“Montani semper liberi (Latin, “Mountaineers are Always Free”)”
–West Virginia state motto
I’m always searching for DTV gems and this one has gotten some talk so it’s about time I got to it. But the truth is I didn’t like the first WRONG TURN. I know a few people who like it, but to me it was a big bag of mediocrity, forgettable enough that I apparently forgot to ever review it. So now I can’t read my review to refresh my memory about it. But I do remember that it took one of my favorite horror setups (tourists intrude on crazy backwoods inbred/mutant/cannibals, savagery ensues) and then hardly bothered to riff on it. Too slick, not enough mayhem, not enough imagination. THE HILLS HAVE EYES remake has problems and nobody besides me seems to like it, and I hated the sequel to it. But even in that one you at least get a couple OH SHIT adrenaline moments, some uncomfortable laughs. You don’t know what that ugly crazy fucker is gonna do next. WRONG TURN was the clean studio version of that. TV stars in some Ontario woods running from guys in monster makeup. Just no rush, no grit, no nothin.
My verdict on part 2: it’s worse and yet better. The characters are dumber and cheesier than in the first one. But it does have some of those things I thought the first one was missing. The killers are now explained as a family who refused to leave their home and suffered severe birth defects due to chemical contamination in the area (Hey! I guess I wasn’t the only one who liked the HILLS HAVE EYES remake after all!) but I think they have more personality, they do more interesting things and their makeup is more disturbing – they look like real deformed people now instead of monsters.
But to get to the good parts of the movie you gotta tolerate a bunch of bullshit. They chose bad modern horror premise #4, the Reality Show (see HALLOWEEN RESURRECTION, worst of the HALLOWEEN series). The characters are in the West Virginia woods to play an apocalypse-themed survival game with overly complicated rules and not enough apocalypse. (They’re told they will run into “post apocalyptic crazies,” but when they run into the mutants they know they are real, and then there is never any mention of any fake ones ever being planned as part of the show.) I think I speak for the world when I say enough with the fucking reality shows, both actual ones on TV and fake ones in movies attempting to comment on TV. You watch this and at first you wonder do they seriously think reality shows are still in need of satirizing? but quickly you realize there is no satire involved here, they are just presenting this show at face value, which is arguably worse. Then, to add insult to injury, two of the apparently-meant-to-be-sympathetic characters say that they hate reality shows. So that way they can waste our time with a story about reality shows while also distancing themselves from them. I guess we’re supposed to think hey, these filmatists are like me, they don’t like reality shows! But they still spend their time re-creating them on film! Just like I spend my time watching them being re-created on film! We are like brothers!
The one thing that’s good about the reality show idea is that it’s hosted by Henry Rollins, one of America’s top 3 or 4 punk rock bodybuilder spoken word artists. He’s playing a former marine drill instructor or something and he’s got the muscles and commanding presence to be a good action hero (unlike the other character with military experience, the by now standard Female Iraq War Veteran). Rollins elevates the movie and does stick around long enough to get into some shit, including firing dynamite arrows into inbreds. I wouldn’t say he’s wasted, because he’s in a good chunk of the movie. But it’s plain as day that the movie should just be about him and dump all the other so-called characters.
And that’s what prevents the movie from being as much fun as it should be. All of the other good guy characters are your typical bland soap opera actor types playing annoying people given one or two obvious character traits. The female lead is supposed to be “the goth girl” who just whines bitterly about being vegan for most of the movie. One of the other leads is supposed to be “the funny guy,” and Henry Rollins claims on the commentary track that the guy was hilarious and always cracked everybody up. Unfortunately this doesn’t come across in the movie. Every time the camera is pointed at him he tries to force out a joke, and he never even comes close to making up a real one. He just keeps saying he wants to have sex with the Female Iraq War Veteran and then saying, “Oh, come on, you know it’s funny!” but, even setting the sexual harassment issue aside, no dude, actually what I know is that you are not funny.
Let’s say you are Uncle Joey from whatever the show was with the Olsen Twins. Even you will think this guy is coming on too strong. You will tell him to Cut. It. Out. Or how about if your name is Frank R. Zindler, and you are acting president of American Atheists. I guarantee you that within the first ten minutes of this movie even you, Frank R. Zindler, will be on your knees, speaking in tongues praying for this stupid character to get eaten. But since you don’t believe in God it will take a long god damn time. Thanks alot. He survives a good 2/3 of the fuckin thing.
Yeah, sure, annoying one-dimensional characters you want to die are pretty typical of the dumb-fun type of slasher movie. They’re not necessarily a dealbreaker for a movie like this. What makes it extra annoying in this one is you get the feeling the movie has delusions that we actually care about the characters. That feeling is confirmed when you listen to the DVD commentary. The moment on there that really explains the movie is when the director admits that the “director of the reality show” character in the movie is sort of based on himself. The character is a complete tool who wears a BATTLE ROYALE t-shirt to imply hipness (real life director says it’s his favorite of all time).
I don’t want to judge somebody I don’t know, I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but on the commentary he’s just trying so hard to impress you while always doing the opposite. I didn’t even listen to the whole thing but heard him reference p.t. Anderson, Paul Greengrass, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, Toshiro Mifune, spaghetti westerns, “’70s zooms,” William Friedkin, Sam Peckinpah, David Fincher. He calls Wes Craven by his first name. When asked a question about horror movies he (having just finished his first crappy movie) speaks as if on behalf of all horror directors. He compares his sequel to ALIENS. He mentions his “off Broadway stuff” and raves about the variety of acting techniques in his ensemble cast from “theatrical” to method. When the climax of the movie is a rehash of the classic dinner scene from THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE he starts talking about how you do “these dinner scenes,” as if it’s a broad category like chase scenes or love scenes. As if a family of giggling cannibals tying a woman into a chair and forcing her to watch them eat human meat in a grotesque parody of American family life is a common ingredient to many movies and that by adding barbed wire to her wrists he has completely re-invented it and made it his own.
Worst of all he’s self conscious, he repeatedly mentions “commentary track cliches” and points out that he is overpraising his unspectacular achievements. The old “if you point out that it’s a cliche it doesn’t count as a cliche” trick. Also he’s convinced that he has made some kind of crazy fucked up movie and repeatedly jokes about how he should get therapy because of these crazy fucked up shit he thought of in the movie. Oh man what a wacko, he put some dead bodies in a horror movie, ha ha ha this guy is a nut!
I don’t hate the guy but he does seem like he’s a little much. Let’s just say it’s not surprising that this guy would be the director of this movie.
But I promised there was some good shit to find after sitting patiently through this crap, so I will say some nice things now like a true gentleman. There are some moments of inspired lunacy here and there. One is the opening scene where a “reality TV star” (I didn’t realize it but apparently it’s some gal from American Idol playing herself) literally takes the wrong turn, runs over one of the cannibal dudes, and when she checks on the body gets into some trouble. There’s a shot where you just see her legs in the foreground and he swings an ax down at her and you just see the two legs drop to the ground and a bunch of entrails spill out. And within the same shot the two inbred brothers walk away dragging the perfectly bisected halves of her body. Pretty hilarious. A more cartoonish spin on that better-than-the-movie body-dragging teaser for HILLS HAVE EYES REMAKE 2.
Another part I liked – not enjoyed, but liked – is the scene where one of the cannibals is spying on a girl and jerking off. His deformed girlfriend (I guess it’s supposed to also be his sister) finds him and kills the girl he’s spying on in a fit of jealous rage. But you know those two lovebirds will work it out and sure enough the protagonists come across those two ugly sonofabitches in the woods going at it missionary style. I mean we’ve seen this a million times, Jason or one of his sexually repressed colleagues come across some kids fuckin in a tent, a sleeping bag, a car, a cave or what have you, and he kills them. But have we ever seen the people finding the killers fuckin in the woods and that’s what gets them killed? It’s a total reversal. It’s like if one of the Elm Street kids pretended to be a topless girl in order to seduce Freddy. You just don’t see it. I think this may be a first.
Also, in DTV you gotta appreciate some unintentional laughs or goofiness, because you take what you can get. It’s better than nothing. So I got a kick out of the scene where two girls who you’re supposed to like bust into a house they find and rudely demand to the seemingly empty room that they be allowed to use the phone. Then they see pictures on the wall of deformed people and get grossed out. Then they realize there is a natural birth going on in the other room, deformed women delivering an even more deformed baby. Okay, I don’t blame them for wanting to throw up, but jesus, you are intruding on a special moment. Sneak the fuck out of there, man. Instead they scream and run into the other room and bar the door shut and bust through the floor to escape. At this point they don’t know about any cannibalism or anything. They are just prejudiced against people with birth defects. Haven’t they ever seen THE ELEPHANT MAN, or that movie with Cher and Eric Stoltz? Talk about some insensitive bitches.
At the end of the commentary the director, Joe Lynch, says “See you for part 3!” No, you won’t. He got replaced for part 3 by the director of some movie called SNAKEMAN starring Stephen Baldwin. But oh well. A DTV sequel that has several good parts is actually above average, so way to go BATTLE ROYALE t-shirt dude.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.