Reviews

Wrong Turn 2: Dead End

Coming to DVD Tuesday, Oct. 9th

Cast:

Erica Leerhsen as Nina

Henry Rollins as Dale

Texas Battle as Jake

Aleksa Palladino as Mara

Daniella Alonso as Amber

Steve Braun as Jonesy

Matthew Currie Holmes as M

Crystal Lowe as Elena

Kimberly Caldwell as Kimberly

Wayne Robson as Old Timer

Directed by Joe Lynch

Review:

“Grindhouse” may have been released to theaters just this past spring but it’s been since 2003 that filmmakers have been trying to give the grindhouse experience a 21st century make-over. Four years ago, Eli Roth and Rob Zombie made their feature debuts (with “Cabin Fever” and “House of 1,000 Corpses,” respectively), films that were greeted by many in the fan community as being a long overdue return to down and dirty ’70s-style thrills. But on that count, I was much more impressed by the less ballyhooed efforts of director Rob Schmidt, who made a rousing entry in the hillbilly horror genre that year with “Wrong Turn.”

The kills were spectacular, the mutants were memorably designed and the protagonists effectively imperiled throughout the film. I had such a great time watching “Wrong Turn,” in fact, that I went back later that opening day with another set of friends and saw it again. I even knew exactly how the sequel should go. I imagined that we would’ve picked up on Eliza Dushku’s surviving character of Jessie who in the interim has basically become Ripley as seen in “Aliens,” suffering post-traumatic stress from her experience and who is called upon to lead a military excursion into the woods to root out the mutants because, of course, she’s the only one who knows the area as well as the enemy (Desmond Harrington’s character could be excused for whatever reason). Reluctant to go at first, Jessie realizes that she needs to do this in order to exorcise her own demons. Yep, I envisioned the big screen follow-up to “Wrong Turn” all so clearly. But then, much to by fanboy heartbreak, “Wrong Turn” had a soft performance at the box office and it looked like my dreams for a “Wrong Turn 2″ were permanently dashed, simply because the public is so notoriously finicky.

So when I found out that a “Wrong Turn 2″ was being made (woo-hoo!), but that it was intended to be a direct-to-video effort (damn it!), my reaction was more bummed than it was excited. To my mind, “Wrong Turn” deserved better than that. And to know that the sequel’s plot would revolve around contestants in a reality game show (shades of “Halloween: Resurrection”) only compounded my disappointment. But to my enormous surprise, director Joe Lynch – along with writers Turi Meyer and Al Septien – have made “Wrong Turn 2″ an exceptionally entertaining sequel.

After an applause-worthy opening kill (which would’ve guaranteed that “Wrong Turn 2″ could’ve never played in theaters at full strength with an R-rating), Lynch introduces us to the reality show itself, a program called “Ultimate Survivor: Apocalypse” that will leave six contestant stranded in the woods with no supplies for five days and whoever is the last contestant standing will earn $100,000.

The show’s contestants are mostly defined by their surface traits (skateboarder, ex-football hero, slut, etc.) but I think that’s a fair move in a movie like this where short hand is acceptable. Far less in need of character defining is Henry Rollins as retired USMC colonel Dale Murphy, a career military bad-ass who is now hosting Apocalypse. It’s a perfect role for Rollins that’ll have you wondering why it’s taken so long for someone to use his naturally imposing presence in this way. Given Rollins’ hard to match charisma, it’s not surprising (or a knock against the film) that the other actors – which includes “Texas Chainsaw Massacre ’03′s Erica Leerhsen and Texas Battle from “Final Destination 3″ – don’t make quite the same impression.

Once they’re on the run from the hillbilly hordes (which happens early on, a move I approve of), these characters do become more personable and more sympathetic. While there’s not tremendous depth to them, the effort shown to create any sense of character is appreciated.

The most surprising and effective character work in the film, however, comes from the attention shown towards the mutant clan themselves. Unlike the purely monstrous mutants seen in the first “Wrong Turn,” these mutants are shown to be a family unit with their own loves and passions and personal anguishes. Ironically, just as former Jason, Kane Hodder, is receiving accolades for his performance as Victor Crowley in “Hatchet,” a role that utilizes more of his acting ability, his Jason replacement Ken Kirzinger also delivers a fine performance in “Wrong Turn 2″ as “Pa”, the proud patriarch of the mutants.

Encoring from “Wrong Turn” (aside from the mutant character of ‘Three-Finger,’ played this time around by Jeff Scrutton) is Wayne Robson as the old man from the gas station. We now get to see this character’s home and he gets to deliver some more exposition about how the population of these woods got to be so repulsive. He also delivers the key line of the film, in talking about the mutants, saying: “They’re just like you an’ me, ‘cept uglier.” True dat.

In the end, “Wrong Turn 2″ shows a welcome sense of direction. It’s as sturdy an entry into the survivalist horror genre as the first film was. I don’t know how excited I would be for a third trip to the woods, but I will say that you can sign me up for whatever horror movie that director Joe Lynch has planned next.