With the blossoming of the home video market in the ’80s, the notion of direct-to-video features quickly became a stark reality. Soon, many budget-challenged genre efforts that in the past might have had a shot at theatrical exhibition were almost instantly deemed ‘DTV’ material. But there was good news: unless you lived in a major city, it could be impossible to catch the low-budget programmers routinely cranked out by the Roger Cormans of the world; at least home video guaranteed a half-life for films that otherwise may just disappeared into the winds like pollen into a breeze. Over the years, the sameness of most DTV features caused the acronym itself to cease being merely a descriptive phrase and “DTV” became a genre of its own. If you spotted our little video-renting cabal roaming the isles of Tower Video in the ’90s,it wouldn’t have been unusual to overhear phrases like “Rutger Hauer sure is doing a lot of DTV work lately” in the same way one might note a comedic star’s questionable move to action films. The enormous amount of dirt-cheap filler that began taking up shelf space soon caused an industry-wide devaluation of DTV films, with cheap digital effects rapidly taking the place of practical makeup and production design.
This convoluted preamble is all to help put Wrong Turn 3 into its proper context. The original film, a tale of a group of teens meeting up with an inbred family of mutant cannibal killers while traveling through the West Virginia wilderness, was released in 2003 to moderate box office success and critical indifference, certainly not worthy of a theatrical sequel. But 2007’s Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, released direct to home video was a surprisingly potent diversion, featuring an interesting twist on the original (instead of innocent teens, the protagonists had been gathered for the filming of a reality TV show and former idol contestant Kimberly Caldwell was the first victim) and actually made one look forward to the prospect of a series of blackly comic WT films.
Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead (we still like our title better) begins promisingly with a narrative head-fake similar to the one which opened the recent Friday the 13th remake: a group of kayaking teens – who might ordinarily be our heroes – are nearly all dispatched by one of the surviving cannibals from the previous films in the first few minutes.
It’s clever; unfortunately, it leaves us in the company of the real main characters: at a nearby prison, several inmates are being removed for an unscheduled transfer, including Chavez (Tamer Hassan) a Chicano gang leader, and Floyd (Gil Kolirin) his skinhead counterpart. One of the guards, Nate (Tom Frederic) is a local boy who is looking forward to leaving the job shortly for law school and a better life, the chances for which greatly deteriorate when a tow truck being driven by one of the disfigured killers runs the transfer bus off the road, allowing the inmates to get the jump on the guards. They soon runs into a nearly hysterical Alex (Janet Montgomery), the only survivor of the group from the beginning of the film, and Nate offers his familiarity with the area as leverage to keep himself, Alex, and his wounded partner alive – no easy feat as the group begins to be picked off one by one in a series of increasingly elaborate traps set by the cannibal clan.
If nothing else, Wrong Turn 3 neatly reflects the realities of low-budget filmmaking in the 21st century, with Bulgarian locations doubling for the West Virginia wilderness and a Euro-pudding cast that expends a tiring amount of energy keeping their native accents in check. Unfortunately, this film looses much of the humor that made the previous sequel so surprisingly appealing, and while there’s no law that horror films have to be funny, they do have to be frightening, another column in which Wrong Turn 3 also fails.
We’ll resist the old-man rant bemoaning the dependence on digital gore effects in modern horror, but a good deal of what made the previous film so appealing was the use of practical makeup effects. But quick and cheap is the order of the day here, and the crummy EFX would feel more at home on the Sci-Fi Channel (where much of director Declan O’Brien’s previous CV dwells). This frugality also extends to the facial makeup used for the inbred murderers, which looks onscreen to be exactly what it is, a meager latex creation that was designed to be applied and removed quickly and cheaply. The film appears to have been shot on 16mm (though we are open to correction), which likely necessitated the drastically over-lit night scenes that drain much of the suspense – a problem that, ironically, may have been correctable had the film been shot with digital video. We’d hate to see the franchise end with a whimper as the central conceit is still a highly exploitable fear, but Fox is going to have to be willing to loosen the purse strings a bit more if future entries are forthcoming.
Wrong Turn 3 arrives on DVD and Blu-Ray as an unrated edition featuring “footage too frightening for theaters” (maybe those theaters were in Bulgaria, as everywhere else the film is going direct to DVD). The Blu-Ray disc polishes the image as much as the source material allows, adding most to the show’s interiors and limited daytime scenes.
The extras are limited, which is unfortunate given the film’s interesting production history. The sole featurette runs about 18min and is divided into 3 parts (presented picture-boxed at 480p) and goes into a reasonably interesting production history, included their limited time shooting at a working prison, along with the makeup and stuntwork (featuring some bracing behind-the-scenes footage of one of the actors doing a fire stunt himself). There is also a pair of deleted scenes running about a minute.