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 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 the genre 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 succeeded in pushing the genre in a new direction and not necessarily inverting the formula, but approaching it from a new angle.
In 2000, a little Canadian movie called Cherry Falls was released that—like the slashers immediately preceding it—acknowledged everything that Scream did… and then took it one step further. Where Scream does not actually invert the formula, Cherry Falls does just that. The basic, preconceived notion of slashers is that if you have sex, you die. Period. More than character types, more than drugs or cliché lines, even sometimes more than the iconic horror villains themselves, that is what people know about slashers. It’s the stereotype. The heroine is a virgin and survives because her promiscuous friends are too busy boning to notice what’s actually going on.
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 green-light that in a heartbeat just based on the log-line. 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 they don’t die next.
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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 has only been in recent years that I have talked to other people who have seen it, let alone liked it. The film debuted on cable and it wasn’t a huge hit on video. Plus, 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 tropes Cherry Falls was referencing.
But one of the aspects I like about this movie is that it doesn’t necessarily waste time referencing those tropes. 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 rare to see. 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 twenty-two-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 was given the Scream Factory treatment a while back, so it’s commercially available again where it hadn’t been for a 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 we can acknowledge it as the bizarre, funny, cult classic it is.