Brittany MurphyMichael BiehnCandy ClarkKristen Miller
Cherry Falls
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Director: Geoffrey Wright
Writer: Ken Selden
Keywords: horror
Country: USA
Actor: Brittany Murphy, Jay Mohr, Michael Biehn, Jesse Bradford, Candy Clark, Amanda Anka, Joe Inscoe, Gabriel Mann, Natalie Ramsey, Douglas Spain, Bre Blair, Kristen Miller, Michael Weston, Keram Malicki-Sanchez, Joannah Portman, Vicki Davis, Bret McKee, Clementine Ford, Margaret Moister, Michael Goodwin
Format: 92 minutes
Website category: Horror modern
Review date: 18 November 2010
It's okay. It's a bit emasculated, but I quite liked it. As post-Scream slasher movies go, you could do much worse.
There were two fads in world horror cinema around this time. The Asian one had been kick-started by Ringu in 1996 and the feebler Hollywood one by Scream in 1998. The latter can be broadly characterised as self-aware slasher movies that aren't scary, with a cast of pretty TV mannequins. Furthermore they were aimed at the general teen market rather than people who might, you know, like horror films. Of course that's a caricature, but that's how it felt.
Cherry Falls at least has a nifty idea. You know the slasher movie cliche of the good girl being the one who survives, while all her slutty friends die? Well, here they're subverting that. There's a slasher stalking virgins in Cherry Falls, Virginia. If you're pure, you die. If you're a slapper, you live.
I liked this. It lets the film make some barbed jokes and subvert a few received ideas, both in the slasher genre and in the wider context of parent-child relationships. The school principal (Joe Inscoe) wants to stop the teens from having sex even though it'll save their lives, but he's also an ex-rapist. The heroine (Brittany Murphy) describes herself as having allowed her parents to affect her every decision, despite the fact that there's something a little off about both of them. The mother (Candy Clark) is practically flirting with Murphy's boyfriend (Gabriel Mann), while the father (Michael Biehn) could be regarded as perhaps too close to his daughter. The scene that sees them accidentally embracing on the floor together is the startling example. One might try to suggest that all this is the psychological effect of a certain incident from long ago, but whatever the cause, I'm not sure that this is an entirely healthy family. Look also at Murphy's extreme reaction to learning their secret.
That's subtext. More overt are the reactions of the school's teenagers. There's refreshing cynicism from both the boys and the girls, such as for instance in the scene where the class slut gives an extra-curricular sex education lecture to her peers. She's saying that boys don't have a clue, basically. Then the film's final act includes an orgy.
This is reasonably subversive. For starters, it's not exactly standing up for authority figures. This might be why the film had to be submitted five times before the MPAA would lower its NC-17 rating to an R, which is laughable since what remains of the film is weaker than some PGs. Nudity? We're talking milliseconds and none of it's consensual. Gore? Forget about it. Even by the MPAA's standards, what they've done here is a joke. Note that all the girls at the orgy have their bras or shirts on, for instance. The film's been defanged. It's even hard to guess what the original cut must have been like, whereas at least with a Friday the 13th film you know what you're not seeing. The film's themes don't really go anywhere, the whole thing feels disconnected and the result is an unremarkable slasher movie with a few jokes.
It eventually went straight-to-video in the USA, you know. However the director, Geoffrey Wright, was also the Australian behind Romper Stomper. In addition Michael Biehn had been going to turn the film down when he thought it was just another slasher movie, but on being encouraged to read past the script's first fifteen pages he decided he liked its satirical approach to the genre.
There's no excuse, basically. However despite in the end being no more than a mild and undercooked twist on what's still basically another formulaic teen genre flick, what remains is still worth checking out. The Psycho-inspired killer isn't that scary and could have had stronger links to the theme, but there's still some satisfying mental derangement on display. The backstory is good. The film occasionally manages a bit of atmosphere and the teens' behaviour is far more intelligent and interesting than usual for this genre. Their dialogue's worth listening to. It's cynical, pointed and at times bordering on parody of conventional attitudes.
Michael Biehn's the only actor here I'd heard of before and even so I was wondering throughout if that was really him. All his famous James Cameron films are from the 1980s: The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss. He's older and less chiselled now. Candy Clark's a significant name too, I suppose. However I've since discovered that the lead actress, Brittany Murphy (Clueless, Sin City) is perhaps best known now for her death in 2009 at the age of 32. The main cause was pneumonia, but there were also secondary factors of iron-deficiency anemia and intoxication on a cocktail of over-the-counter drugs. Disturbingly, five months later her husband died an almost identical death.
There's one laugh-out-loud kill, though.
To be honest, I'm not convinced that this film was ever that great. I suspect it was always going to be just a mild twist on the usual formulae and I have trouble seeing how the director's cut might have been planning to pull this thematic material together into something truly satisfying. Of course gore and tits are always good and if that director's cut ever surfaces (unlikely), I'll be checking it out. However it ends up feeling like two parallel films, one involving the general teenage peer group and the other involving Brittany Murphy and the truth of what happened all those years ago. Both are pretty good in their way, but the film would have been better had they had more synergy. Story A is the one with all the semi-subversive sex stuff and a few surprisingly sharp scenes, but it's got nothing to do with Story B. Well, maybe the director's cut version of the orgy pulled it all together again. You never know.
I liked it, but I don't know if I'd recommend it. It's probably a seven out of ten. However it's got enough personality and partially realised potential that there are going to be people who fall for it in a big way and decide that it's one of their favourite horror films, which is something you'll never get with the likes of I Know What You Did Last Summer, Valentine, etc. At least it's saying something, anyway. If nothing else, regardless of how successful it is as a slasher movie, I'd say that its attempted intellectual level makes it the most interesting film to come out of that post-Scream wave.