Director: Rob Schmidt
If you know anything about horror movies, then you've probably heard of Tobe Hooper's 1973 classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The tale of a group of travelers who fall victim to a family of cannibalistic rednecks in rural Texas has become one of tyhe more famous entries into the horror genre, inspiring three sequels, a remake with its own sequel, a series of comic books, action figures, and a video game released on the Atari 2600 in 1982. However, unlike other well-known horror movies, it hasn't really inspired all that many ripoffs or imitations. At least, not to my knowledge. However, there's one that I thought was worth watching: Rob Schmidt's Wrong Turn. A frightening homage to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with a dash of Deliverance thrown in for flavor, Wrong Turn is an underrated horror movie straight out of the '70s.
We begin on the side of a cliff, conveniently sitting fifty miles from civilization in the middle of a West Virginia forest. Two people, a guy and his girlfriend, are climbing up the side. I'm not gonna bother with listing who played them, because they're only in the movie for less than five minutes. We barely even get to learn the names of the characters. The guy makes it to the top, while his girlfriend still struggles to climb up. He disappears just as she begins to ask him to help her up, and after a few moments, blood drips down onto her face. At that moment, the guy's body goes flying off the side of the cliff. The girl jumps down to the ground and runs off. She gets twenty feet from the car before tripping on a length of barbed wire and being dragged off-screen by someone laughing like a maniac.
At this point, the opening credits roll. We see various newspaper clippings with headlines like "deformity caused by inbreeding," "inbred-related psychosis," "resistance to pain," and "violent outbursts." We also see various missing persons posters, bloody scissors and knives, barbed wire, arrows, and some really hideous deformed people. It's like a demented episode of Maury Povich's talk show, one of the episodes where Maury takes a bunch of people with deformities and birth defects and parades them out on stage like some kind of freak show. Regardless, the opening credits are where we're introduced to the idea of cannibalistic inbred freaks of nature, while still leaving things vague enough to be scary. Anyway, the credits end, and it's now a few days later. We meet a medical school student named Chris (Desmond Harrington), who's on his way to a job interview while listening to a story about the search for two missing rock-climbers (the ones from earlier) on the radio.
Chris happens to arrive at a traffic jam. According to a trucker, the traffic is backed up for five miles thanks to a chemical spill, and it'll be forever before it's cleaned up. Being short on time, Chris turns around and takes an abandoned dirt road in the middle of the woods. He takes a wrong turn, thus the title, and accidentally rear-ends a van driven a group of friends on a hiking trip. The wreck introduces Chris and the viewers to Jessie (Eliza Dushku), Carly (Emmanuelle Chriqui), Evan (Kevin Zegers), Scott (Jeremy Sisto), and Francine (Lindy Booth), who're stranded on the road after running over a strip of heavy-duty barbed wire lied across the middle of the road. Evan and Francine stay at the car while the other four decide to walk down the road in an attempt to find some help. This isn't exactly a good thing, since they're promiscuous stoners. And you know what happens to promiscuous stoners in horror movies, don't you? I'm sure you do.
Time goes by and the four others arrive at a really run-down cabin, oblivious to the fact that their friends have been brutally murdered. Dozens of rusty, abandoned cars and bicycles decorate the front yard. That should be their first hint at something being wrong. In fact, Scott suggests that they leave immediately, citing Deliverance as the reason. He's smart. I like Scott. Despite his brilliance, Chris walks right on in, hoping they have a phone. What they should have done is walked around looking for an actual phone line before assuming they had a phone. I know phone companies are starting to bury phone lines nowadays, but in rural West Virginia, I'm sure that there'd still be phone poles. The pack of geniuses also decides to snoop around the rundown shanty. Not too bright, are they? They discover formaldehyde-filled jars and Tupperware containers filled with teeth, brains, and various other body parts. Mmm, cannibal stew. Yummy. Jessie also happens to stumble on a pile of barbed wire similar to the one that she and her friends ran over. She puts two-and-two together, long after the audience already has. Coincidentally, one of the things discovered in the house is a tiara. If you watch the opening credits closely, you'll notice in one of the missing persons posters, one of the missing is wearing a tiara. It's the little details that make movies good for geeks like me. Right about now, an old wrecker truck pulls up to the house, pulling Scott's van behind it. The group panics, and unable to escape the house, Jessie and Chris hide under a bed while Carly and Scott hide in a closet. Turns out whoever killed Francine and Evan live in the house, as Fran's dead body is flopped down in front of Scott and Jessie. It only lies there for a moment, before it's snatched up, thrown onto a butcher's table, and you can guess what happens next. We flash forward to later. I don't know how much later, but it was later enough for the inbred, cannibal mountain men to eat Francine's leg before deciding to take a nap. The group tries sneaking out of the cabin, but one of them makes a noise and the nutjobs (named "Saw-Tooth," "One-Eye," and "Three-Finger" in the credits) begin chasing their prey through the woods, a chase that lasts all night and part of the next day.
This wasn't a bad little movie at all. The production value looks to be slightly higher than your average direct-to-video thriller, but that's not exactly a bad thing. The acting also left something to be desired. Jeremy Sisto gives us his best impersonation of Jeff Goldblum at times, while I just wanted to kick Emmanuelle Chriqui. Sure, most people would be reduced to whining, blubbering idiots if confronted with situations like in the movie, but that doesn't make her performance any less annoying. You just have to draw the line somewhere. Eliza Dushku and Desmond Harrington chip in with watchable performances, however. I also should give a thumbs-up to both the score and the special effects. The score, composed by Elie Cmiral, is good, really good. I've heard better, but it's effective in creating plenty of tension in otherwise tame scenes. The special effects, done by Stan Winston's effects team, are also excellent. It's good to see Stan Winston involved with something other than killer robots from the future. The editing is sharp, and Rob Schmidt's directing gives it a gritty feel with a glossy Hollywood finish.
I'm gonna give Wrong Turn three stars. Not a bad movie, but it's nothing earth-shaking. Without the twisted inbred cannibal yokels, it'd be just the same old slasher song and dance. I'm not complaining, but it's nothing I haven't seen before. It's probably just worth a rental to those of you people who are big Eliza Dushku fans, or wanted to rent a horror movie at the local Blockbuster and nothing else struck your fancy.
Final Rating: ***