The Wrong Turn movies are nobody’s favorite horror franchise. But somehow, the series about cannibal mutants who prey on directionally challenged road trippers has been thriving for nearly two decades. And a since the seventh (yes, seventh!) Wrong Turn arrived this week, we’re taking a look back at the whole damn series.
Most of the Wrong Turn movies went straight to video, star nobody you’d recognize, are packed full of rural-culture stereotypes (the tourism board of West Virginia is probably not a fan), contain a scene where somebody actually says the words “wrong turn,” and really enjoy make a point of reminding you that the setting is so remote that cell phones are useless. But while some of the Wrong Turns contain surprises that make them worthwhile...others are best left undisturbed in their little corners of the cinematic wilderness.
And yes, we’re including the brand-new Wrong Turn movie on this list—it happens to also be titled Wrong Turn, and has a script by Alan B. McElroy, who wrote the 2003 original (and whose other credits include Halloween 4: The Curse of Michael Myers, Spawn, and, oddly, Star Trek: Discovery). Where does it stack up? Read on and find out!
Bulgaria stands in for West Virginia in this Valeri Milev-directed series entry, the most recent in the series until this week’s release. Wrong Turn 6 shares some story points with 2013's Texas Chainsaw 3D—you know you have a problem when you’re able to connect the dots between Wrong Turn 6 and Texas Chainsaw 3D, but I digress—in that it follows Danny (Anthony Ilott) as he journeys to collect an inheritance from a family he didn’t even know existed. Turns out he’s heir to an aging but upscale resort hotel, and (surprise!) has some rather unusual relatives who are as eager to meet him as they are to feast on his friends. The European location probably accounts for some of the shaky “American” accents on display here, but the rest of the movie’s shakiness—its plot, its pacing, the fact that every single character is just a terrible person—can’t really be excused.
Into every slasher series, there must come a prequel. This Wrong Turn begins in 1974 at a West Virginia sanitarium filled with maniacal mutants, including a trio of young siblings who ate their own parents before they were locked up, and have since done things like chew off their own fingers, poke out their own eyeballs and eat them, and chomp on orderlies with their outrageously large teeth, which they keep sharp by scraping them along the walls of their cell. (Hey, it could happen...?)
After the kids escape early in act one—ripping their hated physician apart, limb-from-limb, as a merry little fuck-you farewell—the stage would appear to be set for us to see adolescent cannibals run amok in the 1970s. But instead, Wrong Turn 4 flashes forward to...2003, the same year the original Wrong Turn was released, and launches into a story that barely deviates from the rest of the series. Dippy college kids get lost on a backwoods trek, but instead of flailing around a forest, they end up spending the night in the now-abandoned hospital, which just so happens to be where the now-grown mutant family dwells. As you can imagine, said mutants are more than happy to “welcome” their tasty guests.
Wrong Turn 4's tone is devoid of any sly humor that could make its terrible dialogue more digestible: “They’re hunters! And now they’re hunting us! They’ll eat anything! Fuck, they probably turned Porter into a Porterhouse by now!” But it does take place during a blizzard, so there is an extra layer of “trapped in the wilderness” going on, and it enables a pretty satisfying last shot involving a snowmobile and a well-placed stretch of barbed wire.
Director Declan O’Brien’s three-film stint on the Wrong Turn series began here—he also made parts four and five, entries for which can be found above and below—in a film that represents a noticeable drop-off in production values from the first and second films (in what’s already a low-budget series). The premise of Wrong Turn 3 is kind of awesome on paper: in the interest of hastening the transfer of several dangerous criminals, one of whom is suspected of planning a jailbreak, a couple of prison guards are instructed to take a rural-route shortcut. You can guess how that turns out, as a gang of chained-together ne’er-do-wells suddenly find themselves being pursued by mutants with superhuman strength, an awful lot of weapons, and a tendency to let out loud, menacing cackles as they’re stalking their prey.
Wrong Turn 3 is heavy on the dude energy, but we do get a topless woman within the first three minutes who dies after an arrow pierces her chest; then near the end of the movie, we see her (still topless!) dead body on display in the cannibal lair. So that’s...a commitment to a theme, or something.
Here, the series brings us the gift of a prequel sequel—adding a bonus layer of “who cares” to the franchise that’s actually kind of admirable, a quality helped along by a tone that’s anything but self-serious. Having escaped any consequences for the hospital slaughter in part four, the mutant family has now relocated to a forest in West Virginia, where two important elements are in play. One is that a town nearby hosts an annual Halloween “Mountain Man Music Festival,” which a news report informs us is as popular as Coachella, and therefore lures an array of idiotic young partiers into the area on an annual basis. Since revelers are encouraged to dress as “hillbillies,” this allows our real-deal-billies the ability to roam around town without their misshapen faces attracting any extra attention. (Hey, it...could happen? Again?)
Wrong Turn 5's other invention is that the cannibals, who were holding their own just fine from all appearances up until now, have come under the tutelage of serial killer Maynard Odets, played by Doug “Pinhead in Hellraiser” Bradley. When Maynard tangles with our group of kids (there’s always a group of kids), he’s arrested, and his cannibal “sons” launch a rescue mission, giving this Wrong Turn a sort of siege-of-a-small-town feel that’s not quite in line with the rest of the series. Bradley is clearly enjoying himself—Maynard spends most of the movie sitting in a jail cell, smirking and making threatening pronouncements about how everyone in the police station is doomed—and this entry even has a female character who isn’t unnecessarily objectified (Camilla Arfwedson, as the local sheriff). But she also doesn’t survive, either. Womp womp.
As previously mentioned, original Wrong Turn screenwriter Alan McElroy penned this brand-new chapter in the story, so it’s nearly acceptable that the title is recycled. This release—which screened in theaters for one night, more than most of the films on this list can claim—boasts much higher production values than any other Wrong Turn film, and even gives us a star name: Matthew Modine, of Stranger Things fame! He plays a concerned father trying to find his daughter, Jen (Charlotte Vega), who’s been missing for weeks after going on a hiking trip.
In flashbacks, we see exactly what happened to her and her friends, who (for once) are a diverse group (Jen has a Black boyfriend! And there’s a gay couple!) that attracts unwanted attention in the Confederate flag-flying town even before they do the one thing the local innkeeper specifically warns them not to do, which is stray off the area’s main hiking trail. Since this Wrong Turn shifts the action from West Virginia to regular-ass Virginia, it makes a certain amount of sense that we get a different breed of backwoods menace. The community we meet here is certainly surprising—it’s kind of a blend of The Village, The Hills Have Eyes, The Hunger Games, sustainable farming, Vikings, theatrical speechmaking, and...outrageously cruel punishment for anyone who dares stumble into their turf? Sounds about right.
This movie literally just came out, so we won’t spoil its increasingly bizarre twists, but let’s just say the last act goes way, way over the top in a way I didn’t see coming. It doesn’t all fit together, but McElroy’s commitment to bringing fresh and surprisingly detailed weirdness to his original idea must be applauded.
The first film in the Wrong Turn series can hardly be called original—it wholeheartedly rips off previous back-road nightmares like The Hills Have Eyes and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and even drops a Deliverance reference into its dialogue for the people in the back. But its commitment to being nothing more than a B-movie is impressive, considering it came on the tail end of the Scream-spawned slasher craze. It never quite nudges its way into full-on exploitation turf like its 1970s predecessors, but it does move at a brisk pace and delivers some genuinely gross special effects—mostly laden upon the faces of the actors playing the inbred cannibal family (all praise to Stan Winston Studio). The cast, too, is a time capsule of exceedingly photogenic talent from the era, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Eliza Dushku, Entourage’s Emmanuelle Chriqui, and Clueless’ Jeremy Sisto.
Joe Lynch’s knowingly campy, joyfully gory sequel returns us to rural West Virginia, where a wannabe hotshot director is filming his pilot for a reality show called Ultimate Survivalist, hosted by an ex-marine played by Henry Rollins. The production naturally attracts the interest of the hungry locals, who begin picking off the cast and crew one by one in variously horrifying ways. Fortunately, this is not strictly a found-footage situation; while there’s a little bit of that, but Wrong Turn 2's main interest is in capturing as much hillbilly mayhem as possible. And to that end, it delivers: yielding disembowelments, shotgun-blasted torsos, hideous newborns, bodies chopped in half, full-body dynamite explosions, vats of oozing viscera, and so much more.
All those lovingly gross special effects aside, Wrong Turn 2 is far from a masterpiece. But the fact that it leans into macabre comedy, and brings in some unexpected flair that’s clearly winking at the audience—comedian Patton Oswalt phones in as a seen-but-not-heard smarmy Hollywood type; the reality-show director dons a Battle Royale t-shirt; there’s a gory, jeering dinner scene that pays obvious homage to Texas Chainsaw—adds some unexpected and welcome entertainment value. Also, the sight of Henry Rollins, who knows exactly what kind of movie he’s in, doing the full Arnold-in-Predator thing is just a guaranteed good time.
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