I’m a bit of an apologist for the post-Scream era of horror. I think I Know What You Did Last Summer is actually kind of fun and stylish, Urban Legend is a slick feature with a great cast, The Faculty is just an all-around favorite, and both Idle Hands and Bride of Chucky are among my favorite horror comedies, ever. Scream forced genre filmmakers to up their game. Horror was not making it at the box office anymore and most content was going straight to video. There wasn’t a ton of faith in the genre and it was beginning to be treated as something of a joke, even by the people who made those movies. Scream didn’t treat it like a joke, as many believe, but was constructed as a love letter to everything that makes great horror work, while commenting on the tropes at the same time. It led to a total revision of the slasher genre and forced a change of formula on the part of most genre filmmakers.
Some directors got the message, some didn’t. Some of the slashers that came out shortly after Scream were great, but a whole lot of them weren’t. Still, Scream had succeeded in pushing the genre in a new direction and not necessarily inverting the formula, but approaching it from a new angle.
Well, Cherry Falls completely flips the concept in a refreshing way. Here, we have a movie about a killer who only targets virgins. Right away, you have a gripping premise. I would greenlight that in a heartbeat just based on that logline. But it’s even funnier to watch the film develop and explore that concept. Because once it becomes clear as to what the killer is doing, you have a whole high school full of teenagers in a mad dash to get laid so that they don’t die next.
The late, underrated Brittany Murphy plays our lead, who is very akin to archetype characters like Laurie Strode and Nancy Thompson. She’s not as outgoing as her friends, but has a sort of fierceness to her. On the surface, she’s characterized as the classical virgin. Most other slashers don’t really explore that aspect of the protagonist. But her virginity is so tied to the overall narrative that it becomes a major defining point of her character. She wants to have sex because she wants to survive, but she’s still a virgin at heart. The fact that her life is on the line doesn’t make her automatically ready for sex.
Through her character and that sense of questioning, we can see Cherry Falls for the smart, innovative movie that it really is. It’s a surprisingly in-depth and sincere commentary on teenage sexuality and the constant, conflicting pressure both to be sexually active and to be abstinent that all young people face. But, of course, it’s all told through the lens of horror-comedy. In fact, as a smart, satirical horror examination of teenage sexuality it would make a great double bill with Ginger Snaps.
While so many other films of its era have gone on to either become cult classics or to be revered by people who first watched them when they were kids in the ‘90s, Cherry Falls went unnoticed for the longest time. For a long stretch, it really had no audience. It was really only in the past year or two that I talked to other people who had seen it, let alone liked it. It didn’t have a large release, it wasn’t a huge hit on video, and it was a different movie than what fans were used to seeing at the time. Like a lot of the best indie horror features, Cherry Falls developed an audience over a long period of time. I remember first seeing it at around 13, on the USA Network, and immediately grasping the concept, even as a kid. Because I’d seen Scream, I knew all the things Cherry Falls was referencing.
But one of the things I like about this movie is that it doesn’t necessarily waste time referencing those things. It relies on the fact that you’re going to get why the concept is innovative and unique and doesn’t waste time explaining itself to death. That’s a rare, appreciated thing. At the same time, it doesn’t forget to be a slasher. For all its comedy and commentary, this is still a horror film and works well as such. The killer’s look harkens back to genre greats like Psycho and—in particular—Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill.
Even though the flick is sixteen years old, I won’t spoil it here because there are so many people who still haven’t seen it. But if you haven’t, now’s the time. It’s just been given the great, deluxe Blu-ray Scream Factory treatment, so it’s commercially available again where it hadn’t been for a fairly long time. Besides that, it’s just a great, really fun, underrated gem. More people need to see this film. I get questions about it sometimes, so I think that means people are getting curious, and that’s good. There’s definitely been a turnaround of more and more people at least wanting to see it and now that it’s out there, hopefully soon we can acknowledge it as the bizarre, funny cult classic it deserves to be.