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In 2003, the same year that he created elaborate special effects for the Arnold Schwarzenegger blockbuster Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, legendary artist Stan Winston was designing a family of inbred cannibals for a rural horror picture called Wrong Turn.
The first feature developed by his newly formed Stan Winston Productions, the story told of a group of twenty-somethings who become lost in the backroads of West Virginia and fall prey to a pack of hideously deformed hunters. Shot around Ontario, Canada on a budget of approximately $12 million, Wrong Turn became an unexpected success, combining elements of Deliverance, The Hills Have Eyes and ’80s slasher films into a survivalist thriller that resonated with horror fans.
Despite gaining modest acclaim, it would take four years for a sequel to surface, with newcomer Joe Lynch directing rock star Henry Rollins in a gruesome follow-up in which contestants of an action-based reality TV show fell foul of the savage hillbillies. Released direct-to-DVD in 2007 at the height of the ‘torture porn’ cycle, Wrong Turn 2: Dead End defied the critics by offering something new to the series, an energy and sense of humour that was absent from its predecessor.
Following three instalments from filmmaker Declan O’Brien, Valeri Milev has stepped into the director’s chair for Wrong Turn 6. Starring Anthony Ilott as a young man who receives an unexpected inheritance from unknown relatives, the cast includes Sadie Katz, fresh from her acting and screenwriting roles in last year’s Scorned, the latest horror from the director of Leprechaun. Katz’s other projects include the thriller low budget House of Bad, Nipples & Palm Trees (‘every man deserves a happy ending’) and an appearance in All American Christmas Carol, an offbeat comedy which featured Beverly D’Angelo, Eric Roberts and Meat Loaf.
Sadie Katz looks back on her experiences with cannibals in Wrong Turn 6.
Wrong Turn 2 gave fresh spin on the formula by incorporating a reality TV theme. In what ways does the new movie differ from the previous instalments and what role does your character play in the story?
I think like Wrong Turn 2, this one again flips the story on its head so to speak and gives it a fresh take, taking it back to the roots of the Hillickers. The origins, how did this wacky family get its start? Its lineage? I think for a die-hard Wrong Turn fan that can be exciting stuff. One thing I love about Wrong Turn is you have such passion in the fans there seems to be no real middle ground so you’re walking this thin line, everyone either hates it or loves it. That’s kind of cool because I think that’s what brings the fans back, myself included; you have a strong opinion of where the franchise is going and also why Fox was so secretive in the months leading up to its release.
As far as Sally Hillicker, she plays the caretaker of Hobbs Springs, the resort, Danny and his friends comes to visit and ultimately what Danny is inheriting. He’s also inheriting a whole lot more. Sally has been waiting for him a long time, most of her life you could say. Of course, I’ve already said too much.
Horror, more than any other genre, is known for exploitation the success of a movie with numerous sequels. Why do you think this is?
The easy, boring answer would be to say they made money with the first one, so of course there’s less of a risk to make money with a sequel. But, the truth is we all like something we are familiar with. I mean, I listen to the same songs over and over again. I listen to music by the same artist over and over again. Why is it horrible if we like to watch movies the same way? I think Wrong Turn isn’t necessary like that, at least from what I’ve been experiencing from the passionate Wrongturners; there’s almost a cult of fans who love to debate their favourite film in the franchise and least favourite, best kills, worst. All the movies are different adventures, locations, set ups. If you’re a true fan you watch them all. It’s silly fun. I’m sucked in too. There’s no turning back.
Having worked on the screenplay for last year’s Scorned, has this made you more critical to the scripts you are offered and how would you approach writing a sequel to Wrong Turn?
Truthfully, acting is a competitive business. It’s crazy. You’re grateful as hell when you’re cast. I will say sometimes you just get a script and I just say, ‘That’s so stupid, no.’ For instance, one time I got offered a lead in this film where I was being chased by a giant pair of scissors and my ass was glued to a toilet seat. It was just so ridiculous. I thought there’s just no way this script is going to be finished. It’s so cool when you read a script and they write a female with layers.
A sequel to Wrong Turn, hmmm, I would set it a carnival. Like with a Ferris Wheel, Tilt a Wheel, Dragon Swing. I just love, love a carnival with Three Finger, Saw Tooth and One Eye; there would be so many awesome ways to kill everyone and the carnival would be so creepy in the middle of nowhere, West Virginia. You know, maybe this time college grads get lost. Or geez, you could really have fun and it’s the post-apocalypse and you have people running for safety and they find this carnival. Ha. I think it’s sorta never-ending how much fun you can have. Besides, I really like Merry-Go-Rounds. Creepy.Were there any particular horror characters you studied whole preparing for your role and how familiar were you with the concept of the ‘final girl’?
I’ve been the ‘final girl’ in previous films and I indeed have a role as the ‘final girl’ in Wrong Turn. However, to quote the wonderfully feisty and fearless Roxanne Pallett; ‘I’d rather be a bitch than a victim.’ I’m being very tongue-in-cheek here. To play Sally I did absolutely spend a lot of energy on and off set finding my power and owning it. It was incredibly liberating to perform in front of such a large crew in a foreign country and jump into it as hard as I possibly could. I also hoped in the back of my head the fans would enjoy it, but I really had to do it for the love of knowing I was giving my all to my director Valeri, my producers and the writer Frank Woodworth.
How challenging did you find it shooting in Bulgaria and was it difficult trying to pass off these locations as the backwoods of America?
Besides shooting at 3am, snowing in a thin white lace dress and tiny shoes and at one point half-naked in the trees it was beautiful, serene and Bulgaria is one of the prettiest places in the world. Just breathtaking. What an amazing country. Bulgaria also strangely enough looks like West Virgina, lots and lots of farm land. So that’s why UFO Films and 20th Century Fox picked it.
The first movie featured make-up effects by Stan Winston, but with the sequels having lower budgets how have the filmmakers maintained the quality of special effects?
Maria Stankovich is a genius in special effects. I think you’re not left wanting and the effects are quite incredible. She’s a true artist renegade. A big shout out to the amazing talents and loads of blood, sweat and tears by Alexieva Desislava and Atanas Temnilov as well. Being in either the make-up or special effects trailer is just the biggest trip ever, it’s some scary shit. They’re like decapitating heads, making heads or ripping body parts off. It’s damn creepy. Watching the movie it grossed me out and watching and on set I had to turn away too.
Direct-to-DVD movies no longer have the stigma that they once had and often the production values match that of theatrical releases. What do you think prompted this change of opinion and has streaming and legal downloads has a positive effect on low budget filmmaking?
I think the biggest thing and I hope this isn’t me talking out of my ass (not a very sexy visual), but everyone has big flat screen televisions, so what’s the big deal? We all have our own home theatres. Most of us would rather stay home sometimes, snuggle on our couch watch a movie, have a glass of wine, smoke some…well…and we are perfectly happy to do that. It’s also fun because you can Google an indie film, and I find myself doing this all the time, if a film gets like a ton of mixed reviews I want to see it more sometimes. I gotta see what the fuss is about.
The series has been known for its brutality and gruesome deaths. Will Wrong Turn 6 continue this tradition of graphic violence and what can fans expect from Valeri Milev?
Of course, Valeri and Frank, the writer, are hugely disturbed human beings. I’d fear them except they’re writers and directors, so it’s totally normal.
Do you enjoy working with prosthetics and fake blood and how much suffering is your character subjected to?
Working with prosthetics and fake blood sucks. Don’t let anyone tell you different. If you are a well-behaved actress, and I always am, you never ever complain. Not to anyone. You just keep smiling. You are lying on an ice cold marble floor and it’s twenty degrees and your neck is crooked, you are shaking uncontrollable and you body parts are starting to numb out, and you are giving the A.D. the thumbs-up sign. It is the gold set rule. You are damn lucky you got the job. So, if you promise not to tell I’ll tell you…it fucking sucks! It’s gross. You are sticky. You stick to everything. It starts to harden, if it’s cold it gets worse, if it’s hot it get worse. It’s itchy. You could be sitting at a desk or digging ditches and wondering what it would be like to have your dreams come true. You do start to wonder why this is your dream and what the hell is wrong with you.
My character is subjected to some suffering, but let’s just say she does it with a smile on her face…that’s just Sally.
Horror often represents the fear of the ‘other,’ outcasts or monsters who would not belong in our society. Do you think that the isolation forced upon the Wrong Turn family due to their deformities and way of life gives the story a tragic tone?
I think your questions are so intelligent. Seriously. I really though think of Wrong Turn as a fantasy. That’s why the extreme violence doesn’t bother me or offend me. I like to think of myself as a feminist and these films have been bashed a bit, but I find them to be over the top in some ways that take it out of reality. Or let’s hope!
Having seen the Wrong Turn movies, would you still be willing to drive through the backwoods of West Virginia and could you imagine families of incestuous cannibals living in any part of America?
Ha! I’m a chicken I’m not driving in the backwoods anywhere. I did research and there is indeed a lot of inbreeding in the Appalachian Mountains and there’s cannibals, possibly I’m sure. There’s weirdness all over. One bad apple spoils the bunch.In their review of Wrong Turn 5, Cinetalk said that ‘the butchered meat on offer here has long since lost its freshness.’ Were you concerned when signing on to the fifth sequel in a horror franchise that reviewers may approach the movie with a cynical attitude?
Sure, but no offence to any reviewers because geez, the first thing I do is Google for reviews, I certainly care! I hate to say this, but the viewers dictate if more films are made. If they watch they’ll keep making ‘em! I also really felt Valeri and Frank had something new and fresh. I also felt I’d give my all and it was a cool challenge. Will they notice?
Many actors and filmmakers have agreed that horror movies are often the most enjoyable type to make, due to the energy and chaos on set. How did you find the experience of making Wrong Turn 6 and are you eager to return to the genre some time in the near future?
I loved making Wrong Turn. I loved every single person cast, crew, every moment. It was nothing short of perfect. I’m watching the screening tonight and will be sitting next to Aqueela Zoll and Frank Woodworth the rest of the cast in the UK, which is sad because I’d love to have one last night with everyone, including the crew. I’m ready to do another film, I’m always ready to do another. Bring it on!