Why would anyone make a sequel to Wrong Turn? That was the question burning in my brain when I heard there would be a follow-up to the 2003 horror flick that was mildly entertaining, but not exactly a film destined to make the history books. My only two interests in watching Wrong Turn 2: Dead End was the fact that Henry Rollins was in it, and that it would be so bad I could have fun eviscerating the damn thing. But much to my surprise, WT2 wasn't half bad. In fact, it was really pretty good.
The first Wrong Turn found a group of six, unusually attractive people stranded in the woods of West Virginia, where they were stalked, killed and devoured by a clan of inbred mutants. The first film borrowed heavily from 1970s horror films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes, with a touch of that one X-Files episode about the inbreeds who kept their mother in a dresser drawer. Not a great film, Wrong Turn was entertaining for what it was, and far superior to much of the crappy horror films that have plagued this decade (garbage like the new Texas Chainsaw movies and Turistas).
Rather than pick up where the first film left off, Wrong Turn 2 is its own separate beast. Still set in the backwoods of West Virginia, WT2 starts off with former American Idol contestant Kimberly Caldwell, starring as herself, tooling around the back roads in red Mustang convertible. Kimberly is a cast member of Ultimate Survivalist, a new reality television series being shot in West Virginia, and as she races to the location, she slams into one of the Family. Thoroughly freaked out by the accident, Kimberly goes to the aid of the mutant freak, only to fall victim to a fiendish trap that culminates in a wonderful gut-splattering sequence that serves to get WT2 off to a great start.
If the opening sequence of WT2 was all it had to offer, it would still be head and shoulders about crap like Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. But things begin to pick up steam as we are introduced to the cast and crew of Ultimate Survivalist, a ridiculous Survivor-type show, the premise of which deals with a six contestants trying to stay alive after a make-believe apocalypse. Henry Rollins, chewing up every scene, co-stars as Dale Murphy, a retired Marine badass, and host of the show. The contestants appear to be a mix of both reality show and hack-'em-and-stack-'em horror cliches, the two of which are surprisingly similar. There is Jake (Texas Battle), the ex-jock still looking for a shot at glory, Nina (Erica Leehrsen), the moody goth girl who hates life and everything about it, and Jonesy (Steve Braun), a second-rate extreme sports jackass. The rest of the crew is made up of a trio of expendable hotties, Amber (Daniella Alonso), the Iraq War veteran, Elena (Crystal Lowe), the trampy sexpot who will do anything to be a star, and Mara (Aleska Palladino), the girlfriend of Ultimate Survivalist director M (Matthew Holmes), and a last-minute substitute for Kimberly Caldwell, who of course is slow cooking on a grill. Once the cast of characters has been introduced, and the rules of the contest are delivered in spot-on, a hilarious send up of other reality shows, the fun really begins. It isn't giving too much away to reveal that the mutants stalk and kill our motley assortment of heroes, but the fun in watching films of this nature is seeing how people are disposed of. And since this is the "unrated" version we're talking about, WT2 manages to deliver the sort of chop-n-slop effects that defined 1980s horror films.
While the original Wrong Turn drew its primary inspiration from the horror flicks of the 1970s, Wrong Turn 2 draws deep from the well of '80s horror, which saw an incredible number of sequels that relied heavily on sex, nudity, and graphic violence--often mixed with a touch of really dark humor--all of which upped the ante of the films that begat these endless follow-ups. In that regard, WT2 is everything that defined the sequel-heavy horror boom of the 1980s. But where this film deviates from both the sequels and the stand-alones of the Reagan-era is that Wrong Turn 2 is more entertaining than the original that spawned it.
Where Wrong Turn 2 succeeds, and where so many other recent horror films have failed, is that at the helm is a director who has respect and knowledge of the genre. My guess is that director Joe Lynch watched things like the Friday the 13th films and the Nightmare on Elm Street series way too many times when he was a kid, whereas that jackass who made the Texas Chainsaw remake probably never watched any films with "Texas," "Chainsaw," or "Massacre" in the title. Lynch, who makes a very impressive directorial debut, understands what was fun about the horror flicks of the 1980s. Yes, they were often grim, gruesome and gory, but the best ones also had a sense of fun, and were never unpleasant torture shows like the steaming pile of crap that is Turistas.
Like the original Wrong Turn, WT2 owes a bit to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as well as the 1986 sequel. As was the case with Chainsaw II, which was as much about the murderous Sawyer family as anything else, Wrong Turn 2 digs a bit deeper into the mutated clan of cannibals that were little more than monsters in the first film. This time around, thanks in part to the darkly comedic script, the mutants have a bit more dimension and personality. In a scene reminiscent of the first two Chainsaw films, we get to see this family of inbred freaks going about their business like a "normal" family--including watching television and saying a prayer before the evening meal. In fact, one of the film's best performances and most fully realized characters comes from stuntwoman Rorelee Tio, buried under a ton prosthetic make-up, as the Sister of the killer family. Tio's performance ranks up there with Gunnar Hansen and Bill Johnson, who played Leatherface in Chainsaw and Chainsaw II, respectively. And the rest of the family of freaks isn't half bad either.
As far as horror films go in general--and sequels in particular--Wrong Turn 2 is a consistently entertaining film. The cast is solid, especially Henry Rollins, who gives it his all, and manages to simultaneously impress with his skills as an action hero and his ability to play a role that is straight-faced parody. The other stand-out cast member is Erica Leehrsen, who puts a great spin on what could easily have been another tired retread of the scream queen character.
With a well-written script by Turi Meyer and Al Septien, and under Lynch's assured direction, Wrong Turn 2 manages to evolve into more than most genre fans have come to expect from contemporary horror flicks. The film is a celebration of cliches and archetypes that are all-too familiar, while at the same time often defying some of the very conventions that it visibly embraces. Many of the predictable aspects of WT2 don't turn out to be predictable at all; and the characters, all of which start out as stock stereotypes from a hundred other horror movies, actually have some depth and emotional arc. I know, it seems odd to talk about "character arc" in the context of a throwaway monster movie, but that's what separates the good genre films from the bad genre films.