Angry Joe Quinn from Dexter, Faith the Vampire Slayer and their very pretty young friends take a Wrong Turn and find themselves lost and stranded in the creepy woodlands of West Virginia USA. There they are attacked by deformed cannibals and horribly slaughtered, one by one. So began one of my favourite horror franchises of all time. No, really.
Big praise for a series which has spent most of its time residing in DVD bargain bins everywhere. Beyond the first, reasonably popular Wrong Turn, the rest of the entries in the series have stayed well away from the big screen. It should have rightfully died with Wrong Turn 2, the first of its straight to DVD sequels, but then a curious thing happened – people reacted positively to its crude splatterpunk aesthetic, and a cult favourite was born. Beyond all odds, we're now on the fifth Wrong Turn. The franchise shows no sign of dying anytime soon.
“Ssh. You can't say that sort of thing around here.”
Even the filmmakers know they're taking the piss now. “Another Wrong Turn?” one character says to another in Wrong Turn 5. Yes, another, and it delivers everything you'd expect from a Wrong Turn film at this point, only with added Doug Bradley (Pinhead!). At this point, most self-respecting fans of film will be begging for the series to just go away already. The franchise, with every entry, gets cheaper, nastier and has less and less artistic merit. As a horror fanatic, I should hate Wrong Turn and its exploitative, cash-grab attitude to horror. But there's a certain je ne sais quoi about the series that I just can't not love. Except for that one with Tamar Hassan. That was truly bad. Well, badder than usual.
The first Wrong Turn is a genuinely acceptable backwoods slasher movie which horror-hounds can admit to liking without fear of reprisal. Desmond Harrington and Eliza Dushku are engaging leads, the former showing a lot of promise, the latter delivering a strong performance as the strong yet vulnerable Jessie. The story is fast paced and fun, the kills gory and inventive. The late, great Stan Winston's make-up effects for his deformed Hillbillies look great. They're a properly imposing set of slasher movie villains. Coming at the end of an era in which horror was silly and ironic (the post-Scream effect) Wrong Turn was a refreshing throwback; a cheap, nasty Deliverance for kids. It's no classic, but it is immensely watchable. Jeremy Sisto, Lindy Booth and Emmanuelle Chriqui make for very sympathetic victims (also the other one, killed while taking a pee). With an explosive finale and plenty of action, Wrong Turn is a gem in the overpopulated but rich backwoods slasher subgenre – by no mean coincidence, my favourite subgenre.
Its immediate sequel is an entirely different beast. It opens with American Idol finalist Kimberly Caldwell (no idea) speeding her swanky sports car down a lonely West Virginian road. There she is intercepted by the cannibalistic locals and literally sliced in two, like a sausage. This sequel did not inherit its predecessor’s sense of grit and seriousness, then. Filming a reality TV show in the woods, contestants and film crew alike are beset by the angry cannibals. What these Leatherface wannabes don't anticipate, however, is Henry Rollins being there to put a stop to their nonsense. Rollins is a pretty terrible actor, but his Dale Murphy is a presence to be reckoned with. His gory encounter with Three-Finger and the old gas station attendant (Wayne Robson) is a highlight. If you ignore the horrible acting and rubbish script, there's a lot of fun to be had. It's gory, action packed and Henry Rollins. Watching Henry Rollins turn the tables on the Hillbillies is a joy; like a really, really, really low-budget Dennis Hopper in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Huh, I can just feel my credibility dissipate with this article. Wrong Turn 2: Dead End should have been just that for the franchise, but there was more to come.
One half of Robson & Jerome had let himself go.
I can barely remember ever watching Wrong Turn 3, it's so forgettable. Tamer Hassan is amongst a gang of prison escapees who find themselves lost in cannibal country. Also amongst the cast is hunky Eastenders chef Charles Venn and other faces you'll probably recognise from Straight to DVD movies and TV productions everywhere. “What you don't see will kill you,” runs the tagline. In this case, what you don't see will vastly improve your life. The film also manages to kill off most of its human-noshing hicks, meaning that the only way the franchise could go now (apparently just giving up was not an option) was backwards.
Thankfully, Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings is a return to form. That 'form' is only Wrong Turn 2, but there's little chance of you forgetting about Wrong Turn 4 anytime soon. Especially not during that fondue scene. Ew. A prequel which tells how the monstrous man-eaters came to be, Bloody Beginnings is set in a dilapidated old mental hospital in the snowy middle of nowhere, and sees the cannibals – yes, you guessed it – picking off a group of youths one by one. It's tasteless, unpleasant and shockingly violent. I know I shouldn't, but I really enjoyed Wrong Turn 4. It's the horror movie equivalent of junk food. If Deliverance, Southern Comfort and The Hills Have Eyes are prime steak, Wrong Turn 2 – 5 are the equivalent of a greasy chip shop burger. You know it's bad for you, but it tastes so good. With that in mind, you're probably going to end up with a serious heart attack if you attempt a box set marathon (maybe swap the third instalment for something healthier, maybe a salad or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre).
Don't expect a sudden change in tack from the second prequel, Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines. It's cheaper, crueller and stupider than ever. In it, the cannibal clan are adopted by local psychopath Doug Bradley. When their mentor is arrested, the Hillbillies attack the unsuspecting town and its residents, picking them off – again – one by one. There's nothing to match the fondue scene in terms of inventiveness, but the kill sequence here is remarkably mean-spirited. As the only name actor (we're not counting Roxanne McKee from Hollyoaks) Bradley is fun to watch. It's a complete waste of his talents, but he does go around poking out eyes and threatening to cut off people's “titties” like the Marquis De Sade reborn. Once more, there's the sense of betraying one's critical faculties as I enjoyed a movie that I knew was cynical, lazy and not all that good. But then there's a cannibal riding a thresher over someone's head, Three Finger feeding a girl her own intestines and the world's most incompetent cop.
More so than Saw or Paranormal Activity, I love the Wrong Turn series. It's frequently visceral, occasionally scary and touches on very primal fears. There's Desmond Harrington, Eliza Dushku, Henry Rollins and Doug Bradley. Wayne Robson is perfectly cast as a gas station attendant. There's an American Idol finalist being cut in twain. There's Stan Winston's monster designs, an enormous amount of blood and gore, some truly inventive kill sequences and that wonderful setting. There's Miss Dushku as a quite perfect Damsel in Distress, Harrington as the useless hero. There's an actor whose name is actually 'Texas Battle'. If you like that sort of thing, there's even Tamer Hassan. There's one of the greatest horror movie theme songs ever in The Blackout City Kids' Wrong Turn. “Somebody help me,” that very over the top tune goes, “I made a mistake. I think I took a wrong turn.”
I've a feeling that this is going to be an incredibly unpopular opinion, but I love Wrong Turn. You may not, but this is my own personal love letter. How did I come to feel so strongly about such a divisive series of films? Life choices, probably. Somewhere along the way, I think I took a wrong turn. And I've not looked back ever since. Long live Wrong Turn.
WRONG TURN 5: BLOODLINES is released on DVD/Blu-ray January 28th 2013. Pre-order yours by clicking on the cover below...