Three things I've learned during my time as a hardcore film lover: horror movies often suck (any moron with a camera can mix up some fake blood), sequels usually suck, and almost invariably, direct-to-video movies really, really suck. Therefore, logic suggests that Wrong Turn 2: Dead End should be appallingly bad, given that it was a direct-to-DVD sequel of a horror film that I didn't even like, despite Eliza Dushku in a wifebeater doing her best to keep my attention. Yet, Dead End is a stylish splatter film thanks to director Joe Lynch, which not only packs an awe-inspiring opening credit sequence (funny and strikingly directed on top of being a masterpiece of gore) but perfectly utilizes the ass-kicking Henry Rollins as the film's star. Wrong Turn 3: Left For Dead doesn't have Lynch at the helm, nor Rollins in the lead (or Dushku, for that matter), but it's still leagues better than the first, which, against all odds, remains the weakest movie in the series.
After a prologue that tries in vain to top the beginning of Dead End (more on this later), we meet the prison guards and prisoners at Grafton Penitentiary, where the staff moves up a scheduled inmate transfer and changes the route amidst (correct) fears that notorious resident Chavez (Tamer Hassan) is planning a breakout, with the assistance of another prisoner named Floyd (Gil Kolirin). Leading the group is Nate (Tom Frederic), just trying to make it through his last day before he heads off to law school. Instead of Chavez's crew, however, everyone's favorite mutant-hillbilly-cannibal Three Finger (Borislav Iliev) runs the bus off the road, killing several of Nate's fellow guards and making Nate the prisoner as Chavez leads the entire group through the woods, still shackled together by prison handcuffs, on the lookout for their deformed, hungry stalker.
The best thing about Wrong Turn 3 is the performances, which are almost entirely enjoyable. It's shocking that a group of prisoners in a movie don't immediately devolve into awful caricature, but Wrong Turn 3 manages to pull it off. You can always sense these guys actually thinking about the things happening to them instead of acting irrationally or making dumb decisions, which really makes all the difference in caring about what happens to them. In fact (in a good way), Chavez may be one of the most appealing movie villains I've seen in a long time. Sure, Chavez is a hateful and violent person, but he also makes strategic moves through the woods once he knows they're being tracked and knows how to lead, so even if the guy would be terrifying to be around in real life, he's easy for the audience to understand. Similarly, Kolirin gives Floyd the ability to at least temporarily keep his anger in check, and in a rarity among prison thugs, never tries to out-snarl Chavez in some sort of silly hard-man standoff despite the pair's increasing dislike for one another, which is also a huge relief.
Nate, meanwhile, is a likable everyman hero. It's always aggravating to hear about people on their "last day" before retirement, because that never means anything good in the movies, but like Chavez, Nate takes things in stride and tries to deal with each problem as it presents itself as intelligently as possible. Helping Nate out is a prisoner named Brandon (Tom McKay), who seems like he might not actually be a criminal. I kept worrying the movie was going to pull an annoying twist with the character, but it manages to resist. And even though I wasn't a fan, I also liked the film's callbacks to the original Wrong Turn. Most of them are little visual touches, but one is sort of a key plot point.
The flaws with Left For Dead mostly seem caused by constraints placed on the production. That opening scene I mentioned tries to land a great finish, but the effect is completely -- and I mean completely -- defeated by a remarkably bad CG shot. Digital effects end up rearing their head in most of the kill sequences (and all of the driving sequences), to varying degrees of effectiveness but the same degree of obviousness. It's not all bad: there are several awesome prosthetics (although Three Finger looks distractingly like Freakshow from Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle); even that last beat in the opening scene has a considerably cooler physical element that shows up in the other shots, but in the end, anything that required special tweaking just stands out like a sore thumb.
Part of the way in, Janet Montgomery appears as Alex, a vacationing college student who gets separated from her group and runs into Nate and the prisoners. Montgomery was also in the direct-to-video redneck gorefest The Hills Run Red, and while I didn't think her character in that had a particularly grand arc, I guess there must have been more for her to latch onto, since she's just sorta dull in Left For Dead. Beyond just having paper-thin material, it's also disappointing because Dushku and Erica Leerhsen played pretty tough characters in the first two Wrong Turns, whereas all Montgomery's character Alex does is argue, slow Nate down, and eventually get captured so that he can go in and rescue her (something that also happened to Montgomery's Hills Run Red character -- neither of these screenplays get any marks for being progressive).
Most disappointing of all, however, is a short, stupid coda that completely tramples on everything we know about two key characters and feels really tacked on, as if writer Connor James Delaney felt the movie demanded more of a "horror film" ending. It probably doesn't even last two minutes, and deep down I was already prepared for it, since the movie's previous fade-to-black didn't seem like an exciting enough conclusion, but it's hard to get around how bad it is, and I really wish someone could have come up with something better to end the film.
Wrong Turn 3: Left For Dead comes with fan-approved cover art; the image gracing the front won out in an online contest over the more Photoshoppy central image on the back. On one hand, Janet Montgomery plays a supporting role, so in a sense, the art is misleading: it doesn't show us the inmates, and Three Finger looks like a joyous (albeit ugly) fantasy gremlin bounding off to cause some wacky mischief rather than a brutal serial killer. That said, it's definitely the better of the two images that were offered up.
Glued to the plastic wrap is a cardboard sheet replicating the artwork. The idea, I guess, is that this is the new, less wasteful version of the slipcover, but I could do without it. I never thought of slipcovers as being there to protect the case (which is all this cardboard sheet seems to do, and even then, it only protects the front), and I end up tossing these sheets out, which theoretically makes them more wasteful than a slipcover. The hot glue also melts the case a little, which is irritating, although in this instance, the case is an Eco-Box, so I could care less. The package is stickered as part of the "Feed Your Fear" line at Fox/MGM, although I could have sworn I saw some copies of Sony's Fright Night stickered as well.
The Video and Audio
This 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation starts out juggling some complicated images, panning past bunches of trees with tiny leaves down to a rapidly flowing stream carrying two canoes, with splashes and sloshing as the group races each other to shore. It's far from crystal clear, looking like there might be a handful of digital artifacts hiding inside each little wave. Another good chunk of the movie takes place at night, and blacks could certainly be richer. Overall, though, the film looks alright, and there are a few perfectly-lit daytime shots that are vivid and eye-popping.
Dolby Digital 5.1 fares a little better than the picture. You can hear the limited budget, in the sense that the selected effects and music sound like that of a direct-to-DVD feature rather than material culled from the THX library and slathered in music performed by a full 375-piece orchestra. That said, the track still contains plenty of bone crunches and gut-splatters to satisfy the movie's aural requirements. 2.0 French, Spanish and Portuguese are also included, along with English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
"Wrong Turn 3 in 3 Fingers...I Mean, Parts" is a short making of featurette that includes the chapters "Action, Gore and Chaos!" (9:04), "Brothers in Blood" (5:23) and "Three Finger's Fight Night" (3:33), with a Play All option (18:00). It's a nice piece, and it's certainly a cut above the the normal EPK-level stuff (not to mention it reveals that most of these actors are British), but if I had to choose between this feature and a commentary track with the director and a few cast members, I'd probably pick a commentary instead. The only other extra on the disc is two deleted scenes (1:22), which are inconsequential, but the second one clears up something I didn't realize watching the finished film.
The disc opens with a spot for "Sons of Anarchy": Season One and a trailer for The Marine II. No trailer for Wrong Turn 3 is included, and the bonus features are not subtitled.
Even with the epilogue and the fact that it can't live up to the heights of Wrong Turn 2, Wrong Turn 3: Dead End is a highly entertaining little slasher picture. I wish the extras were better, but I definitely recommend it to horror junkies and anyone who liked the rest of the Wrong Turn series.
Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.