Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 11/3/2011 (3880 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
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.
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Years ago, producer Kim Todd employed Winnipeg makeup artist Doug Morrow to help keep the cast of the TV series Falcon Beach looking tanned and beautiful. There are worse gigs, of course, but Todd laughingly recalls, "Late at night on Falcon Beach, he'd say, can we just kill one of them horribly?'
"I told him: 'Someday.'"
That day has arrived for Morrow, 45, a 20-year film vet. Like many movie makeup artists, Morrow was more inspired by guys like Rick Baker (The Wolf Man) than Max Factor. And on the set of Wrong Turn 4, he gets a chance to deliver elaborate mutant makeup and carnage on an unprecedented scale.
"I think (his work) looks better than the first (Wrong Turn) and the first one was Stan Winston, and that's a pretty high bar," says director Declan O'Brien. "And I've thrown plenty of loops and wrenches into his work and he's never flustered and he always makes it work."
Morrow says he is honoured to even be working in the shadow of Winston, who died in 2008. Morrow rattles off some of Winston's credits: "Terminator, Jurassic Park, Edward Scissorhands, he was one of the three big guys," Morrow says. "This is my homage to the impact his career has had on me.
"I've wanted to do this since I was a kid. I'm a geek about it," Morrow says.
"Just doing the inbred mutant makeup, that was huge. It takes three hours every day just building them and applying them every day. That it itself is a big job and then being in charge of the kills on top of that ... it's massive."
When you're a visual effects makeup artist, you tend to get excited about scenes that might make ordinary moviegoers cringe.
"Two of the bigger gags we're doing tomorrow involve a full-body cast," Morrow says, referring to an entire prosthetic body attached to an actor's head. "He's still alive when they capture him and strap him to a table. And he gets carved up while he's still alive. I've never done something like that before."