Wrong Turn is the story of a group of twenty-somethings (featuring a pre-Dexter Desmond Harrington and post-Buffy Eliza Dushku) who get into a car accident in the mountains of West Virginia. Nervous and eager to, ya know, not be stranded in an Appalachian forest, they accidentally run afoul of three inbred mountain men, and soon most of the group is eviscerated in some manner. It’s an obvious play on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre formula of “clueless young people are stalked by loud, deranged country folk,” but it’s tense and gory and economical in its storytelling — 84 minutes is about the perfect length for a cannibal epic.
And surprisingly enough, it calms me down in a way that’s borderline transcendent.
This is not just because of my fondness of the horror genre, a section of film that I am endlessly entertained by, but because it reminds me of more comfortable times. And seven months into a pandemic, anything, anything that seems to give me respite from clenching my teeth or shouting “WHY?” at the news is welcome. This is especially true if it gives me memories of my teenage years and of renting movies and of hanging out with my mom, back when hanging out a bunch with your family was still safe and recommended.
Well, “renting movies” is the wrong phrase. Because whenever I’d go to a video rental place, be it a Blockbuster or a Hollywood Video or one of the seemingly countless rental places in suburban North Carolina that always oddly seem to be fitted beside a tanning salon, we never rented movies. No, my family would march back to the DVD sales, usually bearing prices like “4 for $20!” That is where my mother and I panned for our gold, miners sifting through countless used DVDs of early 2000s dirt like The Animal and K-PAX and Die Another Day, just trying to find our flecks of horror gold.
And on a good day? Oh, the bounty was aplenty. Wrong Turn, Ghost Ship, Frailty, the Thirteen Ghosts remake, Freddy vs Jason, Valentine, 28 Days Later, The Ring... In the wake of Scream and before the likes of Hostel and countless remakes, there is a pocket of horror film history that I adore, not just because some of them are surprisingly good, but because they remind me of looking across from the table at my mom, the lady that got me into horror movies, and holding up a movie that I had unearthed. “Check it out! This one’s called... The Cube 2: Hypercube? Eh, worth a shot!”
Back in those days, we very rarely rented things, and our movie closet at home practically leaked with the results of used horror DVD expeditions. Buy a new copy? Nah. Better to wait six months for a Darkness Falls disc that looks like someone tried to stop a train with it. (By the way, did you know that the remake of Thirteen Ghosts and Ghost Ship were made one year apart and were directed by the same guy, who never directed anything else? If there’s a Mount Rushmore for early 2000s horror directors, Steve Beck is certainly on it.)
My family has always been very open about their pop culture tastes, and they often help to bond us. It was a mutual admiration for the HBO show Deadwood and a fascination with The Lord of the Rings that helped me grow closer to my dad, and with my mom, it certainly helped that we loved all things spooky and creepy and Halloween-adjacent. “Put on a horror movie,” she’d often tell me after she returned home from her night shift at the hospital. No matter the cacophony of mutations or chainsaws or shrieking victims, she’d fall asleep to it on the couch and I’d usually stay and watch. It felt like normal. It felt like home.
And these days, I’ll take any dose of home that I can, from constant video chats to show my parents my 1-year-old’s newest accomplishment to the relatively short visits that my family is able to make when we’re sure that conditions are as safe as we can render them. Under any other circumstance, these opportunities would be constant, but now they’re fleeting and marked with the underlying motif of “Are y'all OK? I hope y'all are okay. Please, stay OK.”
And so, in between the short visits and messages, I watch horror movies like Wrong Turn because they give me an experience that’s more than nostalgia. It’s almost a physical sensation, an ease settling through my body. And during the month of October, I feel it even more strongly. The decorations that littered my mom’s mantle and front door and general everywhere are no longer there, but the atmosphere is — a house with a family that had made peace with its love of horror, a family that loved being scared together, as long as those scares stayed on the used DVD, of course.
It is in this way that horror provides me with catharsis these days. When I see the monstrous brothers hollering in their truck, or Freddy dropping elbows on Jason’s skull, or ghosts showing off rad flashback scenes, I don’t have to worry, if only for a bit, that I’m not in the place that we all logically should be. Instead, I am freshly returned with a bag of movies from a video rental store and I am sitting on the couch with my brother and my sister and my mom and my dad. And I am home.