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John’s Horror Corner: Wrong Turn (2003), if The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) family had a cabin in the woods.

November 3, 2016

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MY CALL: 
If The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) family had a cabin in the woods and swapped chainsaws and cleavers for bows and axes, this fun gross-out hillbilly horror is what you’d have.  Highly recommended for fans of brutal horror.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Wrong TurnWrong Turn 2 (2007), The Hills Have Eyes 1-2 (1977, 1984, 2006, 2007), Just Before Dawn (1981), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) will all continue to satisfy the hillbilly horror subgenre.

After a playful death scene, the opening credits are accompanied by a montage of news clippings about legends of mountain men, deformities from inbreeding, disappearing hikers, freakish strength and psychosis, and maps of West Virginia (our lovely Appalachian setting).

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That’s right.  When it comes to inbred cannibal redneck hillbilly horror, the locals are the monsters.  They scramble through the forest laughing with maniacal yips and haws rustling every bush in their path all the while as noisy as simian Planet of the Apes extras.  But what changes the pace from most of the horror genre is that these woods are well-lit and gorgeous.

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After finding some barb wire tire caltrops and crashing, Chris (Desmond Harrington; The Neon Demon, Dexter, Ghost Ship) ends up stranded in the woods with Jessie (Eliza Dushku; Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Soul Survivors), Scott (Jeremy Sisto; Six Feet Under), Carly (Emmanuelle Chriqui; Entourage, Thundercats), Evan (Kevin Zegers; The Colony, Vampire, Frozen, Dawn of the Dead) and Francine (Lindy Booth; Cry_Wolf, American Psycho II, The Skulls 2) on a dirt mountain road.  Of course, they separate almost immediately as two stay behind while the others go seek help.

They find an old shanty cabin besieged by old broken-down cars with some very old models among them.  “Maybe they have a phone we can use.”  Yeah, right!  The interior is alarmingly unclean.  Bowls of car keys; crude rusty cutting implements; crates with sorted cameras, shoes and children’s toys; and all manner of sorted organs in jars create the hoarded décor.  In case that wasn’t enough, the fridge is loaded with leftovers (i.e., Tupperware filled with kidneys).

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Can’t find the phone?
Well, the owners seem to be getting home so we can just ask them
.

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This gory shock flick may run deeper in the tropes than it does in the woods, featuring cliché horror drags pulling victims off-screen, tank topped scream queens, and maniacal briar-stirring mongoloids with a taste for human flesh.  In the beginning when Chris stops by a gas station, the owner (Wayne Robson; Cube, Wrong Turn 2) is about as “harbinger creepy” as they come.  He’s filthy, sparsely toothed, chugging Pepto-Bismol (because whatever), and his phone doesn’t work.  That’s a lot of red flags screaming for an escape to a populated city!  But, unluckily for Chris, the road is blocked and he decides to take an unpaved detour that surprises even the uber-creepy backwater gas station attendant.

The characters are decently written considering there isn’t much to the story (i.e., victims are stranded in the woods and are hunted by cannibals), but the highlight is clearly Jeremy Sisto’s idiosyncratic comic relief—he almost reminds me of Jeff Goldblum.  Outside of his clever banter, we’re really just waiting for the cast to get through their lines so as to hurry us along to the next death scene.  But this is due to the absence of story development and not because of bad acting.  The acting is fine.

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The kills are generally more fun than brutal (but still a bit brutal), including a mangled variation of a choking and an excellent pseudo-decapitation high in the tree canopies.

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And speaking of tree canopies, that “set design” was pretty unrealistic and mostly CGI.  I didn’t even notice this when I first saw it (in theaters 13 years ago), but now it is blaringly obvious.

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Whether audibly sawing flesh and chopping limbs as they butcher a victim, or their wheezy grunts and maniacal laughs—someone put a lot of thought into the visceral sounds.  And if it “sounds” uncomfortably brutal then know you’ll love the gory butchered corpse, exaggerated hair lips, and “Three-Finger” (Julian Richings; The Witch, Urban Legend, Cube) who looks like someone lit Dee Snyder on fire and then extinguished the flames by pushing him into a septic tank.

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Our nerves are tested several times over by director Rob Schmidt (The Alphabet Killer)—when the victims tip-toe around the sleeping rednecks, when they hide under the table while their friend is carved for dinner, and the cat-and-mouse game played high in the trees.

I love how campy this movie is and that it doesn’t rely on any gratuitous nudity to be as such.  The redneck family’s mania and their gory wake accomplish it perfectly.  It’s not very jumpy.  But it may find you on edge with a nervous smile and, despite its gory brutal nature, this West Virginian horror feels far more playful than its mean-spirited Texas counterpart.  The movie ends on a humorous note that is more than a bit suggestive of a sequel.  I would expect nothing less.

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