Wrong Turn 2

Thanks to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, any director who aspires to make a gritty, realistic horror movie (i.e. one without a Mansquito in it) needn’t be hindered by the plain fact that he/she is an idiot. The idea is already out there, ripe and ready for plucking, it just needs a simple location change and a few modernities sprinkled in so that it appears new. A group of young adults are lured by circumstance out into the wilderness (or desert, or marsh, or vacant moon colony) where they are hunted and whittled down by a family of deformed weirdos who kill for no reason. The ante is upped by gore, with each successive murder becoming more creative and gruesome. The “realism” comes from most closely approximating what pulling out someone’s intestines through their asshole might actually look like. As formulas go, the scared twentysomethings vs. family of post-nuclear flippos model is pretty solid. It can be entertaining in just as many ways as it can suck. Since blood and fake kidneys are cheap to produce, these films (and their sequels and remakes) will continue to get funding long after we’re dead. Just don’t expect to be scared at all, because you know exactly how this story goes. The first Wrong Turn came out a few years ago, had minor stars like Jeremy Sisto and Eliza Dushku in it, and got buried under “superior” releases such as Hostel and The Hills Have Eyes. When that happens to your film, you might as well cash in your chips and direct one of those high-budget pornos that has CGI. However, someone upstairs (I assume God) believed in the original film, and its lazy premise of a brood of inbred Appalachian cannibals attacking a lost pack of vacationing college students. And why not? People are scared of getting eaten, and anyone could take the wrong road and end up having their eyeball veins turned into zest. Plus, making fun of hillbillies for having sex with each other can provide some levitous comic moments. So a sequel has arrived, complete with a different group of doe-eyed kids who this time are competing in a survival-based reality show. It’s that kind of “in the now” topicality that makes these sequels great. Remember when The Hills Have Eyes 2 had those Iraq veterans in it? A spicy ingredient like that in the mix is necessary for the sequel, in order to tell it apart. After that, though, all the same crap can go down.

The opening scene of Wrong Turn 2 features sort-of-famous “American Idol” lady Kimberly Caldwell cutely playing herself. She is on her way to compete in this “Survivor” knockoff show that has a post-apocalypse theme. She talks to her agent, as though she has one, and as they talk, she takes a wrong turn. She accidentally hits a pedestrian, and as she checks on him, the trap is sprung. She dies pretty good, and the stage is set for what’s to come. At the actual set, the motley crew of future corpses is introduced cleverly through their contestant intros. There is Jonesy (Steve Braun), the loudmouth former X-gamer; Elena (Crystal Lowe), the “I’ll suck dicks to win” hot chick; Jake (Texas Battle), the golden-boy college QB; Mara (Aleksa Palladino), the innocent sweetheart; Nina (Erica Leerhsen), the sheltered art-loner; and Amber (Daniella Alonso), the hardass lesbian Marine. After reading this, you might already have a notion as to who will survive. Mean or annoying people always get axed, nice girls live forever. With a few curveballs thrown in, I’ll say you are right.

The biggest curveball in the film is the appearance of Henry Rollins as Col. Dale Murphy, host of the show. Henry Rollins is a badass in every way, and while he should not have to be in this movie, he adds a gravitas to it that is much needed. His story arc could not be better, as he is one of the first to be kidnapped by the disfigured hicks, but manages to pull off an awesome Predator-style escape/counterstrike that lifts the last half of the film above any boring torture-chamber cliches. From the moment he introduces himself and the show pilot on camera to the last frame he appears in, he is unwavering in his cool. We don’t doubt for a second that when the final showdown comes, he will be there, kicking these freaks in the face and giving them exactly what they deserve for porking their sisters and barbecuing human leg meat. I give much respect to the filmmakers here for not just casting Rollins, but for giving him the best lines and making him the only interesting character. Good move.

OK, so the plot is easy. People start getting offed, and the kids on the show realize that their “game” has turned real. The creepy hillbillies communicate both in English and in a strange and unnecessary grunt-language, and they basically look like normal people with catcher’s mitts for faces. Elena, the “hottie” gets a little naked, and we all know what happens to the girls who do that. Jonesy makes stupid sex puns the whole time, usually about Amber’s preference for women, and Nina and Mara spar over who is the innocent one who won’t die. I must say, the final selection is surprising. In the end, we are led by the surviving contestants into the belly of the beast, where the weirdos live and eat. It is meant to be as grotesque and unsettling as possible, and pretty much is. However, it has nothing on the quiet, building fear of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. We know what goes on here, and what to expect. In Texas, we could be scared. In these woods, we can only be grossed out. The film’s bloody denouement does that for the most part, and accomplishes enough for this straight-to-DVD release to earn its modest budget back.

People sometimes say when a film is slightly better than their low expectations that it “wasn’t half bad.” That is exactly what Wrong Turn 2 is, though it is half bad. Every time we see Col. Dale Murphy doing something hardcore, we cheer and even laugh at his subdued military rage. He is the unquestioned highlight of the movie. The script doesn’t care much about the reality show or its participants, taking hardly any time to get things into gear. However, the deaths are a little stupid and only at times shocking. As one would expect, the dialogue barely qualifies as language.

The family of inbreds is really why I would never see this movie again. They are fine as villains, and don’t need any explanation for what they do. They are ugly, but not scary ugly. The real problem I have is that by the end, I wanted someone to finally grow some balls and kill these bastards. They are proud, reasonless killers and are primed to get their comeuppance. It just takes forever to get to that. With Col. Dale stalking them for so long, I though they were really going to get the tables turned on them, or maybe some all-out battling would happen. Nope. Just an anti-climactic ending that didn’t do justice to anyone, let alone Henry Rollins. I am right in the middle about Wrong Turn 2, as it is better than bad, but nowhere near good. Henry Rollins rocks, though. The features section in the Wrong Turn 2 DVD is a deserted wasteland, which probably means that we should not dwell there, or else we will be tortured by a gang of chemically-altered nutcakes. Then, two years after our deaths, a new group will find themselves there as part of a dogfighting investigation or some shit. Anyway, besides being presented in widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio and English and Spanish language options, this disc cannot even provide us with a working phone. It is unrated, but isn’t everything these days? What does that even mean with a horror film?

Director Joe Lynch appears on a commentary track, as does actress Erica Leerhsen and our man Henry. I don’t know where he found the time to do this track, what with his spoken-word touring schedule and his recreational badassery, but Rollins makes this track something to kind of care about. On the whole, horror-film commentaries are more fun than normal, because pretending to die is pretty cool. Lynch seems to care about what he is discussing, but in the way that a director does when he thinks he can get more work off of something. I hope he likes straight-to-video sequels. Leerhsen didn’t seem to do anything to gain her seat in the commentary studio.

The only feature other than a short “theatrical” trailer (not quite) is a behind-the-scenes featurette on the effects work called: “Making Gore Look Good.” Special effects people are usually pretty interesting, and the things they do for a living rival ice-cream tasting and Federal Boob Inspection. They talk about the buckets of blood they employed, and speak with pride about the work they did on the cannibals’ faces. The only thing that truly impresses, however, is an animatronic model they made of a flipper baby, which briefly appears in the movie. It is wild cool. However, with horror becoming such a cheap and listless commodity, the business they speak of with so much pride is quickly turning into a McDonald’s-like blandness machine. Soon there will be new ideas for horror, but not yet.

Another sequel has come and gone, and we are no better or worse for it. Of course horror films of this ilk can be monumentally shitty, but it is a lot like sex or pizza. Even if it sucks, it’s still worth the time. Wrong Turn 2 does just like its predecessor and breaks even, splitting gross-out with crap-out. With the Col. Dale character included, this one may even surpass the original a little bit. A note to cheap horror filmmakers: no matter how awesome it is to see people die, eventually we want to see someone get in there and fight back. In other words, give Henry Rollins a hunting knife, and let him school those bastards, for the sake of normalcy.