Welcome to Arrow in the Head’s The Best Horror Movie You Never Saw, which will be dedicated to highlighting horror films that, for one reason or another, don’t get as much love as we think they should. We know plenty of you horror hounds out there will have seen many of the movies we pick, but there will be plenty of you who have not. This column is for all of you!
This week we take a look at Geoffrey Wright’s slasher CHERRY FALLS (OWN IT HERE) starring Brittany Murphy, Michael Biehn, Gabriel Mann and Jay Mohr!
THE STORY: Kids are getting killed in the small town of Cherry Falls, but for once it’s not the sexually-adventurous teens being knocked off for their sins: it’s the virgins. As the town’s high schoolers plan an orgy to make sure they’re not next on the kill list, Jody and her sheriff father find out the meaning behind the murders.
THE HISTORY: In 1998, Australian director Geoffrey Wright (Romper Stomper) was hired by October Films to helm Ken Selden’s satirical horror script CHERRY FALLS. While the script remained mostly unchanged during the course of filming, Wright lent the film an intenser edge than the screenplay had, ditching a comedic vibe in favor of a more serious tone. While intended to be a theatrical release, the film found itself under intense scrutiny from the MPAA, which deemed it too violent and sexually suggestive. At the same time, violence in movies was a major focus of the U.S. Senate (this was a year after Columbine), which made CHERRY FALLS a likely target as it was just about to be released (by new distributor USA Films). Rather than invite negative press, the distributor decided to release the film in the states as a TV movie, although it was released theatrically overseas.
WHY IT’S GREAT: The late 90s and early 2000s saw theaters inundated with teen-slashers hoping to capitalize on the mega success of SCREAM. Like when the 80s saw a tidal wave of thrillers inspired by FRIDAY THE 13th and HALLOWEEN, but these flicks were savvier, more prone to be self-referential, starring whoever the flavors of the month were (usually people in their mid-to-late 20s in lieu of actual teenagers). Most of them were gimmicky, touting a villain with a very specific fashion sense and elaborate motive, and plenty them wound up being disposable, or at the very least, uninspired. CHERRY FALLS might well be considered by some to be just another one of those unexceptional wannabes, and since it never received a proper release in the states, it is one of the more obscure of Slasher Invasion 2.0’s efforts, but a closer look reveals a movie much darker and insightful than most of its brethren.
Though frequently billed as a comedy-horror flick, CHERRY FALLS is actually more or less straightforward in its atmosphere and approach, with a handful of disturbing moments and a surprising frankness about teenage sexuality. If you’re looking for the meta wink-wink satire of the SCREAM movies, you’ll be wondering where it is while the film digs into its creepy premise. Starting with the novel idea to make the killer obsessed with offing virgins, not the usual asking-for-it promiscuous guys and gals, CHERRY FALLS is a lot more provocative in its depiction of kids dealing with their hormones than SCREAM, or any of its many imitators, ever were. In fact, the idea of having a giant teen orgy in a major motion picture is still startling. (Add to that the fact the sequence was apparently much racier in Wright’s original cut than what was ultimately released.) There’s also some seriously disturbing material here, from the uncomfortably touchy-feely relationship between Final Girl Jody (Brittany Murphy) and her dad (Michael Biehn) to the killer’s origin story (complete with very nasty flashback), this movie treads on some eyebrow-raising ground. (When dad asks Jody if she’s gone “all the way” and is disappointed to find she hasn’t? Yeesh.) Let’s put it this way: you can probably watch some of those other slashers with your folks and younger siblings and have a laugh; CHERRY FALLS is not meant to be enjoyed by the whole family.
Of course, there’s an additional layer of melancholy to watching CHERRY FALLS now; as star Brittany Murphy sadly passed away some years ago. This movie reminds you that she was a considerably talented actress, here giving a performance that’s full-blooded and frequently unrestrained. She’s got a great face for a horror movie, with those large eyes and pouting lips, and she and the screenplay by Selden ensure Jody is a fairly believable young woman and not just a Sidney Prescott ripoff. And though the relationship between Jody and her father is a little… odd (seriously, I can’t be the only one seeing this), it adds a necessary dimension to the overall story – especially when we find out some of the sheriff’s very dark secrets. Biehn is solid in the role, and the rest of the cast is very dependable. (The person who plays the killer – won’t spoil it here – is especially entertaining to watch, and rather freaky. It could have been a goofy reveal, and certainly there is some amusement to be found when we see them in all their twisted glory, but Wright and the actor manage to make the character wonderfully bizarre.)
It’s not going to be remembered as one of the all time great horror movies, and its still not a go-to for a lot of people, but CHERRY FALLS deserves its day in the sun for those who’ve always written it off, or the folks out there who saw it once and forgot about it. It’s a surprisingly warped treat that might make your skin crawl a little more than you were prepared for.
BEST SCENE: Even though it was cut up, the orgy sequence – where our killer slices and dices panicked teens as they run around sans clothes – is a ghoulishly amusing scene. Props go to the film’s opening as well, which is a little more unforgiving than your average opening kill sequence.
WHERE TO WATCH: CHERRY FALLS was released on Blu-ray via Scream Factory a few years ago, although unfortunately it does not include all of the cut violence that Wright’s original version contained. Hopefully some time down the line (maybe 2020, the film’s 20th anniversary?) we’ll get to see the film as was originally intended.
PARTING SHOT: CHERRY FALLS is a perverse, wicked little thriller that’s about ten times better than you think it’s going to be. Boasting strong performances from its leads and a handful of killer sequences – not to mention one really messed-up villain – this movie needs to be given its due. Be warned: It won’t be gentle, even if it is your first time.