At the turn of the millennium, slasher cinema was entering uncharted territory in a new decade and a new century. Attempting to make their mark in a new era of horror movies, Summit Entertainment and the Newmarket Group teamed up in 2001 to produce a slasher film inspired by savage cinema in the 1970s. Their efforts would result in the film Wrong Turn, released in July of 2003. Birthed from the writing of Alan B. McElroy (Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers), those who worked on the project likely didn’t expect the creation of a franchise that continues on to this day. The series’ most recent entry, a remake bearing the same name as the original film, saw a limited one-day release in January 2021. Having endured 18 years and a rollercoaster of approval and disapproval, it’s worth looking into the history of Wrong Turn including its bookend releases and everything in-between.
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The Beginning (Wrong Turn, 2003)
Image Via 20th Century Fox
With McElroy’s script, director Rob Schmidt (Crime + Punishment in Suburbia) helmed the original Wrong Turn with a cast including Eliza Dushku (Buffy The Vampire Slayer), Jeremy Sisto (Clueless), Desmond Harrington (The Hole), Emmanuelle Chriqui (Waiting…), and more. The story follows college student Chris Flynn (Harrington) ending up stranded in rural West Virginia after taking an ill-advised detour from a gas station map, running into a group of youths on a camping trip along the way. Before long, the group learns that they aren’t stranded by accident, as unknown individuals have been trapping the surrounding mountainous area. To their horror, their proficient trappers happen to be a collective of inbred cannibals who are looking for a meal.
The primary cannibals in the film are known as Three Finger (Julian Richings), Saw-Tooth (Garry Robbins), and One-Eye (Ted Clark), with Three Finger becoming something of a primary antagonist moving forward in the series until far later iterations. Shooting the film was allegedly difficult, with injuries (some of which can still be heard on the theatrical audio mix) and alleged outbreaks of poison ivy-induced rashes. However, there were some upsides to production, including the cannibals’ appearances being designed by makeup and effects master Stan Winston (Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Aliens). Overall, despite the lack of advertising due to the MPAA rejecting its TV spots for grotesque displays of violence, the film garnered a $28.7 million box office gross on a $12.6 million production budget.
Despite drawing mainly negative reviews, the profit made from the film and its ending left room open for a sequel. However, 20th Century Fox would take an alternate approach with the series going forward with regards to distribution.
The Beginning of the Direct-to-Video Era (Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, 2007)
Image Via 20th Century Fox
With Fox re-gearing their release strategy for Wrong Turn’s sequel (likely due to the inability to advertise after MPAA conflicts), the production budget was pared down to $4 million and a new cast and crew were given rein to steer the direction of continuing the story of the Greenbrier County cannibals as well as bringing in a fresh crop of victims. The result became 2007’s Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, the franchise’s most well-received entry according to Rotten Tomatoes.
Starring Erica Leerhsen (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 2003), Henry Rollins (Heat) and Texas Battle (Final Destination 3), the film also saw the return of the character Three Finger (now played by Jeff Scrutton) as well as the Old Man (Wayne Robson) who ran the gas station from the original Wrong Turn. Helmed by director Joe Lynch (Chillerama), Dead End brought viewers back to the Appalachian backcountry following the cast and crew of a survivalist reality show hosted by former Marine colonel Dale Murphy (Rollins).
The contestants for this extreme survival show are varied, including a lingerie model, a skateboarder, an artist, a former football player, and an Iraq War veteran. However, this motley crew is soon faced with Three Finger and a few comrades of his own, expanding the seemingly-narrow roster of mountain cannibals and including a familial unit of people-eaters. With plenty of violence, gore, and clever traps (but also development for Three Finger, Old Man and the cannibal collective), Dead End outperformed expectations as a direct-to-video slasher release. Brian Collins of Bloody Disgusting alluded to the disparity between expectations and reality in his review, stating “As it stands, director Joe Lynch and co. have crafted a well above-average sequel that surpasses all expectations one might have.”
With a critical heel-turn like this, one might think the path forward for the series would be one full of more success. However, any direct-to-video horror watcher can tell you this success usually doesn’t last.
The Declan O’Brien Years (Wrong Turn 3-5, 2009-2012)
Image Via 20th Century Fox
Dead End’s success may have given Fox a false sense of security, keeping the production budget low for Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead (2009). Shot in Bulgaria and helmed by Cyclops director Declan O’Brien, Left for Dead slashed the previous film’s budget in half by comparison, with only $2 million allocated for the series’ third entry. The film was also notable for showcasing many British actors including stars Janet Montgomery (Black Swan) and Tamer Hassan (Batman Begins). Though a small budget did Wrong Turn 2 a few favors with regards to improvisation and putting quality over quantity, Wrong Turn 3 didn’t get the memo.
Wrong Turn 3 also details the misfortunes of a group of youths, but this time Three Finger lets a group of convicts loose on the officers and college kids alike. Cannibal hysteria at times takes a backseat ride to convicts stabbing each other in the back for a lump sum of money, and the main character (Montgomery) spared at the movie’s outset attempts to work her way back into the narrative. There’s so much going on, watchers may not even notice the paper mill responsible for plenty of problems in Wrong Turn 2 present in the backdrop.
Eye roll-worthy writing, shots that appear to defy physics, and Three Finger’s return portrayed by a third actor (Borislav Iliev) in as many movies set the forces of inertia into play. This not only damaged Left for Dead’s reception, but began to derail the momentum gained from the previous film. O’Brien would take over both directorial and scriptwriting jobs for the next two films in an attempt to stanch the bleeding. Unfortunately, O’Brien’s plan was to create a prequel to Wrong Turn, and a second prequel that served as a sequel to the first prequel. Sound kinda confusing? It is, in both continuity and content strategy.
Image Via 20th Century Fox
Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings (2011) retained approximately the same $2 million budget of its predecessor, but it came off almost like a horror parody without intending to. Following the origins of Three Finger, Saw-Tooth, and One Eye and their escape from a Sanatorium in 1974, the cannibals predictably rampage through the facility before a time skip. Nine years later, nine Weston University students are on the way to a classic “cabin in the woods” before getting caught in a pretty bad snowstorm. In a twist of fate (or plot convenience), the group finds themselves taking shelter in the same Sanatorium that the cannibals tore through nearly a decade before. It’d be nice to say that the film has personality in places or ends on a clever twist, but that just isn’t the case.
Image Via 20th Century Fox
Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines (2012) attempted to bridge Bloody Beginnings with Wrong Turn despite Bloody Beginnings already being a prequel in the first place. The adventures of the cannibal trio continues, this time aided by serial killer Maynard Odets (Doug Bradley) in an attempt to prey on five friends attempting to enjoy Halloween in the township of Fairlake. When a festival kicks off, the cannibals and Maynard work together in order to separate the friends from the locals while also causing general chaos in Fairlake. The cannibals manage to take down both phone service and electrical power for the town and make an attack on the youths that is fantastical at best and bordering B-movie ridiculous to most. The film also features a Saw-style “make your choice” death that feels wholly out of place in the context of the Wrong Turn series.
The film does include Bradley, long known for his portrayal of Pinhead in the Hellraiser films, as well as a young Finn Jones (Game of Thrones, Marvel’s Iron Fist), but no amount of acting could save the asinine premise and plotline of a mid-prequel like Bloodlines. The series was even compared to the Leprechaun series by 7M Pictures.
The Reboot Era and Present Day (Wrong Turn 6, Wrong Turn Reboot, 2014/2021)
Image Via 20th Century Fox
After the O’Brien years, it was time for some fresh meat. Bulgarian director Valeri Milev (Re-Kill) was brought in to occupy the director’s chair, and the screenplay for the next Wrong Turn entry was written by Frank H. Woodward (Working with a Master series). This partnership and a $1 million budget resulted in Wrong Turn 6: Last Resort, a title that may be more telling than the cast and crew expected. Although the movie was given a number in its title, it is an attempted reboot of the series.
The cannibal trio or “Hillicker Brothers” return, but the premise of the film is altered compared to 2003’s Wrong Turn. The brothers are now under the guardianship of their relatives, who run a resort hotel known as Hobbs Springs. The reboot’s protagonist Danny (Anthony Ilott) has recently received quite the inheritance while staying at the hotel, and he even gets to meet his long-lost (and quite peculiar) cousins. As the story progresses, Danny learns that his newly-met family members are the cannibals’ keepers, and a huge argument with his friends puts him at odds with them. Danny is left to make a choice between his newfound family or his friends. Though the choice may seem simple, there are a few plot points to shake up the conundrum.
The small number of critical reviewers who gave the film a shot drew polarized reviews. Back to the Movies praised the film, specifically the acting of Sadie Katz (The Amityville Harvest), while others such as Screenrant called the changes the “biggest mistake” in the series. Wrong Turn’s downward spiral, even in the direct-to-video era, seemed to confirm that enough was enough. And for a time, it was.
Then, in October 2018, a proper reboot of the series was announced, with Alan McElroy returning to pen to script and Mike P. Nelson (The Domestics) to run the film as director. Production was a co-operative effort between the U.S., Germany, and Canada, and it showed, with a significant improvement to the film’s production quality. Though the cast was comprised of many relatively unknown names like Charlotte Vega (The Lodgers), Adain Bradley (Riverdale), Bill Sage (American Psycho), and Emma Dumont (The Gifted), they turned in admirable performances bolstered by McElroy’s script.
Image Via Saban Films
The reboot (known internationally as Wrong Turn: The Foundation) concerns hikers heading to West Virginia to traverse the Appalachian Trail. The locals in the nearby town are openly unwelcome to the travellers, and the group goes against their recommendations to not hike the trail. Finding an abandoned and antiquated fort, and members of the group begin to perish from traps or go missing. A nearby commemorative plaque in the fort marks the establishment of a group known as the “Foundation,” a group who foresaw the civil war and established a community, thinking the union of the United States was coming to an end.
Members of the Foundation resemble a tribal cult more than anything, drawing stark contrast from the inbred cannibals of the original series. They don pelts in an almost medieval fashion while also wearing animal masks and speak in an unknown language. They even possess a crude sense of mob justice, placing victims before a primitive form of a trial and passing judgment. Foundation members also commit mercy killings where appropriate, sparing some from the slow, torturous death of their traps. The themes of mercy, capital punishment, and cultural barriers are on full display in this reboot, which trades its over-the-top violence for concise, yet visceral kills and a significantly eerie atmosphere. The unknown nature of the Foundation possesses more depth than that of the original cannibals, and their customs can be considered almost as horrific as the way they execute prisoners.
The film saw a limited release on January 26, 2021, and in that short timeframe achieved a box office gross of $4.5 million. Although some reception to the film was lukewarm, critics from outlets such as The Ringer, Daily Grindhouse, and RogerEbert.com praised it as an evolution of the original premise that leaves room for atmosphere, mystery, and thought where the original focused on intense blood and gore and erratic kills. Though the body of critical work is mixed, much like that of audiences, the positivity shining through is an improvement compared to the dregs of the pre-reboot continuity.
Does that mean that Wrong Turn has a new face and future? Only time will tell.5 Great Cannibal Movies to Expand Your Flesh-Hungry Horizons
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About The Author
(14 Articles Published)
Spencer is a Horror Features Writer for Collider. He is a University of South Florida alum with a major/minor in English and journalism. He previously published sports features, tech repair guides, and blogging content. He lives in rural Florida and is a huge fan of slasher movies, mecha anime, and metal music. He can be found reading, gaming, watching sports, or working on his Gunpla collection when he isn’t writing.
From Spencer Whitworth