CONTAINS BLOODY SPOILERS
Mea culpa: when the FrightFest 2012 lineup was announced I declared on Twitter that the scheduling of the Maniac remake against the fourth entry in the Wrong Turn franchise was not the most difficult of decisions. In the event I was ambivalent about Franck Khalfoun's thoroughly questionable first-person-scalper but felt confident that I'd still made the right choice - a choice made easier by the fact that Wrong Turn 3: Left For Dead, by the same director, was a pile of old rubber pants. Well, for what it's worth, I misjudged it: it's a massive improvement on the previous instalment, though still not up there with the enjoyably nasty original or Joe Lynch's hilarious splattery romp, and delivers as a mean-spirited body count movie with plenty of simpletons being sadistically slaughtered by a trio of giggling inbred mutants.
Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings is basically One Eye, Saw Tooth And Three Finger: The Early Years, beginning with the series' trio of deformed hillbilly cannibals escaping from their cell in the basement of a remote sanatorium in 1973 and slaughtering staff and patients alike. Thirty years later (taking place before the events of the first Wrong Turn movie) a bunch of college simpletons get lost in a blizzard and hole up for the night in the abandoned building (shades of the enjoyable Norwegian slasher film Cold Prey) - but of course they are not alone and it's not long before they're picked off and turned into nibbles.
It's tough to muster up any sympathy for the nine potential meat courses: more interested in sex, weed, booze and partying than anything else. On the one hand they're smart enough to include someone who can start a hospital generator system (rather than the usual petrol engine chugging away in a shack) and another who knows how to project 35mm film, but on the other they're stupid enough to go wandering though an unfamiliar, abandoned building, in the dark, at night, without considering any of the potential dangers, and one of the group is so thick he actually tries to save a girl from hanging by pulling on her ankles. Characters abruptly change depending on what the script demands: one girl is emphatically against killing the mutants in one scene, and enthusiastically voting for it in the next.
There's also the problem of it being a prequel: we know the mutants survive because they're in the other movies. Just as we know Anakin Skywalker can't die in the Star Wars prequels (more's the pity), the idea robs the movie of any suspense as to the outcome, even though it's kind of traditional in modern horror cinema for the monsters to survive somehow, if only for the final shock coda. Happily, it doesn't matter too much since the splatter is liberally sprayed around, with severed limbs, needles through heads, frenzied knife attacks and a long scene of one of the simpletons having bits of his flesh cut off and fried in front of him. Sadly some of these kills have been augmented at best, and performed entirely at worst, with CGI effects that look slapdash and unconvincing.
Wrong Turn 4 is a mixed bag: it's immeasurably better than the misstep of Wrong Turn 3 and it has plenty of blood and gore, but all the victims are idiots and you don't care who lives or dies. It's enjoyable enough even as you realise just how stupid it is; fun enough as an evening's rental though probably not one to keep and treasure forever.