WRONG TURN — * — Desmond Harrington, Eliza Dushku, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Jeremy Sisto, Lindy Booth, Kevin Zegers; rated R (violence, gore, profanity, drug use, vulgarity, brief sex); Carmike 12 and Ritz 15 Theaters; Century Theatres 16; Cinemark Jordan Landing Theaters; Megaplex 12 at The Gateway; Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons.And to think that Eliza Dushku put her burgeoning TV career on hold to concentrate on her burgeoning movie career. . . .

The raven-haired co-star of TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" became something of a hot commodity, especially after a co-starring role in 2000's "Bring It On." But since then, she's appeared in a string of flops, with the low point being "Wrong Turn."

This horror-thriller — a nearly humorless cobbling of the "Deliverance" creepy hillbilly vibe, along with suspense-thrillers ranging from "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" to "Joy Ride" — is more akin to one of those ultra-low-budget schlocky movies made by Lloyd Kaufman's Troma Films (the "Toxic Avenger" flicks). However, unlike those self-aware flicks, this one's oblivious to how mind-numbingly awful it is.

The film's title refers to a boneheaded driving maneuver pulled by Chris Flynn (Desmond Harrington), who grows impatient by highway delays in West Virginia. He pulls onto a dirt road and promptly smashes into a broken-down vehicle with tough-talking Carly (Dushku) and four friends. As it turns out, their vehicle mishaps were caused by a trio of cannibalistic mountain men, who are set on making the unlucky twentysomethings their next meal. Or perhaps their six-months supply.

The film is ludicrous and poorly directed, and the cast appears to be looking for the exit (especially Dushku and Jeremy Sisto, who deserve better).

Also, it should be noted that the stomach-churning makeup and gore are provided by Stan Winston's company, which was once an industry leader in effects. Judging by the results here, it's no wonder studios are turning to digital effects these days.

"Wrong Turn" is rated R for violence (including scenes of butchering, arrow fire, stabbings and explosive mayhem), graphic gore, occasional use of strong sex-related profanity, simulated drug use (marijuana), use of crude sexual slang terms and brief sexual contact. Running time: 84 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com