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“CHERRY FALLS” (Blu-ray Review)

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CHERRY FALLS, making its long-overdue special-edition disc debut March 29 on Scream Factory Blu-ray, demonstrates that sometimes the best way to update a subgenre is simply to honor its traditions while applying a solid level of craft and a touch of kink.

The film doesn’t attempt a post-modern comment on slasher movies à la SCREAM, but rather tells a basic psycho-on-the-loose story with good acting, creepy atmosphere and one aberrant plot device that leads to many of its most endearingly warped moments. Its title ostensibly refers to the small Virginia town in which the action takes place, but it also suggests that one basic inversion of teen-terror standards: Here, the psycho killer is targeting virgins.

That’s bad news for young heroine Jody (Brittany Murphy), who’s been having relationship troubles since she won’t go all the way with her boyfriend Kenny (Gabriel Mann). While she seeks solace in a friendship with teacher Mr. Marliston (Jay Mohr) that just might go further than it should, Jody’s father, the town sheriff (Michael Biehn), discovers the killer’s twisted m.o. Needless to say, he’d prefer to inform the local parents of what’s going on without the teens finding out (and taking advantage of the opportunity to remove themselves from the endangered list), but the more he investigates, the more he—and Jody—find out just how involved he is in the maniac’s twisted game.

CHERRYFALLSBLURAYREVMost of the stalker standards are present and accounted for: the small-town setting, the randy kids, the dark secret in key characters’ pasts and a heroine who wanders down dark hallways she shouldn’t. But these conventions can be pandered to or embraced and played to the hilt, and director Geoffrey Wright (the Australian who broke out with the Russell Crowe skinhead drama ROMPER STOMPER) and writer Ken Selden have gratifyingly taken the latter approach. CHERRY FALLS doesn’t elevate the genre, nor does it intend to; rather, it gets down and dirty, providing moments of vivid mayhem and a slate of troubled characters played with conviction. In Murphy’s Jody, it has a heroine who takes the sorta-repressed-but-still-cute archetype into fresh Goth directions while still maintaining sympathy and allure. Biehn is properly intense as the driven lawman, as is Candy Clark as his concerned wife, while Mohr downplays his usual smarm as the sympathetic teacher.

Like most teen slashers, CHERRY FALLS is also set up as a mystery, with a whodunit to supplement the who’s-gonna-get-it. This element is one of the film’s less successful, and most seasoned psycho-film fans will probably suss out the truth by the midway point. In addition, the attendant focus on small-town perversity is undercut by apparent deletions of character-interaction scenes (particularly between Biehn and Clark) in the service of streamlining the story, and the loss of the most bloody and carnal bits (more on that in a minute). Maintaining the right atmosphere, however, is cinematographer Anthony B. Richmond, who contributed colorful atmospherics to CANDYMAN and RAVENOUS and here offers a balance of lush hues and moody desaturation. It’s a visual scheme that well complements Wright’s gritty approach, and the last 20 minutes in particular are bursting with gleefully perverse mayhem and attitude.

CHERRY FALLS lost some of that punch due to repeated trimmings and trips to the MPAA to land an R rating, after which distributor USA Films simply threw up its hands and tossed the movie straight to cable; its first disc release was an ignominious bare-bones DVD pairing with TERROR TRACT. A decade and a half later, it’s Shout! Factory to the rescue, though unfortunately an uncut, unrated version couldn’t be secured from either USA’s successors or Wright himself. The irony is that a more extreme take of the film would no doubt pass through with an R today; still, it’s nice to have CHERRY FALLS in hi-def and looking great in 1.85:1 widescreen.

On an audio commentary, Wright mourns the loss of that explicit material to what he calls “airline editing” and, even more so, Murphy’s untimely passing in 2009. In general, though, he strikes a positive tone from the outset, recalling his collaborators with affection and appreciation while admitting he was sometimes hard on them due to the pressures of the short schedule. We learn about how his departure from the troubled SUPERNOVA (referenced with an in-joke license plate) led to his involvement with CHERRY FALLS, how a “fake Michael Biehn” was involved and protests by the locals over their high school being used for such a debauched project. He closes with a final elegy for Murphy, waxing philosophical about surviving in Hollywood—which could, in a less dramatic way, apply to his own career as well.

Wright’s track is nicely supplemented by “Lose It or Die: The Untold Story of CHERRY FALLS,” in which Selden and producer Marshall Persinger go into detail on the genesis and development of the film—which, they reveal, was offered to David Lynch and George Armitage before Wright came aboard. Actress Amanda Anka (daughter of singer Paul) contributes her own reminiscences of the shoot and her collaborators in a brief segment—which nonetheless runs longer than the combined vintage interviews with Wright, Murphy, Biehn and Mohr that are also included. (Four and a half minutes of on-set footage is offered as well.) While this is boilerplate EPK stuff, it is nice—and bittersweet—to have a little face time with Murphy on the disc.

MOVIE: 3_skull

DISC PACKAGE: 3_skull

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About the author
Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor. He now serves as editor-in-chief of the magazine while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews, as well as a contributing editor/writer for this website.
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