"Trash." That's how Bob Wise, the governor of West Virginia, described Wrong Turn, a Stan Winston-produced spam-in-the-woods flick helmed by Rob Schmidt in his freshman genre outing. Wise didn't want people to come away from the movie thinking that West Virginia was teeming with inbred redneck cannibals. Having been born and raised in South Carolina, I can sympathize with Wise's concerns. Inbred redneck cannibals are a statistically insignificant part of life in the South, and although they made high school difficult for me at times (one pack gave me the nickname 'Tater' and would ask me questions daily like, "Hey Tater, you been eatin' yer taters and greens?"; being inbred redneck cannibals, maybe they were hoping I'd say, "no, I prefer the salty taste of human flesh" and join their clan, but I digress), the threat they pose to visiting tourists really is minimal as long as you stick to the main roads and don't wear bright clothing or flash shiny objects. But anyway, at this point I'm really writing this not-particularly-funny introduction for no real purpose other than to amuse myself, so I'll shut up and talk about the movie.
Following an encounter with a grizzled old man at a rundown gas station, an unexpectedly trashed car strands three men and three women in the middle of nowhere, finding themselves hunted by a family of flesh-chomping, murderous, hideously deformed mountain folk. One of the scarcely-human creatures runs off with the family's newborn baby and...wait, wrong movie. No, Wrong Turn does begin in much the same way as The Hills Have Eyes, but it's an entirely different movie. Really. Chris (Desmond Harrington), who's speeding to an interview in North Carolina, tries to take a backroad to bypass a traffic jam that could cost him his future. As Chris careens down a dirt road, he runs into -- literally, he snickers with an implied exclamation point -- a gaggle of already-stranded twentysomethings. Among them are screwin' stoners Francine and Evan (the always-adorable Lindy Booth and one-time Air Bud mainstay Kevin Zegers, respectively), and Scott (Jeremy Sisto), who couldn't be more tickled about his impending nuptuals to Carly (Emmanuelle Chriqui), the movie's resident "no! :sobs: No, I can't do it anymore!" lass. The last of the group is the brassy brunette Jessie (Eliza Dushku), whose recent breakup with her boyfriend prompted this jaunt to the outdoors. They decide that not being stranded in the boondocks of West Virginia is a pretty good idea, so those of them that aren't going to be quickly killed seek out whatever help they can find. The only people -- and that's using the word pretty generously -- they manage to stumble upon are the inbred redneck cannibals responsible for stranding them there in the first place. So, as inbred redneck cannibals are prone to do, they arm themselves with shotguns, axes, and arrows to hunt down the quickly-dwindling number of protagonists, suspiciously in the reverse order in which the actors are billed.
Aside from sight-unseen bashing by West Virginia governors, Wrong Turn caught a lot of flack for lifting gingerly from '70s horror classics. That's kind of like being miffed at White Castle for selling square cheeseburgers; Wrong Turn is derivative by design. The bare essentials of the plot are basically The Hills Have Eyes-by-way-of-Deliverance, with a double-scoop of Texas Chainsaw tossed in for good measure. There are no self-referential winks. No "hey, is that red? Quick! Cut away!" flinching from grue. It's just a fun stalk-'em-'n'-stab-'em flick, and viewers who don't go in expecting anything more than that stand a pretty good chance of liking Wrong Turn. Oh, sure, it has its flaws. The dialogue is clunky at times, and like The Hills Have Eyes, the first half dragged a bit my second time through as I waited around for our cast o' characters to stop being introduced and start getting maimed. Not all that different from many of the movies that provided its inspiration. Once Wrong Turn really gets moving, it's almost unrelenting. This is the sort of movie where anyone can die at any time, unless you're the only main character on the one-sheet or pegged at the offset as the hero. The kills are often quick and unexpected, lacking the sort of Friday the 13th-ish telegraphing, at least after the obvious Red Shirts are knocked off. Although Wrong Turn isn't a splatter-flick, there is solid gore in some of its kill scenes and the aftermaths, particularly a lingering decapitation-by-half, some barb wire brutality, and one well-placed arrow. There are also several claustrophobic sequences that keep things tense and suspenseful.
For better or for worse, I think Wrong Turn makes its mission statement abundantly clear, and it hit each and every one of its goals for me. On that end, accomplishing everything it set out to achieve, I'd consider it a success. Is Wrong Turn going to be looked at decades from now with the sort of reverence as the films that inspired it? No, probably not, but a movie doesn't have to be stunningly original or destined to become some sort of classic to be enjoyable. For genre fans who have been turned off by the unrecognizably-watered-down flicks that pass for horror nowadays, Wrong Turn is a step in the right direction and well-worth at least a rental.
Video: This DVD features two versions of Wrong Turn, one on each single-layered side of the disc. The first is full-frame, and the other, the only one that really warrants a mention, preserves the film's theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in anamorphic widescreen. The presentation is, as is to be expected from such a recent theatrical release, great. The source material is in pristine condition, free of any noticeable wear or damage. The image is sharp, and although the level of detail is nothing exceptional, it holds up well even in its most dimly-lit moments. A couple of scattered shots have a hazy, grainy appearance, but I seem to remember coming away with the same impression when I saw Wrong Turn theatrically. Color saturation appeared to be spot-on, and black levels are deep and appropriately inky. A solid transfer with no flaws of note.
Audio: Wrong Turn sports a Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kbps) soundtrack. It's pretty much standard issue for a recent horror DVD to have a pretty hefty low-end, but the LFE in Wrong Turn is almost astonishing. We're not talking about just an occasional low frequency boom, but wall-rattling, foundation-threatening, internal-organ-liquefying bass. Most everything in the movie -- stings in the score, cars lumbering down dirt roads, shotgun blasts, arrows embedded in most everything in sight, a large fire, slamming doors, and...yeah, that's probably a long enough list -- is accompanied by a substantial roar from the subwoofer. The surrounds are also used frequently and effectively, often to provide the sort of ambiance one would expect when stranded in West Virginia's particular brand of the middle of nowhere: the buzzing of flies, birds chirping, creaking wooden planks, roaring flames, cascading water, and, of course, and inbred cannibal whoopin' 'n' hollerin'. Stereo separation is solid, and there are several noticeable pans from channel to channel. An above-average mix.
Other audio options include stereo surround dubs in Spanish and French, subtitles in English and Spanish, and closed captions.
Supplements: As was the case with the two presentations of the film, the extras are split across each side of the disc. On the widescreen portion is a very laid-back, relaxed audio commentary with director Rob Schmidt and stars Desmond Harrington and Eliza Dushku. Listening to it, I can almost picture these three friends leaning back in their chairs, watching the movie and tossing out the occasional note or quip. There are a lot of lengthy pauses and not really a wealth of information. To spout off a few of the highlights, though, Schmidt notes how the Wrong Turn's '70s inspiration extended to the photography, Dushku's reluctance to watch horror movies because she's convinced that someone is in her apartment eyeing to kill her, pointing out that one character I assumed in my first two watchings to be dead wasn't (at least not quite yet), and that Emmanuelle Chriqui dislocated her shoulder on-screen. This is the sort of commentary that's okay to have playing in the background, but not really the sort of chat I'd actively sit down and watch.
There are also a few brief deleted scenes. "Waterfall" (3:03) has Jessie chatting even more about her background before the requisite making-out with the male lead and a "hey, we're kind of zoomed out and you can't see or hear anything, so that probably means they're havin' sex" shot. One of the first kills in the movie is revisited twice. The first is a very, very slightly different version, running a little over thirty seconds in length, followed by a set of dailies (3:21) with multiple takes of the grisly demise. All three deleted scenes are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, with timecode in the letterboxed portion of the frame.
The best of the set's featurettes is "Fresh Meat: The Wounds of Wrong Turn" (9:25), which delves in-depth into the individual kills and the make-up effects. There's a killer still -- weak pun intended, as always -- of one of the mountain men getting a little frisky with the remains of one of our nubile young heroines, and unfortunately, if that was part of a filmed sequence, it's not presented elsewhere on this DVD.
There are also four different poster concepts, and although I'm pretty fond of the final one-sheet (so much so that I came pretty close to buying one and still might get around to it), the alternatives really weren't all that great. Somewhat atypical for Fox, the trailer (2:12) is letterboxed and not enhanced for widescreen televisions, with only Dolby Digital 2.0 surround audio (192Kbps). Judging by the lack of any mention of the distributor throughout, perhaps this trailer was cobbled together before Fox got their paws on it.
The flipside of the disc duplicates the commentary and also piles on a few featurettes. The first of them is "The Making of Wrong Turn", an exceedingly promotional featurette with all of the expected clichés -- an excess of footage from the movie, fluffy interviews, corny narration, and not all that much on the actual making of the film. "Eliza Dushku: Babe in the Woods" (3:42; yeah, I get it, but whoever named this featurette shouldn't be allowed to come up with any more titles, ever) has Stan Winston and Rob Schmidt (understandably) fawning over the movie's leading lady and her performance, and Dushku chimes in with a few comments of her own. Rounding out the extras is a "Stan Winston: Monster Mogul" featurette (4:40), in which the legendary make-up effects wizard runs through his career and speaks about the appeal of producing genre films. None of these are really all that much worth the effort of hopping off your couch and flipping over the disc.
All of the set's featurettes are presented full-frame and feature Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kbps) audio.
The DVD's animated menus are enhanced for widescreen displays, and the movie has been divided into twenty-eight chapters. The pre-release version I was sent didn't include an insert, and I'm not certain if retail copies will have one tucked into the keepcase or not.
Conclusion: Take elements of both '70s grindhouse horror and clean-scrubbed modern slashers, set the blender on puree, and you'll wind up with a movie like Wrong Turn. Although reception from both critics and the usual Internet message board set was mixed, I enjoyed the movie quite a bit, and it's gotten a pretty respectable release on DVD. A rental will probably be enough for many viewers, but Wrong Turn still comes Recommended.
More Completely Random Notes: I think Wrong Turn is the first DVD in a while where I've been entranced by the packaging. No, not the faux-scratched cover art featuring the lovely Ms. Dushku, but the other side. The billing of the actors is as follows: Desmond Harrington, Eliza Dushku, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Jeremy Sisto, "Wrong Turn", and Kevin Zegers. I guess "Wrong Turn" is Lindy Booth's alias or something. The plot synopsis uses phrases like "a hip ensemble of up-and-coming young stars", which really is not acceptable at all, but whoever wrote the blurb gets bonus points for squeezing in "indescribable" since that's one of my favorite words. Also, Lindy Booth and Kevin Zegers play lovers in Wrong Turn, and they're soon to turn up in another movie with its origins firmly rooted in the '70s -- the remake of Dawn of the Dead that I obviously haven't seen but still want to go ahead and dismiss.
Related Links: The official Wrong Turn site has a little more about the movie, including a pair of video excerpts and a trailer. Cineschlock-O-Rama scribe G. Noel Gross has also penned a review of The Hills Have Eyes, one of Wrong Turn's most obvious inspirations. DVD Talk has reviewed other recent horror flicks that take its inspiration from decades past, including House of 1,000 Corpses and Cabin Fever.