rather endearing, charismatic performance.
Not surprisingly, Dushku is excellent in her role doing the best she can with what’s pretty limited material.
Arguably, the legendary Stan Winston’s (Aliens, Predator) make-up effects make the biggest impression in Wrong Turn. His makeup effects for the hillbilly killers – Three Finger, Saw Tooth, and One Eye – are remarkable and instantly distinguish Wrong Turn from most rural horror film villains. Aside from Winston’s work, nothing about our killers stands out. Wrong Turn doesn’t give these mutants much motivation or backstory. Canadian character actor Julian Richings (Cube) at least give Three-Finger a distinctive, haunting laugh. Not surprisingly, Three-Finger is the only consistent presence across the franchise.
Wrong Turn’s Legacy Includes An Endless Supply of Questionable Sequels
Fans of this movie are probably that a sequel, Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, followed a few years later. That sequel, which had the distinction of casting punk rock legend, Henry Rollins, was surprisingly good. In fact, Dead End may actually be a better than the original. Whereas Wrong Turn feels predictable, the over-the-top violence and gross-out effects in Dead End gave the sequel a bit of flair.
Apparently, however, the producers behind Wrong Turn decided the world was lacking in cannibal hillbillies.
Apparently, however, the producers decided the world needed more cannibal hillbillies. To rectify this problem, they followed the Hellraiser franchise’s blueprint. Inevitably, a stream of straight-to-video sequels and prequels surfaced. To date, five Wrong Turn sequels have released, each one dragging the concept further down a cliff. Not much separates one sequel from the next. One prequel is set in the winter. Another in an abandoned asylum. Additionally, the quality of the acting and makeup effects is negatively correlated with the amount of random sex and nudity. A 2021 remake showed a bit of promise for future directions.
Wrong Turn is the Comfort Food of Horror Movies
No, the word “legacy” probably doesn’t apply. Either ‘derivative’ or ‘middling’ probably are more accurate. After 15 years, its basic premise hasn’t gotten any fresher. But there are plenty of horror movies that have re-served the same premise with less return. Regardless of the criticisms, Wrong Turn is still a suitably fun popcorn horror movie. Sometimes we just crave something familiar and straightforward, even if we know it isn’t great. Wrong Turn is kind of like comfort food for horror fans. It gives you exactly what you expect, with no tinkering or fiddling, and capably delivers on the concept.
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