Dir: Rob Schmidt. US-Ger. 2003. 83 mins.
Even in the hands of a studio distributor, retro horror flick Wrong Turn, produced by creature effects maestro Stan Winston, had a lukewarm reception at the US box office, taking $5m from 1,615 sites for an average of $3,102. Now co-producers Summit Entertainment and Constantin Film (which sold US rights to Fox-based Regency Enterprises) will have to hope that this efficient, although not particularly imaginative, $15m fright-fest receives a warmer welcome in ancillary and international markets. In the latter, independent distributors may be able to get some extra promotional value out of co-star Eliza Dushku, who had a recurring role in the much-hyped final few episodes of cult TV show Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
The story, scripted by Alan McElroy (Spawn), has elements familiar from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes and countless other 1970s and 1980s horror outings. Six attractive college kids are lost and stranded deep in the forests of West Virginia. When they seek help at a rundown shack they discover evidence that the occupants have been robbing and killing - and maybe eating - forest visitors on a regular basis. Just as the kids are leaving, of course, the occupants, three freakish inbred woodsmen, return home.
Director Rob Schmidt (Crime And Punishment In Suburbia) does a competent job orchestrating the bloody game of hide-and-seek that ensues, first in the shack, then in and around a forest lookout tower, and then back in the shack. But only a sequence that takes the pursuit into the forest trees themselves has enough flair to stand out from the usual genre conventions. The killings are gory - the film has an R rating in the US - but not excessively so.
The kids are all appealing enough, but the script makes very little time for the kind of background that might have created dramatic tension later in the story. All we learn about the ultimate survivors of the mayhem is that Chris (Harrington) is a medical student and Jesse (Dushku) has recently been dumped by her boyfriend.
The woodsmen - two of them lumbering giants, the other a nimble hunchback - are rarely seen full on and instead of intelligible dialogue they grunt and gurgle their way through the action. When they are glimpsed, Winston's make-up gives them suitably disgusting appearances. A coda to the final scene leaves the door open for a sequel, should final box office performance warrant it.
Prod cos: Summit Entertainment, Constantin Film, Newmarket Capital Group
US dist: 20th Century Fox
Int'l sales: Summit
Exec prods: Patrick Wachsberger, Mitch Horwits, Aaron Ryder, Don Carmody
Prods: Robert Kulzer, Erik Feig, Stan Winston, Brian Gilbert
Scr: Alan McElroy
Cinematography: John S Bartley
Prod des: Alicia Keywan
Ed: Michael Ross
Music: Elia Cmiral
Main cast: Desmond Harrington, Eliza Dushku, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Jeremy Sisto