The WRONG TURN franchise is never going to be mistaken for one of horror’s classier offerings. 2003’s original, directed by Rob Schmidt, is competent, delivering relatively sophisticated chills, but after that things take a distinct turn (pardon the pun) for the worse. The first and second sequels are straight-to-DVD garbage, but the third (BLOODY BEGINNINGS), written and helmed by TV movie alumni Declan O’Brien, proved something of a surprise. Embracing its lurid premise with the lunatic enthusiasm of a love-struck grizzly bear, BLOODY BEGINNINGS is an ode to low-budget, high-gore horror trash, a boobs ‘n’ blood extravaganza (the review’s here). It was also something of a financial success, rejuvenating the franchise and paving the way for the inevitable fifth outing (subtitled BLOODLINES, if anyone cares). Aiming to replicate his ‘exceed to succeed’ formula, O’Brien, who once again writes and directs, has created an even gorier follow-up, with more convoluted death scenes, more contrived and unnecessary nudity, and an even lower IQ than its brain-dead predecessor.
Every Halloween the town of Fairlake, West Virginia, hosts the Mountain Man festival, which celebrates the town’s macabre past, when its entire population was slaughtered by cannibalistic hill men. Five friends arrive to join the festivities, but as they approach the town they encounter a man standing in the middle of the road, and just manage to avoid hitting him, crashing their car in the process. The man feigns injury, and when the friends rush to see if he’s okay he attacks them with a knife. The Sheriff (Camilla Arfwedson) arrives and arrests everyone involved in the incident, little realising that the old man is Maynard (Doug Bradley), father to the deranged and deformed ‘One Eye,’ ‘Saw Tooth’ and ‘Three Finger,’ who will stop at nothing to secure his release...
From the start BLOODLINES sets out its sensationalist stall. There’s a graphic sex scene within the first sixty seconds, and a graphic dismemberment within the first five minutes. This is horror for adolescent boys, for an audience afflicted with ADD and a lingering hard-on for girls and gore. The plot, such as it is, can be encapsulated in a sentence; when their mentor is locked up three homicidal hillbillies kill anyone who stands in the way of freeing him. To be fair, many a complex story can be distilled to a simple-sounding essence (‘two star-crossed lovers attempt to overcome the prejudices of their feuding families’); sometimes it’s the telling and not the tale that counts. Sadly, that isn’t the case here. The script is as unsophisticated as the story, which is as primitive as O’Brien’s directorial style. The film exists purely as an excuse to showcase the gruelling death scenes, which are a cross between FINAL DESTINATION’s elaborately planned catastrophes and Eli Roth’s trademarked brand of graphic torture porn. They’re certainly inventive, and will satisfy gore-hounds, but anyone else (anyone, for example, interested in anything other than the sight of attractive helpless women being force-fed their own recently eviscerated entrails, or bound young men being obliterated by an industrial lawn mower) will almost certainly consider the sustained and explicit bloodletting either too appalling to engage with or too silly and juvenile to take seriously.
Aside from its essential insufficiency, there are numerous problem with the story. For one thing, most of the characters are nothing but poorly informed caricatures. I know, I know, it’s a horror film, a genre where thinly-drawn one-dimensional ciphers are the rule rather than the exception – but after a while the lack of any semblance of realism or intelligent behaviour from the characters inevitably starts to grate. Budgetary constraints are evident when it comes to the setting; conveniently emptied by the Mountain Man festival, Fairlake seems to consist of only two streets, neither of which boast a single occupant. Perhaps BLOODLINES’ most important element (and certainly its most celebrated), the villains, are another problem. Not only are they fundamentally uninteresting (unable to speak and lacking that all-important gimmick, they’re just three particularly unattractive rednecks), there’s no suspense attached to their interaction with their victims. Knowing they don’t have the miraculous regenerative powers of a Freddy or a Jason, a Michael or a Pinhead, and also knowing that WRONG TURN 6 is a distinct possibility, we’re aware from the outset that the deranged hillbillies will survive unscathed. As such, the story becomes nothing more than an exercise in graphic one-upmanship, an attempt by O’Brien to make each subsequent death gorier than the last. And while we’re on the subject, how are inbred brain-damaged killer cannibals with the intellect of a garden snail capable of such MacGyver-like feats of morbid ingenuity when it comes to murder (or, for that matter, coordinating the successful communications and power blackout of an entire town)?
It’s nice to see Bradley back on our screens, even if his role as scene-chewing puppet-master consists of little more than issuing increasingly portentous statements in a dubious American accent. There’s nothing much to say about the other performances, other than the leads acquit themselves adequately, and the support players, who are mostly there to shed their clothes, are suitably pert and perky. Wisely, O’Brien opts to keep the special effects almost unanimously practical, adding a welcome old-school vibe. The bloodletting is relentless and undeniably creative, harkening back to the aforementioned HOSTEL and the likes of Peter Jackson’s early BRAINDEAD. If the characters are nonentities, lacking either personality or backstory, at least the director acknowledges this, treating them with the lack of sentimentality befitting cannon fodder. The blatant titillation is harder to justify, except to say that when it comes to horror (and pretty much everything else), sex sells. Measured by every objective scale, WRONG TURN 5: BLOODLINES is a terrible film. The story is nonexistent, the characters are unforgivably flimsy, and the violence is ludicrously over-the-top. Even so, it’s not a complete write-off. Like its predecessor, it’s enjoyable on the most elementary of levels, as a truly back-to-basics, lowest common denominator splatterfest, an orgy of hardcore gore and softcore sex. It’s not going to change the face of horror as we know it, but if all you’re looking for is an undemanding exploitation flick with plenty of boobs and disembowelments, you’ve found your evening’s entertainment.