By the time a franchise reaches its fourth instalment it's usually struggling for direction. Fortunately, someone involved with this enterprise has figured out that if you make four turns the same way, you find yourself back where you started from. In this case, that's 1974, in a remote psychiatric hospital. Most of the patients here are disfigured, apparently due to inbreeding. Among them are three children whom fans will recognise as Three Finger, One Eye and Saw Tooth, later to become murderous monsters. Not much later, as it turns out. Things at the hospital are about to go very wrong indeed.

Cut to the present day. Following an indulgent sex scene (perhaps premised on the idea that if we don't care about these people as individuals, lust might inspire us to hope for their survival), a group of bright-eyed young twentysomethings set off on a trip to a remote cabin. Should they wait until the next day to avoid that impending snowstorm? one asks. Of course, they don't. Of course they get into trouble. And of course they find themselves taking refuge in that psychiatric hospital, now apparently abandoned.

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With a large cast, the film can't afford to waste any time whittling it down. Nevertheless, it benefits from early scenes that get us used to the location and the groups dynamic before the killing starts. Sadly, there is less time available to build character, and although all the young actors are spunky and competent, they're somewhat homogeneous. I found myself having to tell some of them apart by their pullovers. Only two really stand out - Tenika Davis as the quiet one whose steeliness builds in the background whilst the others squeal and flap; and Dean Armstrong as the sullen one who goes against his better judgement and regrets it.

The plus side of the death count in this film is that it never gets slow. Yes, parts of it are repetitive, but it's well-paced overall. It also delivers well on gore. One particular scene, in a kitchen, is liable to go down in horror history. It's a shame that many of its other killings, though spectacularly delivered, are lifted from other films. Slasher movie fans tend to know their stuff and be particularly demanding when it comes to innovation, so may well be disappinted by this. The quality of the technical work is also very variable, perhaps due to the demands of a tight shoot. An early killing, in the Seventies segment, is anatomically well informed and impressively shot. A later beheading is patched together with dodgy CGI and doesn't have anything like the same impact.

Overall, this is a patchy affair. There's some superb work in the first section that lifts expectations a little too high. Some stunts are beautifully worked out, only to be followed up by stupid ones. Playfully cheesy lines and an affectionate regard to the monstrous killers do much to redeem the film's weaknesses, but there's still too much time spent on running about and going through the motions, the slasher A to Z. If you loved the other films in the series then you'll probably find this makes for an enjoyable night, but having gone back to the beginning, it feels as if we've been here before.

Reviewed on: 21 Aug 2012
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The origins of the franchise's cannibal family are explored in a story that sees a fresh group of young people seek shelter in the worst possible place.
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Director: Declan O'Brien

Writer: Declan O'Brien, Alan B. McElroy

Starring: Sean Skene, Blane Cypurda, Dan Skene, Tristan Carlucci, Scott Johnson, Bryan Verot, Jennifer Pudavick, Tenika Davis, Kaitlyn Leeb, Terra Vnesa, Victor Zinck Jr., Dean Armstrong, Ali Tataryn, Samantha Kendrick, Arne MacPherson

Year: 2011

Runtime: 93 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US, Germany


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