Directed by Rob Schmidt. Starring Desmond Harrington, Eliza Dushku, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Jeremy Sisto, Kevin Zegers, Lindy Booth. (2003, R, 95 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 6, 2003
The American horror film, like Michael Jackson’s nose, has become a denuded affair, a shadow of its former glory, cut and chopped to secure the R rating, and none the better for it. It seems everybody’s taken a whack at it by now, and when you have the director of The Big Chill, Lawrence Kasdan, filming a Stephen King adaptation about alien slugs that nest in your colon, as in the recent Dreamcatcher, well, something really has to be done, preferably with a chainsaw. There have been a handful of upstart nightmares over the past decade – The Blair Witch Project, Wes Craven’s pomo switchback Scream, the first 30 minutes of Jeepers Creepers – but lately we’ve also had the hellishly bad Valentine, Ghost Ship, and their lessers. These days the real screams are emanating from other shores. The upcoming 28 Days Later, by U.K. favorite Danny Boyle (Trainspotting), looks immensely promising, as does Michael and Peter Spierig’s Aussie zombie import Undead, while a spate of Asian horror, spurred on by the unexpected success of Gore Verbinski’s remake of Hideo Nakata’s Ringu, is also being readied for domestic release or remake. Wrong Turn, co-produced and featuring effects work by Oscar-winner Stan Winston (who also, let’s not forget, had a hand in the Andy Kaufman/Bernadette Peters robot love story from hell, Heartbeeps , way back in ’81) begins promisingly, but soon falls prey to achingly obvious genre tropes and rote, hack ’n’ slash bloodletting. There’s comfort in the familiar these days, of course, but if the past is any indication, the current aura of global dread should be a boon to horror films, which, historically, get their bad mojo on whenever the economy goes south. Wrong Turn, which borrows liberally from Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, is less a sign of the times than a sign that the genre is seriously played out and badly in need of fresh visions, wherever they might come from. On his way to a job interview, med student Chris (Harrington) bypasses interstate traffic in favor of a back road and promptly runs into, literally, a quintet of model-perfect youth in a stranded SUV – among them Six Feet Under’s Sisto and the recently heartbroken Jessie (Dushku), on whom Chris soon develops the sort of lusty crush that occurs when bad things happen to dumb people. With cell phones down and cars immobile, the group stumbles into a backwoods shack where they discover body parts in the fridge and a trio of mutant hillbilly cannibals looking for a between-meal snack. You can probably guess how it goes from here, and if you can’t, you really ought to get out to the movies more often. Winston’s inbred hillbillies resemble nothing so much as The Simpsons’ Moe Szyslak on a bad-teeth day, the gore is disturbingly realistic (but obviously toned-down for the MPAA), and the faux-teen cast is slaughtered in marginally creative fashions, but for all its frightful slasher intent, Wrong Turn fails simply because there’s not one iota of originality to it. This was already tired stuff when cult fave Sleepaway Camp came out in 1983, and it’s downright comatose by now.