Just when you thought it was safe to wander off the beaten path once again, the murderous Hilliiker Brothers are back for another go-round with Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings (coming out on DVD October 25th), a prequel to the first film that sees “WT3” director Declan O’Brien returning to the director’s chair. Back in March B-D reporter Chris Eggertsen was given the opportunity to visit the set, located at an abandoned asylum formerly known as the Brandon Mental Health Centre about two hours outside of Winnipeg. While there he got the chance to check out some of the filming (a bloody scene involving both a severed head and a barbed wire noose), as well as interview O’Brien and several of the cast members. Get the full report inside.
Being a native of Southern California, I hadn’t enjoyed the dubious privilege of experiencing -20 degree weather until this past March, when courtesy of Fox Travel I was flown up to Winnipeg, Canada to visit the set of “Wrong Turn 4“, the latest installment in the studio’s long-running killer-hillbilly franchise.
Ha, but I said Winnipeg, didn’t I? The set was actually located outside Winnipeg – like, way outside – at an abandoned mental asylum near Brandon, a town of less than 50,000 people that still retains the distinction of being the second most-populated metropolitan area in the Manitoba province.
The asylum – formerly the Brandon Mental Health Centre – wasn’t bad, actually, as abandoned hospitals go. Fully vacated only back in 1999, it wasn’t the crumbling, eerie monstrosity I would’ve expected given my previous experiences on film sets located in deserted structures, many left unoccupied for several decades. Peeling paint and decaying stairwells were in short supply here, as it if all the doctors, patients, and nurses had picked up and left the premises mere months ago instead of years.
The day’s set was located in an old auditorium on one of the upper floors, where I imagine the staff once hosted screenings of classic Hollywood movies: Singin’ in the Rain, The African Queen, Sunset Blvd. (that last one, perhaps, being the product of some rebellious orderly’s sick joke).
We watched from a balcony above the auditorium as the current scene played out below us. The bit in question involved about six of the film’s young cast members, and I imagined each of their characters as I spotted them – the voluptuous, dark-haired Slut; the porcelain Ingénue; the hunky Boyfriend. It went a little something like this:
The Ingénue speaks in a tone that is hushed and breathless; she’s afraid something terrible has happened to a friend of theirs who’s gone missing. The Boyfriend radiates unconcern as he regards her with skepticism, his pressed lavender v-neck blending nicely with the pastel tones of his female companions’ winter-wear. The Slut stands idly by, her long hair cascading in waves of L’Oreal perfection.
Suddenly, something is catapulted from the darkness of the stage at the other end of the room. It’s a small jacket-wrapped bundle, twirling through the air and then tumbling across the wooden floor in a hollow roll. The group spins around all at once as it registers at the edge of their vision (the Slut; the Ingénue; the Boyfriend; the long-limbed Model-type with the conspicuous afro), instantly unified in their sudden state of alarm.
The bundle comes to rest a dozen feet away. They stare at it, uncomprehending. The jacket belongs to their missing friend, the Ingénue asserts gravely. She hesitates for just a moment before slowly stepping forward, her demeanor suggesting she knows of the horror the bundle contains but can’t keep herself from advancing the plot.
The Ingénue kneels before the bundle as the others slowly follow behind her, gathering around in a tight half-circle as she unwraps it with trembling fingers. As the edges fall away, her sudden screams echo against the walls of the high-ceilinged room, drawing all eyes to their friend’s severed head lying vacantly in the center of the garment – the ragged borders of his cleaved flesh encircling a dark, gaping expanse of blood and sinew that spills from where his neck used to be like a thick clump of raspberry jelly.
The Ingénue continues to scream as she recoils and stumbles away from the bundle in a sudden whirlwind of floundering horror, her jagged wails cutting through the musty air of the auditorium as she staggers back against the Boyfriend and clings to him with bone-white fingers. He keeps his eyes fixed numbly on the object of her alarm, the sharp angle of his precisely-styled bangs disturbed only slightly by the sudden force of her body against his…
In screenwriting terminology, the incident just described might accurately be labeled a first act “plot point” – an event near the 30-minute mark of a film that spins the story around in a completely new direction. Of course, when you consider that this is the fourth entry in a slasher franchise not exactly renowned for its narrative daring, the discovery of a severed head doesn’t exactly rate as an unexpected development. Attractive Young Adults find themselves in Creepy Abandoned Location; Alarming Signs are soon picked up on by More Perceptive Members of group; Shit Hits Fan shortly thereafter.
That paradigm is more or less expressed in “WT4“‘s basic plot: A group of twenty-something friends go on a snowmobiling trip as a last hurrah before their college graduation. They soon find themselves stranded in an abandoned mental hospital after getting lost in an unexpected snowstorm. But the hospital isn’t really abandoned; a few of its former patients still reside there. Three guesses who those former patients are, and the first two don’t count (cough, killer mutant hillbillies).
It should also be mentioned that the film is actually a prequel, the category of franchise entry that is apparently no longer the sole domain of big-budget science-fiction movies. Later, we briefly sat down with returning director Declan O’Brien (he also helmed the third installment) to get some specifics.
“I finished ‘Wrong Turn 3’ and it did pretty well. You know, it sold well, I was happy with it“, said O’Brien, a youthful, bright-eyed presence who I pegged as being in his late 30s or early 40s. “And Fox called again and said ‘hey, do you wanna do Wrong Turn 4’? And you know, [they] said ‘well, maybe you can bring Three Finger back’. And I’m like, ‘I killed him six ways from Sunday [in ‘Wrong Turn 3′], there’s no way he’s coming back. Give me a weekend to think about the story and let me get back to you.’ ”
That’s when he decided to go the prequel route, in effect showing how the mutant killers from the previous films became who they became.
In a nutshell, fans will get to see Three Finger (Sean Skene), Sawtooth (Scott Johnson) and One Eye (Sean’s brother Dan Skene, both of whom also acted as stunt performers under the direction of their stunt-coordinator father Rick) – aka the Hilliker Brothers – in all their pre-pubescent glory, before flashing forward several years later as they embark on their first ever (?) massacre of innocent wayward civilians.
“It’s a brother story. It’s like ‘My Three Sons’!” laughed the director. “People just really relate to it. I guess they loved the characters that Stan Winston originally created. I’m really proud of [special effects makeup artist] Doug Morrow on this, because he took us right back to what Stan’s work looked like. These guys I think look better than [in parts] ‘2’ and ‘3’.”
True to the inventive kills featured in the previous three installments, O’Brien will be taking full advantage of the setting here, chock-full as it is of left-over equipment from the hospital’s bygone era as a working mental asylum.
“These guys have the run of the place. If they get locked up, they know they can get out“, said O’Brien of the killers, alluding to the fact that they were once patients of the institution. “So they use the surroundings like, you know, electric shock machines, and stuff like that.”
In addition to the tortuous potential of abandoned implements left inside the hospital, the snowy landscape that surrounds it also holds potential as a killing field, with tools normally used for both fun and survival in the freezing environment milked for their potential as instruments of bodily defilement, including, among other things, a snowmobile and an auger (a drill used for ice-fishing).
Indeed, it sounds as if hardcore slasher fans are in for a treat this time around, with a kill count of nine (a record for the franchise). The nastiest bit described during my visit was a gag in which one of the characters is eaten alive by black flies.
“The hardest thing was pacing back and forth in my living room thinking about how to kill people“, said O’Brien of trying to one-up the murders in the previous installments. “‘No, I can’t do that, that’s been done, can’t do that, that’s been done.’…I killed like seven people the last time, and there’s nine new ones. I had the egg-slicer last time that didn’t quite work practically, so we had to put lousy CGI in it. [Laughs] But [in] this one, all the kills are 99% practical.”
I spoke with several members of the cast later that day, after hours spent milling about the craft services table and wandering through the abandoned hallways of the former BMHC (highlight: the large, eerie white room upstairs with cheerful cartoon murals adorning the walls – Barney Rubble from “The Flintstones” here, a smiling Garfield there, a brilliant butterfly, a jubilant sun).
The young thesps – all of them Canadian – greeted me with amused eyes from a line of tall folding chairs as I shuffled into the room, recorder in one hand and a battered notebook in the other, sweating beneath the layers of cotton I’d armored myself with against the elements outside – only to have those layers turn against me once I spent an hour or so within the super-heated confines of the hospital.
I regarded them in turn as I do all young and beautiful entertainers – in awe of their apparent immunity to looking bad, even when faced with the brutality of intense 12-hour workdays and endless retakes requiring them to run, and scream, and die – often with pints of spilled corn syrup soaking through their clothes.
The only male actor in the room was Dean Armstrong, who plays “Daniel“. You may remember him from his role as Bobby’s friend “Cale” in last year’s “Saw 3-D” (aka the blindfolded guy who was hanged in the room with no floor).
“[Daniel] is a stripper, who was picked up…” he began of his character, and then stopped as the others began to laugh. A joke, obviously, except I wanted it to be true. A male stripper in a slasher movie? Now that would be interesting!
Daniel is actually the med student boyfriend of Kenia, played by Jennifer Pudavick (aka the screaming Ingénue). The long-limbed actress offered up an interesting tidbit on the art of the horror-movie scream.
“You’ve heard of ‘Throat Coat’?” she asked me. I hadn’t. “It really helps soothe your throat when you’re doing screaming scenes. So you drink it in between to make sure you don’t get a raw throat“, she explained. “I know what it’s like to scream for my life now…I know what that feels like and how much you want to puke after.” In other words, being a scream queen isn’t for sissies
Joining Armstrong and Pudavick were Terra Vnessa as “Jenna“, the girlfriend of “Vincent” (Sean Skene, working both sides of the fence here); Ali Tataryn as “Lauren“, who braves the elements outside the hospital to ski for help once things go south; Kaitlyn Wong (aka “the Slut“) as Bridget, a bitchy lesbian; and Tenika Davis as “Sara“, Bridget’s girlfriend (she’s the Model-type with the afro mentioned earlier).
“At the end of the day, [the gore] is the stuff that makes people turn away from the T.V.“, said Davis (a former contestant on “Canada’s Next Top Model“), speaking to a big part of the “Wrong Turn” franchise’s grimy appeal. “That’s the thing that gives you that feeling in your stomach that you almost wanna, you know, hurl or something like that. But at the same time you can’t stop looking at it.”
Speaking of gore, we got a good dose of it during a kill scene filmed later that day, in which unfortunate actress Samantha Kendrick (“Claire“) was dangled from a harness above the floor of the auditorium with a “barbed wire noose” encircling her neck.
In the continuity of the film, this bit directly follows the “severed-head-in-a-jacket” moment, with Claire wandering into the theater and startling her friends from their discovery just as the Hilliker Brothers lower the noose from the balcony above and use it to hoist her off the ground by her neck. Her boyfriend “Kyle” (Victor Zinck Jr.) then rushes forward and attempts to save her as the wire slices mercilessly through her nubile flesh.
As I watched the pretty blonde actress hanging from the harness, her white sweater matted with a chaotic spread of scarlet, spitting out ribbons of fake blood in take after take after take, I found myself feeling both sorry for her (she was up there for a good majority of the day) and ever-so-slightly ashamed at my own rubbernecking. Her barbed-wire lynching might have been fake, but this horror movie business isn’t exactly a cake-walk for those working behind the scenes either.