In the small town of Cherry Falls a psychotic murderer is killing off the virgins of the local high school.
Brittany Murphy, Michael Biehn, Jay Mohr
“Hail, Hail Virgin High! Drop your pants, it’s fuck or die!” – Cherry Falls Quote
On March 29th, Scream Factory (the horror arm of Shout! Factory) thrilled horror fans by releasing the Blu-ray debut of the teen slasher send-up Cherry Falls. The movie’s troubled release history, and the fact that a previous DVD release has long gone out of print, gave Cherry Falls “Lost Film” status, making its reissue especially exciting.
As I explained in an article last month: The story of a serial killer who only kills virgins, leading a town’s teens to throw a “Pop Your Cherry” party. That never sat well with the censors back in 1999; repeated demands for cuts were merciless, leading theater chains to fear its ability to fill seats. Eventually, Cherry Falls was sold to the USA network shredded into something appropriate for basic cable audiences; it aired on July 29, 2000. The R-rated version (that was never released theatrically) eventually made its way to DVD on a double feature disc sold with Terror Tract (2000).
Fans of 1990’s and early 21st Century horror should consider Cherry Falls a must-see; like Wes Craven’s seminal Scream franchise, director Geoffrey Wright, and writer Ken Selden deliver a deliberate upending of traditional genre tropes, specifically the long-established connection between promiscuity and death in slasher films. Usually, sluts are the first to go while virgins are almost guaranteed “Final Girl” status; in Cherry Falls, however, those who say “No” are the first to go!
Poor Annette Duwald (played by Clementine Ford) for example, “thinks fellatio is a character in Shakespeare.” Apparently, she doesn’t last long.
Like the Scream franchise, Cherry Falls is also reminiscent of a slew of high school-centric horror offerings like The Faculty, The Craft, Prom Night, Carrie, and the Final Destination series. What sets Cherry Falls apart, naturally, is raunchy humor more often associated with movies like American Pie and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. A film that culminates in a teenage orgy (a “Hymen Holocaust”) still carries considerable shock-value, even 15+ years after its creation.
In Cherry Falls, unabashed teenage sex is more than just a marketing gimmick; the filmmakers are directly challenging antiquated notions of virginity as something valuable, something to be cherished, a status symbol even. Virginity doesn’t make one woman inherently superior to another, and the idea that a psychopath would concern him-or-herself with sexual status is ludicrous. (Isn’t Jason Voorhees, for example, just as determined to kills virgins as he is fornicators?) The message is, perhaps, that virginity will not protect you from the evils of the world, and while precautions must always be taken, sex isn’t likely to kill anyone.
But Cherry Falls isn’t all fun and games; there’s a dark side that emerges in the 3rd Act, wherein the filmmakers explore societal double standards surrounding female vs. male sexuality. There’s a heart-wrenching flashback that’s tragically reminiscent of the highly-publicized sexual assault of a young woman by members of her high school football team in Steubenville, OH back in 2012. Viewers with sensitive triggers regarding depictions of rape should probably steer clear.
Brittany Murphy carries the film as endangered-virgin Jody Marken, utilizing her talents as both a comedic and dramatic actress. Cherry Falls highlights Murphy’s versatility in a way that makes her untimely passing in 2009 (at the age of 32) especially heartbreaking. There’s great chemistry between Murphy and Michael Biehn who plays her father and town sheriff, Brent Marken; a scene where Biehn attempts to convince his daughter to “go further” with her horny boyfriend is excruciatingly uncomfortable and intensely hilarious. Biehn is hardly your stereotypical “useless police officer”; Sheriff Marken is a character with incredible depth. Jay Mohr is another standout for his portrayal of Leonard Marliston, a high school literature teacher who’s bumbling and just slightly sleazy.
In spite of its adult themes, Cherry Falls represents a simpler era in horror filmmaker, a time before the events of 9/11 completely changed the way we perceive and process fear and danger; in this sense, the movie has a genuinely nostalgic feel. At the same time, the complex issues buried in the subtext are just as relevant today as they ever were. For these reasons, Cherry Falls can be appreciated on a surface level as an irreverent romp while also encouraging deeper exploration of gender roles and sexual expectations of society in general.
Parents of teenage girls may find Cherry Falls exceptionally nightmarish! Lock up your daughters!