NOVEMBER 23, 2012
As one of the few current defenders of post-Scream slashers (well, at least of the two by Jamie Blanks), it's just as surprising to me as it is to you that I've never seen Cherry Falls, which was ALSO directed by an Australian! The film's fate is mostly to blame; it never got a theatrical release in the US, premiering on basic cable and dumped to DVD with another cable movie called Terror Tract (tomorrow's HMAD), which is now out of print to boot. But a visit to the home (and DVD shelf) of my good friend Rob G (of Icons Of Fright fame) yielded a week's worth of HMAD-ready entries, including this poor, orphaned slasher flick. Was it worth the wait?
Yeah, I guess. I didn't love it or anything, but it's a perfectly decent slasher, aided by one of the weirdest Final Girls in genre history (Brittany Murphy) and the always enjoyable Michael Biehn as her dad, also the sheriff. I was never crazy about Jay Mohr (Walken impression aside), but having him in a serious role is the lesser of two evils, I suppose - it's better to find it impossible to take someone serious than it is to constantly roll your eyes at lame attempts at humor. And as with any slasher of the period, you can enjoy a few familiar faces in early roles: DJ Qualls has a nearly wordless bit part as a shy virgin, my boy Nolan Ross from Revenge (aka Gabriel Mann) plays Murphy's boyfriend, and in the movie's "Drew Barrymore" role: Jesse Bradford, who (like Barrymore) has successfully transitioned from child actor to adult (he's the lead on Guys With Kids). Zachary Knighton from The Hitcher remake (respect) is in there somewhere too, but I didn't spot him.
Back to Murphy, seriously - her character and her relationship with her dad are more interesting (even creepier) than the slasher plot. She's very spastic; given Murphy's young death I feel bad for saying so, but she basically acts stoned for most of the movie, like she took some E and then drank a Red Bull or three. She comes home from school and makes weird sounds and then "eskimo kisses" her mother, all but asks her teacher (Mohr) to take her right there on his desk, and basically acts more like the "spunky" friend than the lead. I guess this is supposed to be one of the film's attempts at playing with the sub-genre's "rules", but it doesn't come across that way - it just looks like she's nuts. And when Biehn realizes that the killer is targeting virgins and thus asks her if she's ever gone all the way, she says no and then says "Are you disappointed I'm not a virgin?" What kind of dad (especially one played by a hardass like Biehn) would be DISAPPOINTED that his little girl hadn't been deflowered? He also teaches her some self-defense moves that result in him rolling around on top of her for a bit longer than necessary. I dunno, it's weird.
As for the killer plot... it's funny, I had the identity spoiled for me years ago, but as I watched it I realized there was nothing TO spoil - excepting a really confusing, go-nowhere scene where a guy walks into the police station ranting and raving that he's the killer, the movie doesn't bother offering a single red herring, limiting the suspects to exactly one (unless you assume there are two killers, but after Scream no one else ever tried that in fear of being labeled even MORE of a knockoff). Murphy is attacked after finding a fresh corpse during a scene where most of the cast is accounted for at a town meeting, and her boyfriend (the one exception of note since none of the other students are prominent enough to qualify as a candidate) is on a date with her at the same time Bradford is killed. I won't say who that leaves, but even if you somehow missed it, he reveals himself with a shrug pretty much at the top of the 3rd act, making me wonder why they even bothered trying to establish it as a whodunit.
The plotting of the "Fuck Fest" also felt a bit lacking. Basically, word gets out that the killer is after virgins, so all of them gather at an out of the way farmhouse to basically have an orgy (after some dancing and partner selection). I was hoping that this would be used in the same way as Stu's house party in Scream, where a chunk of the kids leave for whatever reason and the prominent ones stay behind for some fast paced slasher action, but most of the finale occurs at the killer's house, as he explains his motives, how Biehn factored into it, etc. Then Mann shows up, there's some scuffling... long story short, by the time anyone gets to the orgy, there's only like 10 minutes of the movie left including credits, so the killer just sort of anonymously slashes away as he runs through trying to get to Murphy/Mann, but doesn't seem to kill too many, if any (a brief epilogue shows most of the recognizable faces still alive). So like Scream 4's "Stab-A-Thon", they set up this goldmine of potential carnage, but botch it by setting most of the action somewhere else. There's a fine line between circumventing expectations and simply screwing up - this section is clearly the latter. I understand the MPAA had their way with the sequence, but it doesn't change the fact that the bulk of the time it's going on, our principal characters are off in a different location entirely.
The backstory is good though; it admirably blends a crime worthy of the punishment being dished out (instead of, say, "You're more famous than me, Sidney, and it makes me mad!") and ties into the MO as well. The guise is kind of goofy, but in a way it sort of harkens back to 1960s horror, as it's a flesh and blood person dressing in a way that makes the people who see it think they are seeing a ghost. I found that kind of charming, and kudos to the actor for keeping it on for the finale (albeit without the face obscured) - I'm sure it wasn't the most flattering moment of his career to spend a reel of a movie running around in a wig and wearing lipstick. On that note, I couldn't help but wonder if the mask-less disguise (the face is just covered by shadows and the long hair) is what kept the movie from having too many slasher scenes and/or why he was revealed so casually - it must have been difficult to come up with sequences that would work without making it too obvious who the killer was. In fact there are really only two in the movie, plus a chase. Another victim is killed off-screen entirely, and by the time anything else happens he's already been revealed.
It's not hard to see why it never got a theatrical release; by the time it was finished (late 1999) the new slasher cycle was already dying down, and it lacked the starpower or gloss of the studio productions. In fact, had I not known of its history, I would have assumed it WAS a cable movie that had some R rated bits thrown in for foreign release - it feels small and cramped, with few exteriors of note and an abundance of long scenes that take place in bland locales (offices, Murphy's home, etc). It also ends on what may be the cheesiest digital effect of all time, which must have been the final nail in its coffin. Sure, it deserved a better fate than being dumped to USA, but some of its ideas deserved better execution as well.
What say you?