ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JUNE 5, 2003
This horror flick about young campers stalked and slaughtered by gruesome backwoods barbarians is a fairly decent crossbreeding of Friday the 13th and Deliverance. Despite the typical hunky-guys/babes-in-tank-tops Hollywood cast, Wrong Turn is gritty and uncompromising, and it includes several suspenseful and shocking moments. Unlike Deliverance, though, it’s not consistently believable enough to make you think seriously about cancelling that next trip into the forest.
Desmond Harrington stars as a mild-mannered dude named Chris who encounters a highway traffic jam en route to a job interview in Raleigh, North Carolina. He tries a shortcut through the West Virginia woods but winds up smashing his refurbished classic Mustang into a Range Rover stuck in the middle of the dirt road. The SUV’s tires were ruined by coils of deliberately placed barbed wire, and its five passengers are standing around, wondering what to do next, when the Mustang barrels in.
Nobody gets injured during the crackup—amazingly, Chris doesn’t suffer a scratch—and after some discussion, four of them head off in search of a phone, leaving one couple behind to smoke weed, have sex, and get murdered by a trio of monstrous mountain men.
The surviving quartet—among them the smouldering Eliza Dushku from TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer—come across a decrepit mountain cabin, and just as they’re discovering grisly human remains scattered throughout the creepy place, the owners arrive home with their latest human-hunting trophy.
Unable to escape, the terrified foursome have to hide under beds and behind doors and watch while the dead body of their female friend gets tossed on a table and given the Two Thousand Maniacs! treatment. After some extremely tense moments, they all manage to slip out of the cabin, yipping yahoos hot on their trail, and the death race is on.
Makeup-FX great Stan Winston, who also coproduced, designed the ghastly look of the killers, and it’s surely the stuff of nightmares. One of these deformed freaks is also handy with a bow and arrow, which ups the terror ante. But when the final three survivors get trapped high up in a lookout and save themselves from a fiery death by leaping down into nearby trees, things get a bit corny. All of a sudden Chris, having just suffered a rifle blast to the leg, is heroically scampering along the limbs like Tarzan. And the blowed-up-real-good climax is too Tinseltown as well.
If screenwriter Alan B. McElroy had found more plausible ways to put his characters in danger, Wrong Turn could have been a real doozy of a fright flick. But it’s still chilling enough to please fans of nature-set nasties like The Hills Have Eyes.