Cherry Falls Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Geoffrey Wright
Written by Ken Selden
2000, 91 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on March 29th, 2016
Brittany Murphy as Jody Marken
Michael Biehn as Sheriff Brent Marken
Jay Mohr as Leonard Maliston
Candy Clark as Marge Marken
Amanda Anka as Deputy Mina
Douglas Spain as Mark
Gabriel Mann as Kenny
Michael Weston as Ben
Keram Malicki-Sanchez as Timmy
Have you heard about that town in Virginia where a mysterious woman was slaughtering virgins? It happened in a place called Cherry Falls, and the students at George Washington High were the targets. Three teens were picked off before local police discovered the pattern and held an emergency town meeting for parents to discourage their kids’ chastity. Sheriff Marken danced the fine line of encouraging vigilance and promiscuity to mixed response. His daughter Jody narrowly escaped the killer’s attack and like any good father, he encouraged her to take things further with her boyfriend. The community is haunted by a decades old tale of rape and revenge that may be connected to the current wave of unrest. Like any big news in a small town, word quickly leaked and the kids opted to remove themselves from the endangered list by organizing a secret “Pop Your Cherry” group sex party. What sounds like a great idea turns into a nightmare when the killer crashes the party and the attending virgins are more fucked than they realized.
When Scream (1996) breathed new life into the genre, it spawned countless knock-offs and imitators, including I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) and Urban Legend (1998) among others. Rather than follow the lead of this popular wave, Cherry Falls (2000) took a page from more traditional sex comedies mixed with a dark dose of black humor in the vein of Heathers (1987). Self-referential horror was all the rage, but Cherry managed to embrace the familiar tropes and lampoon them with a different kind of awareness. Ken Selden’s script plays the material straight, but the filmmakers are all very familiar with the kind of movie they are making and deliberately skew the way they tell the story. Not every character is introduced only to wait in line for slaughter and the requisite backstory that serves as the killer’s motivation remains surprisingly unresolved. The finale actually suggests that some secrets are best kept intact in order to maintain the status quo.
Brittany Murphy (Sin City) delivers a haunting performance as Jody, the diminutive hero who is curious about everything surrounding her, including boys and the legend of the elusive killer. The character is a nice match for Murphy and she has great chemistry with both Michael Biehn (Aliens) and Jay Mohr (Go) as her father and teacher, respectively. Mohr really shines as Mr. Maliston, and delivers the best lines in the film with just enough comedic timing to make him instantly likeable. Biehn has the complicated task of playing the heroic lead as the sheriff determined to protect his town, but is also haunted by a terrible secret from his past. Candy Clark (The Blob) is the touchy-feely mother who is good at keeping secrets, a role familiar to genre fans of films like A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Clark is always a welcome addition, but disappears for a large chunk of the action in order to boost her potential as a suspect. The supporting cast members are relegated to traditional archetypes, but do a fine job with the material. Genre fans will want to keep an eye out for an early appearance from affable character actor DJ Qualls (Supernatural) in a tiny role.
Director Geoffrey Wright (Romper Stomper) skillfully maneuvers the shifting tone from horror to humor and back again, keeping things moving at a decent pace. The balance is not entirely perfect, as the elements of broad comedy are not matched by equally over-the-top levels of sex and violence. This is partly due to the fact that the film was submitted to the MPAA ratings board five times before securing an R rating. These cuts were further extended when a last-minute regime change at the studio (USA Films) led to the picture being abandoned and forced to debut on the USA Television network. The racier elements have reportedly been lost, but Wright holds out hope in his commentary on this disc for an eventual restoration of his original vision. Cherry Falls reportedly played unmolested overseas and there are unconfirmed reports of uncut import versions, though I have never met anyone who can confirm this. What remains isn’t perfect, but is still highly entertaining and is easily recommended viewing, especially as counter-programming for the Valentine’s Day holiday.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Cherry Falls arrives on Blu-ray with a sharper picture quality that reveals more detail than the previous DVD release. Colors are stronger and black levels inky, but there are some occasional moments of softness that may be present in the source materials. Not a perfect transfer, but a real step up for fans who have waited years for an upgrade.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track is stronger than expected as well, matching the video counterpart for a surprisingly fresh presentation. There are not a lot of the loud-noise jump scares like the ones that plague current horror films; instead the soundtrack balances the dialogue, music and effects tracks with a subtlety that is not exhaustingly trying to impress and is all the more welcome for it.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
In his audio commentary, director Geoffrey Wright is quick to lament the harsh treatment of his film at the hands of studio execs and television censors, but makes the most of what remains. He has plenty to say about the production and is diplomatic when it comes to relaying tales of trouble with actors or producers. His memory is sharp and the artistic wounds have healed enough for him to hold out hope that the excised material will one day resurface.
Writer Ken Selden and producer Marshall Persinger reveal the backstory of what happened to this film’s troubled release in Lose it or Die: The Untold Story of Cherry Falls (25 minutes). Much of this information is shared in the director’s commentary, but sadly Wright does not participate in the on-camera interviews. Selden and Persinger cover a lot of ground, but stumble occasionally in their storytelling abilities and the segment would benefit from additional participants to cut away to as the history unfolds. Despite its weaknesses, this is still an informative piece that anyone curious about what the hell happened to this movie will not want to miss.
Cherry Falls’ Deputy Mina (8 minutes) catches up with actress Amanda Anka, who not surprisingly has nothing but fantastic things to say about the cast and crew. This is a nice enough segment, but would be stronger if additional cast members were interviewed and intercut for a proper retrospective. As it stands there is nothing exciting or compelling here, but it is nice to see that Anka is looking good and doing well.
Brittany Murphy, Michael Biehn, Jay Mohr and Geoffrey Wright appear in a series of vintage interviews (6 minutes) that were shot during production to promote the film. It is nice to have a brief glimpse of these participants, but unfortunately the running time is too short to truly engage.
A classic Behind the Scenes (5 minutes) featurette offers on-set documentary footage of the filming of a few key sequences.
The original trailer is also included for a look at the marketing campaign.
Until the missing footage turns up, fans with a BD-Rom drive can access the original script, complete with notes of what could have been.
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