It’s hard to believe that 15 years have passed since Rob Schmidt’s Wrong Turn hacked and slashed its way into theatres. Since its debut, the gruesome film has kind of become a modern-day classic for horror fans. It is the humble opinion of this horror fan that Wrong Turn, along with Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses, and even the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, helped make 2003 a bold year for horror.
At the time, it was considered to be one of the most shocking new horror films with a wide-spread release. Zombie’s 1000 Corpses is arguably more shocking but Wrong Turn had a larger budget, wider release, and major studio backing. The film helped prove to the post-millennium world that horror was both a financially and critically acclaimed genre in the realm of big budget films.
The film boasted a young cast of promising talent, which already consisted of the awesome Eliza Dushku (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Desmond Harrington (Ghost Ship). The trailer teased a return to the gritty roots of 1970s-style horror and it also promised a TON of gore and suspense.
The Direction We’re Heading
As far as fans were concerned, Wrong Turn delivered on all its promises. It was never marketed to be anything other than a fun, gory, suspense-filled horror film that would show respect to its influences by inserting loads of homage moments into the movie.
The plot is simple and to the point. Chris Flynn (Harrington) is driving through the state, trying to make it to some bigshot interview. Seeing that his route is delayed, he tries a shortcut. Speeding through the sparse mountain back road (which doesn’t have a posted speed limit), he rounds a bend and crashes into a vehicle sitting in the middle of the road. This is where he meets up with five friends with a flat tire; Jessie (Eliza Dushku), Carly (Emmanuelle Chriqui), Scott (Jeremy Sisto), Evan (Kevin Zegers) and Francine (Lindy Booth). Stranded in the middle of the Virginian wilderness with no cars or working cell phones, a trio of cannibalistic Mountain Men come running.
Road Trip Buddies
The movie holds up quite well after fifteen years and this is likely due to the fact that all of the cast are likable, fully fleshed-out characters. With the exception of the two snotty stoners Francine and Evan, who are killed off almost immediately. Everyone else you root for until the end.
There is something about this formula that just plain works! It’s the tried and true way of the slasher film. We all cared about Laurie, Annie and Lynda in John Carpenter’s Halloween and that’s what makes the tragedy that befalls them all the more tragic. Lead characters need to be above all thins interesting. The audience needs characters to sympathize with, other than just created walking, talking butcher fodder for the masked killer.
Along with a great cast, Wrong Turn also has a killer script.
The Nuts and Bolts
The dialogue is witty, sarcastic and entertaining before the frantic scenes of macabre and tension unfold. The perils, the reactions to those perils, all feel real. At no point does anyone make any ludicrous decisions that might rub the audience the wrong way. By this, I mean to say that it is not a film filled with pointless screams and unrealistic choices. In fact, there is only a handful of screams in the entire film and this may have been a deliberate act.
In the opening scene, two rock climbers, Rich and Halley, are shown traversing a jagged rock face. Rich makes it to the top of the cliff first and Halley attempts to follow, slips and falls. She screams but then her safety line pulls tight and she grabs back onto the wall. Rich sees that she is alright, from the top, and says to her, “I don’t know why you’re screaming. We’re fifty miles from anyone that could hear you.” By doing this, the audience has a pretty good idea that this movie won’t be filled with a whole lot of screaming idiots just running around and annoying us all.
Crash and Burn
Last but not least, the villainous Mountain Men; Three Finger, Saw-Tooth, and One-Eye, are played to menacing perfection by Julian Richings, Garry Robbins, and Ted Clark. The three baddies of the film are essentially characteristic nods to horror icons Freddy, Michael, and Jason. But all of them share the appetite of the chainsaw wielding Leatherface.
It could be argued that Saw-Tooth is the Michael of the three. The reason for this is simple. Saw-Tooth wields the more intricate of the weaponry which is a rifle. He appears to be the most in control and the only one that can drive – a skill that Michael also possesses. One-Eye appears to be the Jason of the group. He’s big, lumbering and wields a large axe. His face is deformed to the point of one damaged eye like the monolithic Jason. Lastly, Three Finger is easily the Freddy. He is not as lumbering as the other two cannibals but he is much more menacing in how he stalks his prey. He is constantly smiling and giggling and seems to take pleasure in a more slowed and agonizing pursuit of his victims like Freddy did.
Just as with those that influenced them, the Virginian Mountain Men don’t have a large and convoluted back story. The audience is given some hints and suggestions but nothing very concrete. This too is something of a lost technique in modern horror. People tend to want explanations these days and Wrong Turn (at least the first one) kind of refuses to give in to that.
What makes Wrong Turn such a great horror film, is not only its simplicity but also its respect to all the other great “Old School American Horror” that came before. This is a horror film but it is also a love letter to older horror films. While watching the West Virginian tale of terror, one can find obvious nods to films like The Hills Have Eyes, Deliverance, Friday the 13th, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and even The Evil Dead.
The director of Wrong Turn, Rob Schmidt and the screenwriter, Alan McElroy let their influences shine through. By acknowledging these influences and showing a fondness and respect to genre classics, Wrong Turn has certainly earned its place in the pantheon of gruesome horror.