BRANDON — "Blood! Time for blood!"
Film director Declan O'Brien shouts the command on the set of Wrong Turn 4, the newest entry in the cannibal horror franchise that began in 2003 with the release of Wrong Turn.
O'Brien, whose resumé includes a pair of Roger Corman produced B-movies such as Sharktopus, is shooting at the disused Brandon Mental Health Centre, a remote facility that was known simply as The Asylum for the Insane when it was established in 1891.
Today, it is being used as a scene of horrific crimes perpetrated by a trio of mutant cannibals. The centre is doubling as an isolated hospital in the West Virginia wilderness where a group of college students on a ski trip take refuge from a blizzard.
Attractive college students meet mutant cannibals. That can never turn out well.
The building's creepy institutional ambience was boosted considerably last Monday during the shooting of Scene 63, wherein the film's heroine Kenia (played by Winnipeg actress Jennifer Pudavick) discovers the head of her boyfriend wrapped in his jacket on the floor of the centre's auditorium. That event is immediately followed by the grisly, insidious attack on Kenia's chum Claire (played by another Winnipeg actress, Samantha Kendrick) with a barbed wire noose. (It is not enough to be merely strangled in a Wrong Turn movie, it has to be barbed wire.)
The rule of thumb for horror franchises is that they tend to be a phenomena of diminishing returns. As the sequel numbers get higher, the movies tend to decline in quality, from theatrical release to quick-and-dirty direct-to-video. A plus for the direct-to-video market is that it can include scenes "too graphic for theatres," a claim Wrong Turn 4 is already promising.
But a cast of mostly Winnipeg actors, artists and film crew aren't looking down their collective noses at this film.
It may be a B-movie. But they're bringing their A-game.
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The location itself, the empty mental health facility about to be absorbed by Brandon's Assiniboine Community College, was an inspiration to writer-director O'Brien according to producer Kim Todd of Original Pictures, the local service provider for the movie being shot under the auspices of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Todd, who briefly goes absent from the set to ensure there is sufficient quantities of stage blood for the scene being shot, returns to affirm O'Brien's penchant for rewriting scenes to exploit the resources of the location.
"He actually rewrote and added things because the location allowed him things," Todd says. "There's a whole scene in the auditorium earlier where (the trapped skiers) find an old film and watch it. He wrote that when we found an old projector that's still there."
Though set in West Virginia, this is the third Wrong Turn to shoot in Canada. The third installment was shot by O'Brien in Bulgaria, and he was pleased to discover the wealth of expertise in Winnipeg.
"The crews are much more sophisticated here," he says. "I've really enjoyed working here because there's less for me to do. I can rely on other people."
For example, O'Brien exploited the talents not only of stunt coordinator Rick Skene but of Skene's two actor stuntmen sons Sean and Daniel, who play respectively the franchise's mutant Hilliker brothers Three Finger and One Eye. (Rounding out the trio is local actor stuntman Scott Johnson as the hulking Saw Tooth.)
The brothers Skene see this as a rare opportunity to simultaneously exercise their expertise both as actors and seasoned stuntmen.
"Usually, we're just there to simply do the action, show up, get hurt for the actor," says Daniel, resplendent in elaborate latex make-up to resemble a one-eyed killer hillbilly.
"It's nice to actually be able to create a character. Doing the action is already second nature to us, so we're more excited to actually play the characters than to do the actual (stunts)."
Of course, non-stunt people are performing some pretty hairy scenes themselves, including Kendrick, a 23-year-old actress who gamely chokes, coughs up blood, and dangles high above the auditorium floor in a complicated rigging device that sure makes it appear she's at risk of having her head pulled off.
Her blonde hair and white shirt is covered in stage blood, and sporting a latex neck appliance resembling a gaping wound. Kendrick is downright chipper about her gory departure from the movie as she shows up for a lunch break looking like horror movie hell.
"It was a lot of fun and I was very excited," she says.
"I actually knew I wanted to act since I can remember. I've dreamt of this since I was a little girl. And now I can't see myself doing anything else because I love it so much."
Even when the role requires ignominious death by barbed wire noose?
"I love a challenge," Kendrick says.
Wrong Turn 4 is expected to be released on DVD and pay-per-view by Halloween of this year.