“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 rather 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 said, 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.
That 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-Ray 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 Wright’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.