Cherry Falls (2000)
"Lose your innocence... or lose your life."
A psychotic serial killer that only kills virgins starts a bloodthirsty murder spree at Cherry Falls High School. Deciding to organise a sex party to lose their virginity to avoid becoming the next target, a group of teenagers are unaware that the killer has found out the location.
Famously highlighted in Scream that ‘sex = death’, losing your virginity in a horror film has always been a big no-no, right back to the late 70s and early 80s. It’s one of the core rules of the slasher genre, and one which has rarely been tampered with… until Cherry Falls. It’s a film that ran into the MPAA in America (the censors) who rejected the film numerous times, demanded more cuts and then was unfortunately relegated to becoming a TV movie. Things were better for Cherry Falls overseas and, here in the UK at least, it received a cinematic release. I must have had a slow day because I remember going to the cinema on the afternoon to see Cherry Falls when it was first out. Looking back after re-watching it, it’s disappointing that this was quickly lost in the shuffle amidst the copious amount of Scream wannabes that were released in the late 90s and early 00s.
Cherry Falls is a slasher which has one novelty over the rest – the role reversal of the ‘have sex and die’ - but does little else differently than the swathe of Scream clones. Post-Scream, teen slashers needed to be self-aware to appeal to the ‘hip’ audience otherwise they would appear behind-the-times, and thus Cherry Falls is only too quick to allow the characters to get in on the act of knowing that they need to lose their virginity to survive. It doesn’t make a big deal of it, though it’s inevitable that this self-aware moment is a cue for a lot of awkward sexual innuendo and one-liners from the teenage cast. But in focusing the bulk of the film on this central narrative, too little time is spent on other matters like characters and minor plot threads. Despite the little twist on the tale, there’s literally nothing else that is different here from the likes of Urban Legend or I Know What You Did Last Summer. Director Geoffrey Wright includes all of the usual tropes, from the settings to the camera shots he uses, with the film sometimes drifting a little too far towards becoming a parody due to some of the dialogue.
There’s the usual assortment of red herrings – the sheriff who just so happens to decide to go to West Virginia during the murder spree, a headteacher who harbours a shifty past, a young male teacher who is a little too eager to get to know his female students, a frustrated on-and-off boyfriend. The sad thing here is that, sheriff aside, all of these characters here are too thinly-developed and no matter who is finally revealed as the killer, it’s not as effective and shocking as it could have been. The killer does follow standard procedure such as apparently being in two places at once, having a superhuman ability to withstand damage that would knock down any normal person, and the knack of knowing who to kill and when and where. It is also essential for the killer to wear some form of mask or conceal their identity so as not to be identified by anyone who may survive (or so that the audience can get a good look at them) and the costume here is a bit far-fetched and impractical. I’ve worn wigs as part of a Santa costume every year and there’s no way they stay that perfect after a bit of frenzied activity!
In its defence, Cherry Falls has been cut to shreds by the censors after it was submitted and rejected numerous times to the MPAA in the US. Who knows what the final version looks like in comparison with director Wright’s original edit? It’d be bloodier that’s for sure, as it’s obvious during the kill scenes that something is being held back. What we do get to see of the kills, and it’s not much, is fairly bog-standard stuff but there was clearly a lot more in the tank which was taken out. The ambiguous nature of the killer’s gender is a nice move but it’s hardly a Sleepaway Camp style shock reveal (and given the current climate in 2023, Cherry Falls feels well ahead of the curve). There’s also the blatant issue of the film’s central set piece – a ‘Pop Your Cherry Ball’ where dozens of horny teenagers are having pretty much a big orgy – and hardly any nudity in sight.
The late Brittany Murphy stars in the ‘final girl’ role and she’s likeable enough, with her wide-eyes conveying a nice sense of innocence and naivety in her vulnerable moments. But there’s something different about her to the usual teen heroines which makes her stand out; she doesn't come off as the generic teenager and has a bit of personality. Michael Biehn plays her father/the local sheriff and is the sort of stern adult presence the film needs to anchor some of the more dramatic and serious moments. Biehn gets a fair amount of screen time too, which was pleasing, as the guy is criminally underrated and has been since his double turn in the 80s in The Terminator and Aliens. Those two apart, the rest of the cast is almost invisible such is their minimal screen time. The group of teenagers that make up the friendship group are virtually anonymous and there’s so many kids from the school that get one or two lines to make the orgy at the end make more sense in that everyone is there.
You’ve seen it all before and done better. You’ve also seen it done a lot worse too. Cherry Falls is as routine as they come, save for the twist on the old sub-genre trope, but a lot of that is purely down to the censors, rather than the filmmakers. There was a lot more underneath the surface but it’s been ripped out, leaving a rather tame and neutered remnant.
Director(s): Geoffrey Wright
Writer(s): Ken Seldon
Actor(s): Brittany Murphy, Jay Mohr, Michael Biehn, Jesse Bradford, Candy Clark, Gabriel Mann, Amanda Anka, Joannah Portman
Duration: 92 mins