Have sex and die”: right or wrong, most cineast­es con­sid­er this to be the moral­i­ty of the slash­er film.  Cherry Falls cre­at­ed a stir in the run-up to its release by sug­gest­ing a rever­sal of this con­cept in which the killer sought out vir­gins and left the over­sexed teens alone.  However, the film ran into a lot of trou­ble with the MPAA that result­ed in all of its nudi­ty and gore being clipped and the film being uncer­e­mo­ni­ous­ly dumped on home video CherrF-blurather than play­ing the­aters.  The film that sur­vived that chaos is inter­est­ing but not quite as clev­er as it premise sug­gests it could be.

Cherry Falls is set in the tit­u­lar town, which is rocked by a sud­den string of mur­ders tar­get­ing teenagers.  The one thing the vic­tims have in com­mon: they were vir­gins.  Sheriff Marken (Michael Biehn) tries to track down the killer while his vir­ginal daugh­ter Jody (Brittany Murphy) becomes fix­at­ed on how the killings might tie in to a past tragedy that her moth­er Marge (Candy Clark) doesn’t want to dis­cuss.  Meanwhile, the town’s teens are plan­ning a mas­sive de-vir­giniza­tion par­ty — and the closer Jody gets to the mys­tery, the greater the dan­ger for her becomes.

First things first: the dras­tic last-min­ute cut­ting of Cherry Falls unde­ni­ably blunts the film­mak­ers’ inten­tions.  Director Geoffrey Wright admit­ted that he went all-out with the vio­lence and sex and the MPAA-imposed edit­ing makes a hash of it, oblit­er­at­ing the vio­lence in a series of flash-cuts and remov­ing any trace of nudi­ty alto­geth­er.  Wright still stages some impres­sive stalk­ing sequences that are stun­ning­ly mus­cu­lar and bru­tal — Jody is the rare final girl who puts up a vicious fight again­st the killer — but the shocks in the movie often feel like jokes that have had their punch­li­nes neutered.

That CherrF-01said, Cherry Falls suf­fers from a deep­er, more mean­ing­ful issue: it coasts on its premise instead of work­ing out all its poten­tial angles.  Once the “vir­gin­i­ty = death” equa­tion is intro­duced, Ken Selden’s script quick­ly throws it over for an all-too-famil­iar bar­rage of stalk ‘n’ slash set­pieces and a par­ents-with-hid­den-secrets mys­tery plot right out of the first Nightmare On Elm Street.  A lot of the stuff with the teens is deriv­a­tive of Scream, right down to sub-Kevin Williamson quip­ping in the ear­ly high school sce­nes.

This is a shame because there are occa­sion­al moments that sug­gest the treat­ment of the con­cept that could have been.  For instance, there’s a fun scene where the school’s res­i­dent man-eater instructs a group of vir­gins on how sex works and there’s an amaz­ing scene where Murphy turns the tables on her sex-hun­gry boyfriend, which leads to them switch­ing the roles in their preda­tor-and-prey pow­er rela­tion­ship.  If the script had more sce­nes like this and less of the stock slash­er movie beats, it could have been some­thing spe­cial — even with­out the sex and blood.

CherrF-02That said, the craft of the film makes it watch­able.  Wright nev­er quite nails the mix of humor and hor­ror but his pac­ing and visu­al sense keep the nar­ra­tive on track.  The film’s best ele­ment is the cast: Biehn does solid work in the film’s most pure­ly dra­mat­ic role, Clark brings a like­ably quirky edge to an under­writ­ten mom role and — best of all — Murphy is fan­tas­tic as the hero­ine.  She brings a warmth and vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty that you don’t often see in this kind of film and she han­dles the scream queen mate­ri­al with an inten­si­ty and com­mit­ment that hor­ror fans will appre­ci­ate.

In short, Cherry Falls isn’t the lost clas­sic that slash­er buffs might want it to be — but it’s an inter­est­ing mis­fire with a bet­ter cast and more promis­ing ideas that you usu­al­ly get from post–Scream slash­er flicks.

Blu-RaCherrF-03y Notes: This title recent­ly made its blu-ray debut via a new disc from Scream Factory.  The trans­fer does well by the film’s dis­tinct­ly late-‘90s visu­al style, using its high-def bump to bring out the woodsy col­or scheme and the shad­owy details in the fre­quent night pho­tog­ra­phy. Both 5.1 and 2.0 stereo mix­es are includ­ed: the 5.1 was used for this write-up and it’s got plen­ty of mul­ti-speak­er activ­i­ty with­out over­do­ing it.

There is also a nice lit­tle set of extras. The first is a new com­men­tary track from direc­tor Wright.  He light­ly touch­es on studio/financial  issues impact­ed the pro­duc­tion and the has­sle of hav­ing the sex and vio­lence so bru­tal­ly cut by the MPAA but the track doesn’t have the bit­ter­ness you might expect.  Instead, he talks about the chal­lenges of shoot­ing on loca­tion in Virginia and offers up fond mem­o­ries of his cast mem­bers, par­tic­u­lar­ly Murphy.

Next are a cou­ple of fea­turettes.  “Love It Or Die” (24:30) fea­tures Selden and pro­duc­er Marshall Persinger talk­ing about the film’s con­cep­tion-to-final-film life cycle, with some inter­est­ing mate­ri­al on how it start­ed as Rogue Pictures’ pres­ti­gious 1st project and ulti­mate­ly end­ed up being aban­doned on video.  Amanda Anka, who plays a deputy in the film, shows up for an inter­view (7:40) in which she speaks lov­ing­ly of the expe­ri­ence.  She pays homage to CherrF-04Wright’s skills and offers up mem­o­ries of her cast­mates.

Additional behind-the-sce­nes mate­ri­al is also includ­ed: “vin­tage inter­views” (6:30) offers up EPK sound­bites from Murphy, Biehn, Wright and Mohr while “behind the sce­nes footage” (4:32) has some inter­est­ing footage of how one of the big stalk­ing sce­nes was filmed.  A pro­duc­tion draft of the script is includ­ed in BD-ROM form and the orig­i­nal the­atri­cal trail­er com­pletes the pack­age.