Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Halloween 2013: Road Trip Horror: Breakdown & Wrong Turn

Breakdown (1997)  isn't exactly a horror movie, but the elements of terror within the film certainly led me to include it here.

Kurt Russell plays Jeff Taylor, a man who with his wife Amy (Kathleen Quinlan), is moving from Boston to San Diego and have their brand new Jeep to get them there. Unfortunately it breaks down, leaving them at the mercy of the highway.

En route across the country, Jeff and Amy nearly crash into a pick-up truck driving erratically. Later at a gas station, the asshole driver of the truck and Jeff exchange some heated barbs before heading on their way.

As mentioned, the new Jeep breaks down in the Arizona desert, leaving the couple stranded.  When a long-distance truck driver hauling a big rig offers his assistance, Jeff allows Amy to take the ride with driver Red Barr (the late, great J.T. Walsh) to a diner just up the road while he stays behind with their beloved Jeep.  (I'm sensing this was his first grave error).

 When Jeff figures out the Jeep was apparently messed with at the gas station, he is able to get the vehicle running and soon arrives at the diner, only to be told no one has seen his wife.  In serious shades of the excellent film, The Vanishing (1988), Jeff becomes more and more disturbed when he cannot find Amy.  He heads back out on the road and finally catches up to the 18-wheeler. When Red stops, he acts as though he's never seen Jeff before, and claims to have no idea where Amy is.

The entire course of the film after this moment is the search for Jeff's missing wife. And if you think that cannot possibly be enough to sustain suspense, you'd be wrong.  Breakdown is a white-knuckle thriller at times, and there is more than enough action to keep you awake throughout. The chase scenes are well done and with zero CGI to boot, and that's saying something.

Plot-wise, I can't say it's complex, but it is absorbing and exciting. The lengths that Jeff goes to just to get a single piece of pertinent information, or to try to thwart the devious plans of Red and his accomplices makes for an energetic story line.

At times you think the possibility exists that Amy has concocted an elaborate scheme just to leave Jeff, but then in the next scene your mind wanders back to the thought that this is a flat-out kidnapping to extort money from a couple that made themselves so obviously transparent.

There are a heaping handful of chase scenes, and like Spielberg's fabulous Duel  before it, your heart jumps out of your chest more than once while watching. The cast of characters all do a fine job with the script, with extra kudos to Walsh for being such an incredible son-of-a-bitch.

While we are  asked to suspend our disbelief in the outrageous ending, it still feels really satisfying - because really, would anyone want to see Kurt Russell fail?
I thought not.


Wrong Turn  (2003) is actually one of my favorite guilty pleasure horror flicks, as I think it is unfairly judged and of course there is the ridiculous amount of pointless sequels it has spawned...but to me it's a pretty amusing addition to both road-trip horror and backwoods cannibal horror. 

With some good performances by Desmond Harrington as Chris and Eliza Dushku as Jessie, it tells the story of a group of friends heading off on a camping trip to cheer up Jessie - who just had her heart broken.  They get into a car accident with med student Chris as he rushes to a conference along a back road in the mountains of West Virginia. Soon the group realizes the tires have been slashed by barbed wire most likely strung along the road on purpose.

As is certain to happen in most horror films, the crew splits up, leaving token stoner couple Evan (Kevin Zegers) and Francine (Lindy Booth) behind with the car while the rest search for help.  In an even more ludicrous move, Evan seeks out the source behind a strange noise in the woods, never to return.  Francine finds only his shoe and his ear upon looking for him. She then is collared by barbed wire and hoisted off to her death.

When the others find a ramshackle house and investigate (there are so many no-no cliches happening here it's ridiculous), they are subjected to obvious signs of cannibalism.  The rest of the film has our soon-to-be-victims running for their lives from these anthropophagites, trying not to become their next meal.

While I can't call it a classy film (are there any "classy" cannibal films?), I can call it fun, and this road trip to paradise didn't exactly turn out that well.  No one even had time to squeal like a pig.

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