Zombieland (2009)

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Amber Heard, Bill Murray

Many people have their own theories as to how the world will end. The way that our news media outlets always obsess over the next big “epidemic,” you’d think they’d actually be happy if the Apocalypse finally happened. I’m not saying that the Ebola virus would just blow over if left unchecked, but you’d be more likely to catch the common cold. Let’s say a contagion did come about so fast-acting that it spreads worldwide overnight. If you’re one of the lucky ones left alive, how do you handle the knowledge that everyone you’ve ever known is probably dead?

In “Zombieland,” one hamburger tainted by Mad Cow Disease somehow led to a massive outbreak of the dead coming back as flesh-eating zombies. There’s no way to tell exactly how many people are still left alive, but we only ever see six surviving humans, only one of which uses his real name. Those who remain nameless are identified, to each other and to us, by their hometown. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is our humble narrator. He’s been a loner since the zombies took over, which is really no different from how his life was before. His first sign that something truly messed up was going on was when the girl from Apartment 406 (Amber Heard) knocks on his door, screaming to be let in. She had been attacked by some homeless guy who tried to eat her. Before Columbus could count his blessings that she’d picked his apartment to crash in, she turns out to have been infected and attacks him, forcing him to kill her.

Two months later, Columbus has developed a system of rules to follow, a sort of survival guide. One day, he runs across another warm body, a Cadillac-driving, Twinkie-loving cowboy from Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), and hitches a ride. They make a pretty good team, taking out zombies with relative ease. They can handle the dead, all right, but it’s the living that still give them fits. Con artist sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) lure them into a trap, with Little Rock pretending to be infected, commandeering Tallahassee’s vehicle and all of his and Columbus’s weapons. But don’t think for a second that’s the only time their paths will cross.

Wichita is taking Little Rock to California, where they intend to pay a visit to the amusement park known as Pacific Playland, alleged to be devoid of zombie activity. They’ve been accumulating a decent sum of cash playing their little con game since before the outbreak began. Columbus and Tallahassee find another van, and they find the Cadillac seemingly abandoned. But it’s just a ruse, and the girls are able to trick them once again. There should be a saying to go along with this level of gullibility…

…Somehow, I don’t think that’s quite it. Oh, well. Close enough.

The coolest part of “Zombieland” comes around after the group reaches Hollywood. They realize that, suddenly, they have the option of staying at just about any famous person’s house without having to worry about things like trespassing or breaking and entering. Tallahassee has a specific mansion in mind, the home of Bill Murray. Somehow, Little Rock’s never heard of him. Her excuse is that she’s 12, but I say that’s crap. I was only five the first time I saw “Ghostbusters,” which is the movie Columbus uses to educate Little Rock on the subject of Bill Murray. The great comedian-turned-serious actor has taken to blending in with the herd of zombies by dressing up as one so he can get out of the house when he wants. Probably would be a good idea to take that makeup off and act normally in the presence of other survivors, don’t you think? This sequence is so amusing that the climax, at the amusement park, can’t help but be an afterthought.

“Zombieland” is another case of a horror movie… or in this case, a horror-comedy… which was perfectly cast. Jesse Eisenberg, already a veteran of movies with the suffix “-land” in the title, is perfectly believable as a shut-in loser forced to go out into the world when everything went straight to hell. Emma Stone, one of the great young comediennes of her generation, somehow finds a way to make her character loveable even when she is at her most untrustworthy.

Although this is a comedy, because of its subject matter, there can’t help but be a certain sadness to it all. Everybody’s lost something or someone important to them, or had to do things that they may not have had the world remained as it was. Even a potential relationship between Columbus and Wichita seems to me to be doomed to failure unless she can learn how to trust other people. She would do well to remember Rule #34: When life gives you lemons… throw the lemons away and go hunt for that Twinkie!

The Fly (1986)

Director: David Cronenberg

Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz

Remakes are looked upon with such disdain, and rightly so. Generally, they are little more than cash cows cooked up by greedy studio heads who think that anything they regurgitate will be accepted by the general public… which, sadly, is not that inaccurate. Those of us who crave something more… something original… would prefer any remakes to be of movies which actually could benefit from a modern update. But when does that ever happen? Certainly not with horror movies, right? Remakes from this genre are constantly buzzing around like the annoying housefly that you can’t get close enough to swat.

Young scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) is about to give reporter Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) a story the likes of which careers are made. At his home/laboratory, Seth demonstrates his world-changing invention: a teleportation device which he has (boringly) labeled a “telepod.” He’s got three of them, one a prototype, and the other two interconnected by his computer. It’s not the name that’s important, as he shows with the aid of one of Veronica’s stockings. Like a magician’s trick, Veronica watches as her stocking is beamed from one telepod to the other, only she doesn’t “get it.” More accurately, Seth tells her, she “can’t handle it.” In what seems like no time at all (just over 20 minutes of movie time), the two go from being complete strangers to lovers.

Problems arise when it becomes clear that the telepod cannot successfully transport organic matter. Anything living gets turned inside out (which looks even more gruesome than it sounds). The problem seems to be corrected when an experiment with a steak reveals that the computer only knows how to give its synthetic interpretation of what makes a steak a steak. Kind of makes you want to wait a while longer for those “Star Trek” food replicators to be invented. However, no invention is ever truly perfect. Seth gets jealous when he figures out that Veronica’s boss, Stathis Borans (John Getz) is also a former lover. Getting drunk while worrying himself over the possibility of Veronica leaving him for Stathis, Seth attempts teleportation alone. Unbeknownst to him, a fly joins Seth inside the telepod, and then is joined WITH Seth.

Exhibiting superhuman strength and agility, not to mention enhanced stamina in the bedroom, Seth’s physical appearance is also changing, This is where the Academy Award-winning makeup by Stephan Dupuis and Chris Walas (director of the 1989 sequel, “The Fly II”) takes center stage. This movie’s gradual, delightfully hideous approach to the fly transformation acts akin to that of some kind of fearsome disease like leprosy, only worse. As time goes by, coarse insect hairs poke through Seth’s skin, and body parts start falling off. His bathroom cabinet quickly becoms a museum paying tribute to the man that once was Seth Brundle, who now refers to himself as “Brundlefly.”

As impressive as its effects are (and they really are), “The Fly” works because of Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. On top of being terrific, reliable actors, they also have great chemistry. Both are able to involve the audience in the emotional turmoil they both face as a result of Seth’s accidental transformation. Had David Cronenberg cast anyone other than these two, I question whether the movie would work even half as well. Because it does, “The Fly” is that rarest of remake that not only lives up to the original, but leaves it far behind. The 1958 version, starring David Hedison and Vincent Price, is hokey and comical. The 1986 version leaves little room for laughter, except in some of the movie’s early, cute moments between Seth and Veronica prior to the accident. It is brutal and it is tragic. Most of all, its level of creativity displays an unusual willingness for a horror movie to evolve, and “The Fly” is one of the very best genre remakes of the 1980’s or any other decade.

Evil Dead (2013)

Director: Fede Alvarez

Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore

Oh, not this old argument again! Just like with 1987’s “Evil Dead 2,” we’ve got yet another instance of an “Evil Dead” movie which can either be looked at as a remake/reboot, or as a sequel, or both. This one’s just a little bit different. While “Evil Dead 2″ created a controversy because its first six minutes are little more than a recap “The Evil Dead” in re-shot, slightly altered scenes, 2013’s “Evil Dead” creates an entirely new set of characters who stumble upon familiar territory. That would seem to point the way towards a remake, but as the great Lee Corso is so fond of saying: “Not so fast, my friend!” There are so many visual callbacks to both “The Evil Dead” and “Evil Dead 2″ within this one that it implies a more intimate connection with the trilogy that put Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi (credited as producers on this one) on the map.

“Evil Dead” gets off to a lackluster beginning. We’re treated first to a prologue, where a possessed girl is taken into the cellar of that cabin we know so well and burned like the “witches” of Salem. Somehow, this is supposed to save her soul. What of those who are committing the deed, her father among them? …Never mind. Theological arguments make me tired. Truthfully, these first five minutes should never have made it to the final cut of the film, nor any of the subsequent references to it. I’ve seen this movie two times now, and I think any future viewings will involve skipping past this part to the other 86 minutes, the portion of the film that (for the most part) is worthy of your time.

Heroin addict Mia (Jane Levy) is in for the intervention from hell. In the latest of many attempts to get her to kick the habit cold turkey, Mia has been brought into the woods by three of her friends: Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci). Joining them this time is Natalie’s boyfriend, Mia’s absentee brother David. He’s in hot water with the group for leaving Mia to care for their institutionalized mother, and for failing to visit while she was still alive. The first time we see Mia, she’s sitting on the hood of a 1972 Oldsmobile that looks to have seen some (medieval) battles in its time, and she’s wearing a Michigan State sweatshirt like the one worn by Linda in “The Evil Dead.” Mia’s not the only one wearing clothes that are familiar to this series. Eric wears a plaid shirt like the one worn by Scotty, and David wears the blue shirt that Ash wore until it was torn to shreds. Topping it all off, David presents his sister with a necklace virtually identical to the one Ash gave to Linda.

Once the Deadite action gets going, it does not relent. “The Evil Dead” may have been recognized for its level of gore, but since the 2013 version was in possession (no pun intended) of a much larger budget… $17 million, to be exact… we could be sure it wasn’t going to be faced with the same limitations. In that respect, it wasn’t. All five friends are put through hell. They are puked on, shot with a nail gun, “kissed,” stabbed, sliced, burned, bludgeoned, and fooled into hacking off their own limbs by the possessed. Eric, who is the one that stupidly recites the passages which bring forth the evil, is also the one who is put through the most physical trauma. You’d think he’d have realized that any book that’s been covered in both a trash bag and barbed wire wasn’t meant to be opened, much less read aloud. I mean, my god, there are even warnings written by someone on each of the crucial pages that tell you NOT TO READ IT. He welcomes death by the time it finally comes to him. Mia spends the majority of the movie as the one who is possessed first and then locked in the cellar. With all that’s going on, there’s also a bait-and-switch in the final 20 minutes that fools you into thinking you know who the final survivor is meant to be. Whether or not it’s a clever move is entirely up to you (I would say it is). Though it may not be the most brutal movie I’ve ever watched, the fact that the skies actually open up and rain blood could technically qualify this as the bloodiest of them all.

If, once the movie is over, you’ve found that you enjoyed it but still feel like something is missing, then don’t hit the STOP button quite yet. In an era where post-credit scenes have become the norm, “Evil Dead” offers one up that both caters to fans and hints at this movie’s place in the series’ lineage. While this is likely to be the last film in the franchise for the foreseeable future (even though discussion of another entry keeps coming up), the answer to the riddle seems to be that 2013’s “Evil Dead” is both its own entity and a continuation of the original timeline. Calling it “Evil Dead 4″ would have been a smidge risky, I suppose, given the 20+ year gap since the release of “Army of Darkness.” Opting for even more hardcore horror than the original, it features none of the humor which made “Evil Dead 2″ and especially “Army of Darkness” so well-loved. It’s also a very dark movie, in that the color scheme is faded and gloomy. As a result, “Evil Dead,” while not one of the worst horror remakes or even a bad horror movie in general, is still a step down from the original. Long story short, Bruce Campbell is still the champ. Hail to the king, baby!

Army of Darkness (1992)

Director: Sam Raimi

Starring: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz

There are many periods in history which would be interesting to go back in time and visit. It would be perversely amusing to see how much the times have changed between then and now. I just wouldn’t want to become a permanent fixture of any bygone era. The early 14th century would not be high on my list of temporal vacation spots, especially not a 14th century populated by soul-swallowing demons.

Ash (Bruce Campbell) is stuck in 1300 AD England, though not by choice. At the end of “Evil Dead II,” he’d helped to open a rift in time that was meant to banish the evil that had been perverting the woods surrounding that Tennessee cabin he had traveled to with girlfriend Linda (re-cast once again, this time with Bridget Fonda in a non-speaking cameo). Unfortunately, he got sucked in with everything else that was meant to go. Presumed to be in league with Henry the Red, he is being led by Lord Arthur’s men back to the castle, where they mean to throw him into “the pit.” Once thrown inside, Ash fights off a Deadite (what they called the “Evil Dead” demons in that century), and kills another in full view of everyone once he has climbed back up out of the pit. Ash demands the release of Henry and his men, much to the chagrin of Arthur. Ash demonstrates his superiority with the technology he’s brought with him from our time: a chainsaw and a shotgun, a.k.a. his “boomstick”!

The movie’s main plot, the titular contest between the forces of good and the “army of darkness” arises when Ash is sent on a quest to retrieve the Necronomicon, or “Book of the Dead.” With it, Arthur’s wise men can send Ash back to the late 20th century. During this time, Ash has developed a relationship with Sheila (Embeth Davidtz), who initially had believed him to be responsible for her brother’s death. She believes, as the wise men do, that Ash is the one prophesied to deliver them from the evil of the Deadites, but Ash only wants to grab the book so he can get home.

“Army of Darkness” is filled to the brim with references to other movies. In a windmill, Ash runs afoul of another evil mirror (as he did in each of the first two “Evil Dead” movies). After he breaks it, several miniature Ashes jump out, subduing him just like in “Gulliver’s Travels.”  One of them enters his mouth, and an evil clone of Ash emerges before being killed, dismembered and buried. When he arrives at the book’s location, Ash misspeaks the magic words which anyone who has seen the original “The Day the Earth Stood Still” will recognize instantly, destroying the altar in an “Indiana Jones” sort of way, and restoring his evil clone to life. The clone raises his Army of the Dead, which looks like something out of “Jason and the Argonauts.” Hurriedly, Ash heads back to Arthur’s castle with the book. He knows he’s screwed up, but he’s still unwilling to accept a heroic role until a winged Deadite swoops in like one of the flying monkeys from “The Wizard of Oz” and kidnaps Sheila.

“Army of Darkness” neither sinks nor swims by referential humor alone. The sight gags which made “Evil Dead 2″ such a laugh riot are present here as well, but it is now the one-liners which provide the most side-splitting moments. The best of them come in these four scenes: 1) just after Ash climbs out of the pit, 2) in his fight with the possessed “she-bitch,”  3) while he’s trying to decide which of the three Necronomicons before him is the right one, and 4) during the battle with the Army of the Dead. Bruce Campbell is given such terrifically silly, unforgettable dialogue in this movie that “Army of Darkness” ranks right up there with “Ghostbusters” and “Young Frankenstein” as one of the great horror-comedies of all-time.

Evil Dead 2 (1987)

Director: Sam Raimi

Starring: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley, Ted Raimi

It’s a sequel! No, it’s a remake/reboot! No, it’s a parody of the original! Confused? Fans are, too, which is why the debate rages on. “The Evil Dead,” though cheesy enough that some of it could be looked at as unintentionally amusing, was played as a straight, blood-soaked horror movie. Its sequel is exactly the same thing, only better because it embraces the silliness and ramps it up a few notches. Where “The Evil Dead” goes for scares, “Evil Dead 2″ primarily uses sight gags and some other notable in-joke references to elicit a response of uproarious laughter. Still, it’s a movie that remains hard to classify.

The movie begins by essentially doing a quick, six-minute recap of the events of “The Evil Dead,” recasting the actress playing Linda, the girlfriend of Ash (Bruce Campbell) and leaving out their other three friends. They go to the same cabin, he presents her with the same necklace, and find the same tape recorder which, when played, speaks the words to release demonic spirits that take possession of the living. Linda is once again taken, and Ash must once again dismember her corpse, after which the demons come for him just as they did in the final scene of “The Evil Dead.” This is where the fun begins.

Most of the next 30-35 minutes of the movie feature Bruce Campbell as a one-man show. The demonic forces take him, release him when the sun comes up, and then come back for his right hand, which he is forced to cut off with a chainsaw, and then chase around the room with a shotgun. Much of this sequence owes a lot to “The Three Stooges,” of which director Sam Raimi is a huge fan (and the reason why his stunt doubles for “The Evil Dead” had been billed as “Fake Shemps”), before ending up later giving a nod to “Taxi Driver” when Ash connects the chainsaw to the stump on his right arm. This part of the movie is so hilarious, and he does such a great job that I wouldn’t have minded had the entire movie been limited to just Bruce Campbell inside of the cabin. Alas, it was not to be. Eventually, Annie (Sarah Berry), the daughter of the cabin’s previous owner shows up with three other people in tow and carrying with her pages from an ancient book that’s been missing since 1300 AD (the same one Ash burned up in the cabin’s fireplace in the last movie. Huh…).

I understand the need for other characters, as they help bring the film to its intended conclusion (not to mention set up the next sequel). But the ones chosen as Ash’s supporting cast just are too silly for words to do any real justice. Like that’s going to stop me from trying. Firstly, there is the redneck couple, Jake (Dan Hicks) and Bobby Joe (daytime soap opera star Kassie Wesley). They are there mostly to get killed by the evil spirits, but also to serve… through their own ignorance… as a hindrance to Ash and Annie’s attempts to ward off the evil spirits. Annie is the biggest offender, though. I swear, I don’t know if it’s just her or if she’s just playing the character as written, but Sarah Berry’s screams (which are as frequent as they are grating on the nerves) are some of the most over-the-top, fake-sounding screams I’ve ever heard. Sometimes it adds to the humor, but most of the time I just want her to stop. Ted Raimi (the director’s brother) as Annie’s possessed mother, Henrietta, is the only other person in this movie who really contributes to its success.

In choosing a horror/humor blend over straight-up horror, “Evil Dead 2″ is something of an improvement on its predecessor. Bruce Campbell’s Ash also evolves from film to film. But there’s still that confusion over what exactly to call this second chapter. Had there not been that first six minutes of key scenes from the first film re-shot for “Evil Dead 2,” you could definitively consider it a sequel that was being played for laughs, and that would be the end of the discussion. But because that first part of this movie exists, it keeps things rather muddled. In my estimation, it’s definitely a sequel with a more light-hearted tone, but it is also a reboot. That’s the only way to explain Ash returning to the same cabin in the same car with yet another Michigan State sweater-wearing girlfriend named Linda (who we’re actually meant to perceive as the original one). Your best bet is to avoid the headache you’ll receive from too much over-analyzing and just sit back and enjoy the damn thing, and let Bruce Campbell do the rest.

The Evil Dead (1981)

Director: Sam Raimi

Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Hal Derich, Betsy Baker, Sarah York

In 1979, high school/college buddies Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell had just $350,000 and several willing friends to work with, but I’ve a hard time imagining any of them having the slightest inclination that this cheap little BYOP (Bring Your Own Props) horror movie would take off the way it did. “The Evil Dead” was not an easy film to piece together, and there were problems along the way. Because nearly the entire movie is set at night, the actors often found themselves freezing during scenes shot outside. Bruce Campbell got hit in the face with a camera at one point, resulting in a few broken teeth, and also injured his leg from a fall while running downhill. The film took a year and a half to complete. But it was all worth it in the end. “The Evil Dead” is now a cult-classic, with more than 30 years worth of fans, and Campbell and Rami are both household names. It all began with a trek to the woods of Morristown, Tennessee (just one hour’s drive from Knoxville, where I live).

Five friends are vacationing in Tennessee. I’m presuming that they are supposed to be from Michigan, since one of them wears a Michigan State sweatshirt (and since Raimi and Campbell themselves hail from Royal Oak, Michigan). Their destination is a cabin which they haven’t yet scoped out, but was cheap enough that they rented it without questioning the reason behind the bargain price. It’s a creepy-looking cabin, although the cellar seems to have several interesting items hidden away. Among them are a tape recorder and a strange-looking, probably very old book. The two are connected, and the tape reveals passages within the book which are said to have the power to give the dead free reign to possess the living. It would seem that our protagonists never heard the story of the curious cat, because they play the rest of the tape. Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss), sister of Ash (Bruce Campbell), is affected first and locked in the cellar. Shelly (Theresa Tilly) is possessed next and is killed by her boyfriend, Scott (Hal Derich). Ash himself is forced to kill his own possessed girlfriend, Linda (Betsy Baker). For the last 20-25 minutes of the movie, only Ash remains to try and survive until morning.

At the time (and, really, still to this day), “The Evil Dead” was one of bloodiest… if not THE bloodiest… movies of all-time. It was so bloody that Sam Raimi made the decision to have the demons spit up 2% milk rather than fake blood in some scenes, just to avoid a harsher rating. It wound up being released unrated anyway. Although there are those who would look at this film and regard it as a horror-comedy, this is simply not the case. It is designed as straight horror. Both the story and the frantic camerawork support this. The movie’s most outright horrific moment comes when the forest springs to life and then attacks and rapes Cheryl.

There are several versions of the movie on home video. Depending on what country you live in, that may include a few edits here and there to downplay the violence and gore. In the United States, it is advisable to ignore any version of the film presented in widescreen. That may sound contrary to the usual advice you hear from aficionados, but it’s true. Any “widescreen” version of “The Evil Dead” is merely covering the top and bottom of the picture with black bars, to give the appearance of a theatrical presentation. This is especially problematic whenever there are close-up shots of the actors’ faces (of which there are many). “The Evil Dead” was filmed in 16mm, and thus should always be seen in fullscreen. On Blu-Ray, this isn’t a problem, but on DVD you really had to go hunting to find the right one (the Elite Entertainment release).

Beginning their careers with this horror classic didn’t make Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi stars overnight, but I applaud the effort it took to make this movie happen. Among the cost-cutting props were Raimi’s 1972 Oldsmobile, the tape recorder which belonged to Campbell’s father, and of course the cabin itself which has since burned to the ground, leaving behind only the chimney. Campbell is something of an icon these days, thanks largely to this movie and its sequels. Raimi is a well-respected director, whose most lucrative works are the “Spider-Man” trilogy, the third of which had a budget of $350 million, 1,000 times larger than that of “The Evil Dead.” What can be taken from a movie like “The Evil Dead” is that it just goes to show how much one can accomplish with a small amount of cash, a lot of ingenuity, and a little help from your friends.

Wrong Turn (2003)

Director: Rob Schmidt

Starring: Desmond Harrington, Eliza Dushku, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Jeremy Sisto

Real slasher film fans didn’t need “Scream” and other “meta” horror movies to tell us there’s a formula to these things. Thanks, Captain Obvious. We’re well aware, and we like them that way. We also don’t need anyone to remind us that the greatest period for the slasher was the late 70’s/early 80’s, although it’s nice whenever we get a throwback every now and again. “Wrong Turn” is made of 1970’s-style horror, in the tradition of “The Hills Have Eyes” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Consider the setting in the mountains of West Virginia, and you can add a nod to the 1972 drama/thriller “Deliverance” (which itself gets a mention in a throwaway line of dialogue).

Aspiring medical student Chris Flynn (Desmond Harrington) is, like the White Rabbit from “Alice in Wonderland,” late for a very important meeting. Not helping him is a chemical spill on the highway which has traffic blocked as far as the eye can see. Rather than sit for hours and miss his appointment, Chris decides the best thing to do is find an alternative route. Stopping at a gas station run by a toothless yokel to use the telephone that probably hasn’t worked in years, Chris find a dirt road on the map, and heads in that direction. His attention taken off the road at a most inopportune moment, Chris runs into another car stopped dead in the middle of the road, a victim of barbed wire that was purposely tied to a tree and left out to destroy the tires of oncoming traffic. Chris’s prized muscle car, a gorgeous Ford Mustang, is totaled, as is the Range Rover. Chris isn’t hurt badly, but he and the five occupants of the Range Rover have bigger problems than broken automobiles ahead of them.

Two of the Range Rover’s passengers are picked off almost immediately, leaving Chris, Jessie (Eliza Duskhu), Carly (Emmanuelle Chriqui) and Scott (Jeremy Sisto). Looking for assistance wherever they may find it, the foursome unsuspectingly stumbles upon a shack with what looks like a car graveyard out in the front yard. It’s a graveyard, all right. Inside, there are further indications that something very wrong is going on and, even after discovering a pile of car keys, barbed wire in a box and human body parts in the freezer, it still takes them until the three occupants of the shack return for them to decide to amscray. Too late, they must take cover and witness the horror of one of their friends being hacked to pieces… and eaten. Waiting until the shack’s owners fall asleep, they try to make a quiet run for it, but they’re discovered at the last instant. Eventually, only Chris and Jessie will be left to fight off their assailants or die trying. Though “Wrong Turn” isn’t big on suspense, it doesn’t waste any time either, and it does keep you guessing until the climax as to which way it’s going to turn out for our heroes.

Of the 31 horror films I’m reviewing this month, “Wrong Turn” is the only one I saw theatrically. Not an especially original film, what it lacks in originality is made up for by its cast, without which this movie would likely be only as attractive as something found on SyFy. Between them, the two leads represent my three favorite TV shows of all-time: Desmond Harrington portrayed Det. Joseph Quinn in “Dexter” from its third season on through the end of the series’ run, while Eliza Dushku had a recurring guest role in both “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and its spin-off “Angel” as Faith, the Slayer with a dark side. Jessie has a little bit of that same snarky, tough chick attitude which made Faith so popular. I remember seeing Eliza on one of the late night talk shows to do some early promotion for this movie. She’d been required to do so much screaming for “Wrong Turn” that she could barely speak during the interview. Jeremy Sisto, whose part is sadly much smaller, is also very good. Through much of his scenes, he’s doing a fairly decent Jeff Goldblum impression, even if that wasn’t his intent. Emmanuelle Chriqui (appropriately pronounced “shriek-y”) is not as much fun. Carly whines, complains and acts so completely helpless that you can’t help but wish her to be eliminated next.

Slasher films require a good villain, too. That’s just a fact of life. Generally, you get either a diabolical wisecracker, or a silent and methodical killer. The three killers in “Wrong Turn” have no lines of dialogue, although they do seem to have some form of communication amongst themselves. They’re also referred to as genetic mutations, and its pretty clear as to why, because even Jason Voorhees himself would take one look at these guys and respond to their hideous appearance with revulsion. So, the villains aren’t as effective as they should be (one even laughs hysterically like the village idiot), but that doesn’t mean a slasher film fan won’t enjoy this movie. I can remember thinking, after first seeing this one in June of 2003, that there might be room for a franchise here. I just didn’t think it would actually happen. As of 2014, we’re up to movie #6 in the series, with all of the sequels having been direct-to-video releases. Proof positive that even today some slasher fans are so indiscriminate that they’ll watch anything, good or bad, as long as it’s refreshingly familiar.