Director: Declan O’Brien
Produced by: Jeffery Beach, Phillip Roth
Written by: Declan O’Brien
Based on characters by: Alan McElroy
Content Warning: Discussion of Violence, Rape, Murder, and mentions of Gore
Spoiler Warning: Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines
For my contribution to our series Movies that Shaped Me, my first thought was a movie that completely changed the way I viewed the horror genre from a harmless campy romp to a market that banks on the physical and emotional torture of women: Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines.
Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines is the fifth installment of the cult popular Wrong Turn series that originally starred Eliza Dushku (of Buffy fame) as the lead who fights her way out of a road trip gone wrong after a group of redneck cannibals attack and systematically murder her friends.
Sounds Oscar worthy doesn’t it?
I adore campy, cult horror movies, especially of the slasher genre. Twisted as it may be, there’s something amusing about watching a group of pretty twenty-somethings thrusting themselves into stupid situations that simply require they be killed. The killers are stale as day old bakery bread with all the substance and flavor of rationed jerky. The fun comes in when you’re screaming at the screen, “Why did you open that door? Why did you go down that dark hallway? Are there no lights in the house? What cell phone service do you even have? Why did you stop at the creepy gas station to talk to the creepy redneck gas station man? Is it actually possible to be killed that way?”
The fun of campy, slasher horror films is watching pretty twenty-somethings fit into their cookie-cutter stereotypes and watching them do dumb things. It’s a total suspension of belief, more unrealistic than even the most far out science fiction movie. Recent horror films have made meta commentary on this tried and true formula such as Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods.
The movie borrows imagery straight out of horror classics like Evil Dead, Hellraiser, Wolfman, and more. The characters are literally forced by their creators (self inserts of Whedon and his co-writer Drew Goddard) to become the horror stereotypes we’re so used to seeing. The Athlete (played by Chris Hemsworth before his network skyrocketed), The Whore, The Fool, The Brain, and The Virgin.
To translate, “The Athlete” is the moderately good looking white dude (who probably wears polos) and typically a jock or jock like. “The Fool” is the comedic relief character who usually dies mid-movie. Then there’s “The Brain,” the one character that seems smart and is typically the love interest of “The Virgin” also known as “The Final Girl.” “The Virgin/Final Girl’s” best (typically blonde and stereotypically attractive) friend is “The Whore,” who exists to have a sex scene or get topless. They also play some part in “The Final Girl’s” journey through horror, serving mainly as set pieces for her own emotional trauma and torture. Existing to be killed off by whatever faceless lumbering hulk of a man or a horde of grotesque rednecks the movie employs.
Horror movies play by a very specific script, especially slasher films. Another film that plays on these stereotypes of both the twenty-something cast and the villains is Tucker and Dale vs Evil with our protagonist actually being the would-be grotesque rednecks, our pretty would-be hero jock man being the villain, our suppose to be eye-candy blonde being smart and well rounded, and the “kills” happening due to the crazy circumstances that are right out of other horror films.
Tucker and Dale vs Evil is a satire on a genre that has become saturated with these stereotypes, caricatures, and formulaic plots. When slasher films became extremely popular in the 1980s they gave a resurgence to the genre employing a new style of horror filming and storytelling. However, the horror genre has slowly written the same material to death, ironically becoming the genre’s own Mike Myers, dropping the same bland and generic horror movie after horror movie like the generic young actors they employ.
Slasher films, such as Wrong Turn, always follow this specific formula with “The Final Girl” as the lead heroine who must survive her attackers and triumph, in the end traumatized, but alive and a survivor. There’s something to be said about the original slasher films such as Friday the 13th, which featured a young woman fighting for her life not against the famous Jason V, but his mother. Nightmare on Elm Street established this formula with Freddy terrorizing and being defeated in the end by Nancy Thompson. As was the case in Halloween with Jamie Lee Curtis’ character, Laurie Strode, against the masked Mike Myers.
These women had to face three different villains with different motivations that attacked them not only physically, but emotionally, and in the end, though traumatized surely, they weren’t defeated. While the horror genre in general is somewhat bleak, we as viewers do want to see some sort of emotionally positive ending. Even if the final characters are screaming because of nightmares, we know they’re just nightmares.
The horror genre is also one of the biggest sources of female led stories in movies. The movie Carrie is essentially a horror movie about the relationships between four women: Carrie, her deranged mother, her kind-hearted gym teacher, and Sue, the compassionate classmate. A majority of movies focus on young women at the prime of their life being thrown into horrific situations, but coming out on top in the end. There’s a small sense of hope that while Sue is seeing Carrie White in her dreams she will eventually recover unlike her dead classmates. She survived, and in the end that’s what matters.
This is where Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines and more recent horror fare have differed from the original classics.
While Wrong Turn 5 follows the typical formula to a tee, what happens in the end is what got me. It shattered any illusion I might have had in the horror genre and opened my eyes to the real horror of the genre itself.
The movie stars a gaggle of moderately pretty faced young actors who are fodder to the killing cannibals of the movie. The only two remaining, the real leads of the movie, are the tough as nails small town Sheriff Carter and Lita the young college graduate celebrating with her group of friends. Both go through the typical trails of a straight-to-tape horror movie when things took a—no pun intend—wrong turn.
I was expecting Lita and Carter to come out triumphant, or at the very least, since this was a prequel to the franchise, with one of them escaping and spreading the legend of the cannibals. That didn’t happen, and while it wasn’t the first time I had seen characters I thought would live die in a horror movie, the way they were killed struck me.
Carter is captured after trying to save the remaining group of Lita’s friends and her husband. She’s tied up, forced to watch Lita be mutilated, and then given a disgusting ultimatum. Die by being burned alive or step on the trigger rope that connects to a shotgun and kill herself.
The cannibals laugh as they drive off and a shot rings out in the air that sent shivers down my spine as I watched. I’m used to gore; I’ve watched every Final Destination movie many a time over. I’ve seen every Friday the 13th made, watched Cabin Fever, The Collector, every sequel of Halloween, and Nightmare on Elm Street. I’m used to gore and guts, but this wasn’t simply gore and guts. This was a level of torture I hadn’t felt before in a horror movie, something sinister that only grew worse with what happened next.
Lita had escaped, trailing down a lone road unable to see, crying for help when a truck picks her up. She thanks her would-be rescuers only to find they are her tormentors all along. One of them, the ringleader Maynard, chuckles darkly while he trails a hand down her bare, bloodied shoulder as Lita screams knowing what’s to come. What truly struck me as the credits rolled was that I knew what was going to happen to her as the screen went black.
Maynard had threatened to rape Lita earlier in the film, moments before forcing Carter to kill herself under pain of being burned alive. Now Lita was going to be tortured in the worst ways possible.
There was no emotional catharsis for the ending. No triumph to feel, only the horror of knowing what had happened or was going to happen to these two women. However, while this sort of horror could feel acknowledging, respectful even of the real horrors women go through, it instead felt exploitative, as if the joy we were suppose to be feeling was at the torture of these women. The ending felt gratuitous, taking it’s enjoyment from completely ruining these women in the most horrific ways possible. With movies like Carrie, the death of Carrie and her mother was a tragedy, not meant to be an enjoyable moment. We as viewers weren’t meant to cheering at their deaths, but feeling the tragedy of the loss of life for an abused young woman who wasn’t saved in time. The horror of Carrie was the realism in the story—one that was treated with respect.
Wrong Turn 5 wasn’t respectful in the least of the realism it touched upon in those last few moments.
The fun of certain horror movies is the complete suspension of belief. Death isn’t really going to chase us around and find super creative ways to kill us à la Final Destination. Some guy in a hockey mask isn’t going to show up with a machete and kill some bored camp counselors à la Friday. There are no demons, there isn’t anyone possessed, the house isn’t haunted, and there are no zombies. People aren’t dumb enough not to turn a light on in a dark hallway, and with GPS nowadays, no one is getting so lost they end up in a no-name town in backwater Georgia to get eaten by nuclear mutated cannibals. But the incredibly unrealistic nature of horror movies—that suspension of belief is what makes them fun.
Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines completely loses that element of campy fun with the lose of that suspension of belief. Instead, it became exploitative, because there are men out there who’d take advantage of women, who’d torture them without remorse, and who’d rape and kill them for fun. Those men do exist. Men like Maynard, who stopped being another faceless, laughable horror movie villain and became something a little too close to reality.
Violence against women is a very real thing. Threats of rape and murder are still all too common. And what Wrong Turn 5 attempted to do was take that very real aspect of our lives and twist it into entertainment. Movies are suppose to entertain. Whether good or bad objectively, they are supposed to be enjoyable. From Oscar winners such as 12 Years a Slave, or Syfy junk like Sharknado, movies at their core are suppose to entertain.
What’s so entertaining about watching women get tortured?
Without that final moment of catharsis, that final moment where she overcomes her would-be killers and tormentors, the movie becomes about watching the physical and emotional torture of women. Wrong Turn 5 was suppose to be an enjoyable, terrible movie that I could get a kick out of, something forgettable in the long line of other straight-to-tape horror movie sequels.
It wasn’t. In the end Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines opened my eyes to the real horror of the horror genre: the systematic torture of female characters, an entire genre based around watching women being chased by a man, and in recent times, captured, tortured, and killed by one. The lack of that final moment, that moment where the final girl wins, changes everything about the genre. It goes from being something moderately empowering—such as Sidney Prescott’s Scream journey—to complete exploitation of women.
Wrong Turn 5 completely changed the way I viewed horror films and the horror genre as a whole. Ironic for a straight-to-tape horror flick, and I’d be grateful if I didn’t feel so sick.