Geoffrey Wright’s film Cherry Falls released around the height of the slasher film resurgence in 2000, joined by a bevy of other films designed to circumvent the established tropes of the subgenre like Scream (1996) and its sequels. There are fans that fondly remember Cherry Falls as a tongue-in-cheek reversal of the normal themes about sex that slashers so often carried, but it’s also a film that fell through the cracks due to some behind-the-scenes film edits and a poor release (planned for theatrical but eventually aired as a television movie on USA). It didn’t help that, in 2000, the satirical content felt less original, overshadowed by Craven’s work.
Still, it’s interesting to take a trip back to Cherry Falls with Scream Factory’s Blu-Ray release. This is the theatrical R-rated cut of the film, so some of the more violent/risque elements are available (as with the previous DVD release), and it’s probably the only version that will ever surface because the MPAA cuts have been lost. The fact that Cherry Falls – a film that is by definition explicitly about sexuality and the implications of keeping that topic barred to bedroom talk and whisperings – was cut for its depictions of sex is hilariously ironic, another example of stifled bureaucrats telling the public that sex is only appropriate in private, or maybe in the neon-tinged rooms of a strip club. Those edits now seem to be indicative of every message Cherry Falls conveys, and works in its favor.
The film centralizes on Cherry Falls – yes, a little heavy-handed courtesy of screenwriter Ken Selden – a small town with a big serial killer problem after a few teens wind up murdered because of their virginity, with the word “virgin” carved into their legs. Jody (Brittany Murphy) is our final girl, a dark, quiet, and reserved teen who also happens to be the daughter of Sheriff Brent Marken (Michael Biehn), chief investigator. Jody’s virginity becomes a focus in the film, not only from her boyfriend Kenny (Gabriel Mann) but from her father as well; but Wright’s plot also includes memorable scenes of an entire town of virgins attempting to survive the serial slashings by scheduling a “Pop Your Cherry Party” to take them out of the victim pool.
Selden’s script is entirely tongue-in-cheek – and I mean that figuratively and sometimes literally – from the opening moments of the film, and there’s a fascination with the virginity of high school teenagers that at first seems a bit disconcerting. But as Cherry Falls progresses, it’s clear that Wright is making a statement about adult reluctance to talk about sexuality; the school principal Tom Sisler (Joe Inscoe) is worried about a “fuck fest,” and the kids’ parents take offense to notifying their children that the murders are sexually motivated. The teens, however, hold educational meetings to learn about sex from peers who have experienced it so that they can be prepared before the killer strikes again; those that were once labeled “whores” are now instructors, prepping others to pop their cherries before someone pops their blood vessels.
Wright highlights that stigma about sex, a topic that most are uncomfortable talking about. In doing so, he makes Cherry Falls into a comedy of errors, showing the effects that a lack of sexual education can have. Ultimately, Cherry Falls is stretching that realism to the breaking point – losing virginity becomes a weapon against evil, a reversal from slasher film’s normal warning that sex kills, and Wright sets up a ridiculous teen orgy opportunity that rightfully should scare parents. But the intent is to show how stupid it is to refrain from discussing sex, especially with consenting young adults. Cherry Falls‘ most effective moments, like the horrible rape that sets the killings in motion, paint the film as a cautionary tale.
But it’s also a comment on how society tells us to value virginity as some sort of holy sacrifice. In Cherry Falls, it literally becomes heralded; in reality, the event is less life-changing than it initially seems. Wright effectively explores these details while also poking fun – Jody, often reserved, reveals she has a much kinkier side to her sexuality, enjoying domination and pain. It feels like there’s more to be told here, both with her fetishes and the suggestive relationship she has with her parents, but it’s possible those were portions that got cut from the final release.
Cherry Falls isn’t always successful, and there are those moments that feel edited together in odd direction. That’s as much to do with the poor choice of cuts as it is to do with the film itself, and it’s unfortunate that the edited scenes are unavailable for restoration. As such, Cherry Falls is a series of ups and downs, at times very successful and then falling into generic plot holes of the slasher genre (the reveal of its killer, for one, is kind of a let-down). Still, it’s quite entertaining all the same, and Wright is often trying very hard to go against the norms of viewer expectations. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly a fun time – a description similar to many people’s first experience with sex.
Cherry Falls is presented on Blu-Ray in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio with the same cut that was released to DVD. The transfer looks good, with no film issues to speak of; however, blacks and dark scenes sometimes lose their definition, and I would have liked the contrast to be a little lighter. Still, not a bad-looking image at all, and those gripes aren’t going to affect viewing experience.
As for audio, the disc comes with both a 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD master audio track. For my watch, I used the 5.1 surround sound, and it really sounds great. Cherry Falls effectively uses the surround and bass to create atmosphere, and I recommend using this option if you can. Dialogue is crisp and clear.
Cherry Falls gets some special treatment from Scream Factory on this Blu-Ray, with new cover artwork created for this release and a full-color interior photo. The disc comes with a few different interviews. The first is a making-of featurette of sorts with interviews from Ken Selden and producer Marshall Persinger, who talk about the significant cuts that were made to the film and the effects it had on the final cut; this clocks in around 25 minutes. Another short interview comes from Amanda Anka (who plays Deputy Mina in the film), talking about her work on the film and even providing a few kind words about Brittany Murphy. Rather short 8 minute interview sequence.
Some vintage EPK interviews are also included from Brittany Murphy, Jay Mohr, and Michael Biehn. This is, again, around 8 minutes and gives some context about the film from actors who didn’t or couldn’t give more recent interviews. A short featurette of behind-the-scenes footage shooting a chase sequence and a fight scene between Murphy and Mohr is also a nice addition.
A new audio commentary from director Geoffrey Wright adds some much-needed replay value to the disc, and he gives a lot of good background information and context to the film. He’s got a nice accent, easy to listen to, but one thing I really appreciated was that he stays on topic throughout. Definitely worth a listen.
Finally, the disc includes the original script for those that have a BD-ROM drive, along with a theatrical trailer. Lots of special features on here, and they’re all pretty great.