Cherry Falls (2000) [Blu-ray review]

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2016-03-29 02:52

Cherry Falls (2000)
Studio: Scream Factory
Release date: March 29th, 2016

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)

The movie:

Cherry Falls has a clever hook (or entry point, if you will) in that it’s a slasher that aims to rewire the sex-and-death dynamics of the genre: in this one, virginity is condemnation rather than salvation, a crafty twist that theoretically preys on teenage anxieties surrounding sex. At that age, it only feels like death when your hormones and peers conspire to turn sex into the most important thing imaginable. (Or at least that’s what the movies seem to say; honestly, I was more obsessed with books, professional wrestling, 90s alt-rock, and gory horror movies—I was a real catch, let me tell you).

By literalizing the life-or-death angst surrounding sex, Cherry Falls seemingly positions itself as a self-aware genre disrupter—at least until it reveals itself as more of a smartass provocateur that never quite reveals much thought beyond its pitch. It postures as if it’s Scream but ultimately stumbles about like any other brain-dead slasher, wildly hacking at hordes of teenagers—and that’s okay.

But you do sense the film was aiming for something more with its tongue-in-cheek approach, which is on display early during a prologue that seems to be directly inspired by Scream. Two teenagers make out in a car, one of them (Jesse Bradford) with a familiar enough face that you might expect him to be a major character, much like Drew Barrymore in Craven’s film. Instead, he and his date are swiftly murdered, much to the dismay of sheriff Brent Marken (Michael Biehn), whose idyllic hometown of Cherry Falls is supposed to be immune to such violence. When even more victims begin to turn up, an alarming—if not amusing—trend emerges: all of the deceased appear to be virgins, a revelation that spreads mass hysteria to a teenage population that really doesn’t need more reasons to want to fuck.

Once Cherry Falls reveals this punchline about 30 minutes into the proceedings, it feels like it’s peaked, if only because it’s never quite sure what to do with its upended premise. Reading more like the pitch of a stoner, the concept is less a wry commentary on the genre (or even teenage sexuality) and more a launching point for a lightweight de Palma riff on this particular strand of millennium-era slasher movies. Between its slick direction and cast of familiar faces (the trio of Brittany Murphy, Jay Mohr, & D.J Qualls date this more heavily than the awful frosted-tip hairstyles), it’s easy to peg as yet another knock-off trying to cash in on Scream and its ilk (not that there would be anything wrong with that, not after dozens and dozens of slashers did the same thing a decade earlier attempting to capitalize on Halloween and Friday the 13th).

Besides its clever, unusual motivation for its killer, Cherry Falls stands apart from the pack due to its relatively elegant direction and its occasional oddball sensibilities. Geoffrey Wright (about eight years removed from Romper Stomper) opts to create suspense through prowling camerawork before staging some gory jolts. Cherry Falls isn’t the sort of slasher you watch to revel in the inventive kill sequences since most of the effects are confined to the gory aftermath of characters discovering a mangled corpse. It’s a fair approach that lends itself to some fun stalking sequences, particularly one set in the halls of the high school that climaxes with an unexpected, grisly payoff. Wright’s commitment to such restraint is commendable unless you’re a gorehound, in which case the film might read as a little dry.

But what it lacks in over-the-top bloodshed, it makes up for with its oddball sensibilities. If there’s one aspect of the film I may have underestimated a couple of years back, it’s the sly humor. While it doesn’t have the same sharp bite as Scream (nor is it deployed in any satirical manner at all), it gives off a faint whiff of self-awareness that allows you to go with its wilder moments. Some subtly weird moments—such as Biehn asking his on-screen daughter (Murphy) if she’s still a virgin, or their oddly intimate self-defense training session—lay the groundwork for the unhinged climax that sees the killer (whose identity is like “Roy in Friday the 13th V” obvious) hacking up an orgy organized by the student body. In a sequence that practically has the audience mainline a pure strain of slasher movie, body parts are scattered about, some of them eventually serving as impromptu clothing accessories. Cherry Falls might not have much to say, but it’s a silly enough class clown that’s really committed to goofing off.

Wright doesn’t get too carried away, though, as Cherry Falls is anchored by Murphy’s vulnerable but plucky performance and an unexpectedly poignant backstory that targets an insidious rape culture. Murphy makes for one of the more awkward final girls ever, her nervous energy serving as something of a source for the film’s quirky verve. Something about her feels just left-of-center, and so it is with Cherry Falls, a film that glides from revealing the awful truth about its hero sheriff’s complicity during a sexual assault to an unhinged killer wildly falling about, dishing out corny one-liners with every swing of his axe.

Somewhere along the way, it captures the spirit of the delightfully dumb slashers from days gone by, its pretenses all but shed once its brand of humor devolves into the camera zooming in on the word “erected” as teenagers spill out of school, eagerly looking to lose their virginity in a bacchanalian splatter movie scene. That it doesn't quite live up to the hype seems appropriate, all things considered.

The disc:

One might assume that Cherry Falls sort of fell between the slasher cracks because the genre was already on its way out (again) around the turn of the century, but the truth actually involves studio politics. Thanks to Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray release, some light has been shed on the film’s fate. Much of it is illuminated in “Lose it or Die: The Untold Story of Cherry Falls,” a newly-produced 25-minute retrospective featuring screenwriter Ken Selden and producer Marshall Persinger. The duo’s recollections chart the film’s trajectory, from its concept (Selden really wanted to write a teenage orgy scene, something he reiterates more than once) to its production. Some juicy anecdotes are plucked from the interim, including the revelation that the producers actually sent the script to David Lynch, who “politely passed.”

We laugh at that sort of audacity now, but Selden and Persinger strongly hint that the final product was compromised in more ways than one. Without throwing anyone under the bus, they discuss how Wright simply had a different vision for the film, one that perhaps wasn’t as attuned to Selden’s satirical wavelength; instead, he (I shit you not) wanted to shoot Cherry Falls as if it were Vertigo (which I suppose explains how the film feels like a third-generation Xerox of de Palma). Furthermore, a rushed production resulted in some scenes being dropped altogether, and this was before the MPAA hacked the film down even further, thus explaining the relative lack of gore (it turns out Wright only wanted to keep things restrained until the balls-out finale).

If all this weren’t enough, the original studio was acquired by USA Films, relegating the film to TV movie status (though, to be fair, it is among the most expensive TV movies ever made) and cementing its pseudo-obscurity. Unfortunately, this means any excised material is lost, so fans can only compare the original screenplay (included on the Blu-ray disc) to the final movie, which, while fun, feels like a shade of what could have been. I don’t know if Cherry Falls would be considered an unsung treasure of the era, but it probably would have had a better chance in an uncompromised form.

Whatever fans it does have can at least take heart that it’s readily available again: the old DVD double feature (that paired it with Terror Tract) is long out-of-print, so this is a welcome release, if only for that reason. In addition to the 25-minute retrospective, the disc also includes a recent interview with star Amanda Anka, an audio commentary with Wright, some vintage interviews and behind-the-scenes material, and the film’s trailer. One almost wonders why Cherry Falls wasn’t paired with Disturbing Behavior to form a teen angst double feature disc, though I suppose it’s cool that Scream Factory is even bothering with these sort of “warts and all” type films that I may not have given a second look otherwise. I just wish Cherry Falls would have revealed something a little more the second time around, but I guess it’s fitting that a movie with this premise gave it up as quickly as possible.
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