Your magnanimous movie maestro has just returned from a road trip from his home in the Deep South all the way up to the wild suburbs of Illinois. Next week he’ll be headed all the way to Atlanta for DragonCon. What better way to celebrate all this time on the open road than by watching all six of the Wrong Turn movies?
Wait…there are SIX of these things? Oy. You’d think after four wrong turns they’d be going the right direction again.
Kicking off the franchise, in Wrong Turn we have Eliza “True Lies” Dushku and a bunch of random people you’ve never heard of. They’re stranded in the forests of West Virginia and being hunted by a trio of cannibalistic deformed hillbillies. And that’s it. These characters are nothing but lambs to the slaughter with nary an interesting character trait or stereotype among them. Even Dushku, who I like in most things, can’t be entertaining when the script is thinner than the paper it’s printed on. Front-loaded with kills, the movie turns into a poorly-paced chase film as the few remaining survivors stay on the run. Make-up effects guru Stan Winston creates some visceral thrills with the design of the yokels and their violence, but that isn’t enough to carry a film that is woefully light on substance, even for a horror flick.
What do we add to Wrong Turn 2: Dead End? A larger family of killers and a commentary on reality TV! The contestants of a reality show in those very same woods are made up of cliché stereotypes; the Tough Girl, the Skeezy Director, the Slut, the Horny Guy, etc. But these caricatures are far more entertaining than the walking lifeless targets of the first movie. They are led by Henry Rollins, who has a fun time going full Rambo when the hillbillies start disrupting the show. Kills are a bit crazier and buckets of blood get tossed around liberally. Campy with a hint of slapstick is the best fit for this series. This second installment hits that note just right and is enjoyable for it. Spoiler alert: this is the high point of the franchise.
Let’s shake up the formula for Wrong Turn 3: Left For Dead. First, set it at night instead of a bright summer day. Second, our victims are a group of convicts and cops who are fighting each other as much as our friendly neighborhood cannibals. Also, the hillbillies have traps and bad CGI at their disposal. This is the first time any of the victims is given a character arc to speak of, but that noble effort is undermined by acting worse than that of your average porn parody. Even worse, every single bit of plot and character development is undone by the end, meaning this wrong turn has effectively taken us nowhere. This one is another snoozer. Points for a Wilhelm Scream, though.
Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings really shakes up the formula! Instead of being in the woods during the summer, let’s hunt some young people in the dead of winter in a haunted house-style abandoned mental asylum which once housed the progenitors of our favorite local yokels. Here, the series fully embraces the fact that we actually like the monsters more than the victims. An incompetent script just shoves bodies from one kill to the next. The killers are at their most intimidating here, but the victims are so brain-dead this could have been a zombie film. The change of locale made this one better than the last, but only just barely. It’s about here I really began to question my life choices.
Imagine my surprise when Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines opens with something none of the other installments did: extras! Set during the Mountain Man festival, which is also right at Halloween, this movie blew the money to fill a small town with people! And then they all disappear having “gone to the festival,” leaving the town bizarrely deserted for the rest of the movie. Here I was hoping there might be some budget and care for production behind this one. The kills here are implausibly involved, at one point using heavy construction equipment. Does it make sense? No. Is it kinda fun? Sure! We also get treated to a father figure to our three reoccurring killers who is “normal,” meaning he’s totes evil but can actually speak. He spends the entire movie chewing on the scenery more gleefully than his family chews on its victims as he spouts threats and evil laughter in his best gravelly voice. Despite an incredibly unsatisfying ending, the traditional town setting and over-the-top nature of this installment make it a pleasant upswing for the series.
Let’s cap off the series with a dark psychological film about a young man who, upon discovering his long-lost family, is seduced into joining them in their hotel business as well as their cult-like rituals of incest and cannibalism. By the way, this is Wrong Turn 6: Last Resort. I thought I should tell you because I could barely tell by watching it. This plot is clearly a mishmash of disparate ideas cobbled together and shoehorned into this franchise. In a series defined as a slasher, this one tries to be a creepy descent into madness. Even taken on its own, it doesn’t pull off what it’s trying to do. Weak writing and forced elements from the previous movies drag it down. This divergence is most definitely a wrong turn.
In the end, number 2 is easily the most enjoyable. 4 and 5 each have some redeemable qualities. I guess that amounts to about two and a half good ones out of the six? Sure, that feels about right. But is this the end for Three-Finger, Saw-Tooth, and One-Eye? (Yes, they have names.) Only time will tell…but yeah, that’s probably it.
I will take the skills I’ve learned and use them in case I get lost on my next road trip to Atlanta. Because I’m driving through Alabama and Alabama is scary, y’all.