Wrong Turn (2003) **
Directed by Rob Schmidt; written by Alan McElroy; photography, John S. Bartley; editing, Michael Ross; music, Elia Cmiral; production design, Alicia Keywan; special make-up effects created and designed by Stan Winston Studio, Inc.; produced by Erik Feig, Robert Kulzer, Stan Winston, Brian Gilbert. Cast: Desmond Harrington (Chris Finn), Eliza Dushku (Jessie Burlingame), Emmanuelle Chriqui (Carly), Jeremy Sisto (Scott), Kevin Zegers (Evan) and Lindy Booth (Francine). A 20th Century Fox release. 81 minutes. Rated R (gore galore)
"Wrong Turn" isn't all that bad if you consider the theory of relativity. To wit: back from the 2003 Cannes Festival, the first movie I watched on TV was the abominable "Eraser" which I had been lucky enough to miss several years ago. Then, just before "Wrong Turn" started, the audience (of 5) was attacked by previews of coming distractions for the long, hot summer. All of them were action flicks, special effects stuff, no-think works, more action, more nonsense, more no-brainers. That's par for Hollywood, especially in the monsoon season, and a guarantee that the systematic idiotization of the public keeps growing, and running in seven-league boots.
The movie is in the 70s tradition of scary-gory pics, with elements of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "Deliverance," slasher films, and much other drive-in fare. It is set in the mountains of West Virginia (played by Canadian locations), wastes no time revealing its plot through a news-paper parade of headlines about isolated backwoods people (or mountain people or hillbillies) who, through persistent in-breeding have turned into mutants. Into killer-mutants. Worse yet, they are not just slashers, but slasher-eaters, aka cannibals.
The horror is introduced by a couple (a he and a she) of rock-climbers who come to a violent end. The "she" wears a tight sports bra which will be part and parcel of future victims. That's just the bloody hors d'oeuvre. The main course (in both senses) begins when Desmond Harrington, en route to a job interview in Raleigh, N.C. takes a shortcut through a mountain road, slams (literally) into a car immobilized by (aha!) tire-ripping barbed wire, meets up with two couples plus a single girl.
Here start the horrible adventures of the sextet, as, to make this story shorter, they encounter (to their detriment) first one, then two more mutants, so ugly and repulsive (as well as deprived of speech) that they make the denizens of the Island of Dr. Moreau look like fashion plates.
As required by my Hippocratic oath, I will say no more of the story, except to mention that the hunters, armed with bows and arrows, are sharpshooters. That they are sub-human yet know how to drive a truck. That their victims, whether cooked or not, must have been legion in the past. That their abode is a masterpiece of squalor. That they dwell close to some very well paved roads, yet the local authorities are totally unaware of the cannibals.
Ho hum, in spades. Still the film builds up rapidly in horror, suspense, action and, well, you'll find out.
Among the curiosities: a pair of would-be repasts enter the shack of the people-eaters. There's no electricity. Absurdly, there is a pre-LP vintage record spinning in a manual, wind-up, antique phonograph. But 78 rpms lasted only minutes and by the time of that discovery the killer-denizens were miles away. Go figure. Sometimes "clever" touches like this (and others in this movie) are ridiculously illogical overkill.
What is more interesting is that there is nothing more savage than a human monster; that the undeniable beauty of nature accentuates the sense of danger, terror and mayhem; that when hope seems to appear it is really horror on a higher level that is produced; that much of the movie is in semi-darkness and most of it has minimal dialogue. All this, outrageous though it be, undeniably builds up the suspense and suspends one's disbelief. In spite a plethora of low grades by reviewers, this chiller works, and does so far better than most special effects, futuristic and techno-loaded items.
Is there a public for such films? Here's one answer. Two of the five spectators at the projection I attended were a polite, intelligent-looking couple of 20 or so. Before the lights went down, as I fiddled with my clipboard and tested my discreet red-bulb light, they asked me if I was a critic. I answered and added that since the place was empty, I would move behind them so that they would not get distracted by my light. "Don't bother" they replied, "and in any case we already saw it two days ago."
So the really big question is: should the State of West Virginia sue this film for defamation?