“Fairlake, West Virginia, established in 1814. The entire population disappeared in 1817. To this day nobody knows what happened to them.”
I know what you’re thinking. When I look at a direct-to-video horror series and see a number 5 next to the name, it’s usually time to roll my eyes and reluctantly place the disc in my Blu-ray player so that I can warn you guys just how bad it really is. But we’re not talking about just any horror title. We’re talking about the Wrong Turn franchise, which has actually gotten better since it went into sequel-hell. We’re also talking about a director in Declan O’Brien who knows that his job isn’t to create the next museum piece of art. He doesn’t care one bit if he’s inspired conversations about form and style. He’s a horror film fan himself who has only one goal in mind each time he takes over a project: let me entertain you. And as hard as you might not want to believe it, Wrong Turn 5 does just that. You will be entertained.
Wrong Turn 5 is a sequel to the fourth film but still takes place in the time before the original movie. If you remember, O’Brien took us back in time and gave us a look at how our favorite hillbilly cannibals had come to be in the area of West Virginia where they’ve been doing their thing for so long. They’ve broken out of an asylum. We also learned that they do not feel pain. This little convenient device helps us to accept it when these guys get shot or stabbed and just keep right on coming. Sure, it’s a device, but we see this in almost every slasher film out there. At least here there is a reasonable attempt at an explanation. As this film begins the three are out of the asylum and being cared for by Maynard, played by Pinhead himself from the many Hellraiser films, Doug Bradley. He doesn’t suffer from the same mutant characteristics, but we are led to believe he is kin. It’s kind of cool to see Bradley in his real face. Maynard teaches them how not to get caught.
It’s a special time in Fairlake. It’s the 10th annual Mountain Man Festival. It’s Halloween meets Woodstock. There’s enough music, drugs and free love to go around. It’s also a time for the hundreds of students who flock here to dress up like deformed hillbillies. That means our cannibal friends can walk around without being noticed. It also means a few extra jumps for the audience. You never know which encounter is the real thing or just a partying college student.
It’s also a traditionally tough night for the likes of Sheriff Angela (Arfwedson). She knows it’s going to be a rough night with the kids out there getting into trouble. Her night just got worse when she put Maynard in her jail cell. He’s got a few pesky murder warrants, and the Marshall boys can’t pick him up until morning. That’s if anyone lives long enough to hold him that long. A group of these visiting students ends up caught in the middle as the three cannibal hillbillies lay siege to the police station to free their kin.
Declan O’Brien has proven himself to be a guy who knows how to make the most of a small budget. I suspect that also carries with it a little bit of a curse. When you get that reputation it seems they want to cut you back even more, confident that you’ll find a way to make it work. This one has half the budget of the last and was filmed in just 18 days over three weeks in Bulgaria. That means the film doesn’t have quite the big set pieces that you might have gotten used to. The film has to compensate by being more of a psychological thriller than a slasher film. That isn’t to say that Wrong Turn 5 disappoints in the clever kill department. This film presents as much genius and originality has any of the Saw films ever did. It’s almost entirely practical makeup work, so there’s very little computer generated stuff going on here. Computers deliver wonderful dinosaurs and exotic planets, but I haven’t seen a convincing blood effect from a computer yet. Of course, these things are time-consuming and require more than a little bit of luck when you only have 18 days to shoot. Fortunately, there are some wickedly sweet moments in this film.
Of course, I have a few favorites. How can you beat watching two mutant hillbillies working over a guy’s legs with sledgehammers while the background music plays I’ve Been Working On The Railroad? Maybe you beat that by having a girl forced to munch on her own intestines (even if they do taste like strawberries). There’s a wonderful Peter Jackson moment with a guy buried up to his head in a soccer field. If you’ve seen Dead Alive, you know where this is going. You can’t watch scenes like this and not understand that you’re getting pure entertainment with a bit of a morbid sense of humor. I get the feeling O’Brien has had more than a few people give him the finger over the years. One of the early kills shows us what happen when you give someone the finger… and they decide to keep it.
O’Brien is one of the more resourceful directors out there doing no-budget films. It all ends up on the screen and the production values always look better than they have any right to look. Wrong Turn 5 is no exception. He also gets the best out of his performers. He even uses local talent. You’ll love the local Bulgarian model who makes a “wrong turn” and ends up encountering a deputy. Like I said. The man just wants to entertain.
If I have a nitpick at all it’s the casting of Camilla Arfwedson as Sheriff Angela. Don’t get me wrong. She’s actually a pretty solid actress and delivers in the film. I just can’t buy her as the police authority here. When she tries to be strict and assert herself I can’t help conjuring images of Cartman on his trike shouting: “Respect my author-Ity”.
Another small flaw likely can’t be helped. The actors change a lot for the hillbillies as does the makeup. The film remains pretty true to the original designs, but he ends up with different actors and makeup folks. It’s done all the time. Even the big guys like Jason and Michael are played by many actors over the series. But they tend to be masked, while these guys have a lot more personality in their looks. I don’t know that we ever get a good look at Three Finger’s … well…three fingers. It’s an unfortunate result of budgets and circumstances. In fact, we don’t get near as much screen time with the three here as we had in the past. Hopefully if the series is to continue the budget can get an infusion of money as well as blood.
I was eagerly waiting for this one, and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s one of the most consistent direct-to-video franchises, and I hope it continues for some time to come.
Wrong Turn 5 is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 30-40 mbps. The production design continues to impress. The Bulgarian locations do a pretty good job of standing in for West Virginia. The really important thing here is the shadow definition and black levels. Most of this thing happens at night. It’s a solid high-definition image presentation with a good deal of sharpness and texture. Colors even jump out from time to time.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is pretty solid. The sound production does a good job with the squishy stuff to help bring the kills to life. Screams are plentiful. The music score doesn’t intrude. Dialog is well placed. Surrounds aren’t aggressive, but they are immersive.
There is an Audio Commentary with Declan O’Brien. It’s a relaxed conversation where he feels free to joke around quite a bit. It’s informative and amusing. Like I keep saying, the guy’s got a wicked sense of humor.
A Day In The Death: (5:28) A couple of the actors take you through their day on the day their character gets killed.
Hillbilly Kills: (6:44) Go behind the scenes of the milestone kills in the film.
Director’s Die-Aries: (8:29) Take a brief look behind the scenes on days 1, 3, 13, and either 5 or 6.
Who says there can’t be much innovation by the time you reach a number 5 in a franchise? In number 4 we got the best in the series and a look at the origins of the hillbillies. Now we get a history of the place itself. We learn that the hillbilly cannibal has been going on for a long time. Are they the same guys? There are some questions here that should be plenty of fodder for the next installment. Many will disagree with my assessment of these later films. To each his own. Me, I’m still a movie watcher who knows how to just have fun. If you’re that kind of movie watcher, you have to check out Wrong Turn 5. Anything else “just shows a lack of commitment”.