One night in the small town of Cherry Falls, out of the way in a secluded area, a couple of teenagers are in a car and the boy (Jesse Bradford) is doing his utmost to seduce the girl he is with, only his idea of romantic chit-chat – that he is a space alien and he has to sleep with her as his mission on Earth – only gets him so far before she scratches him and makes it plain she wishes to stick to the making out, not go any further. She has no intention of losing her virginity tonight, but maybe she should have been more open to the idea for another car pulls up behind Ron’s and he gets out to greet it, assuming it belongs to his friends. He’s wrong about that – dead wrong, as a long-haired figure emerges and starts attacking him.
We were in slasher flick territory once again, and in the wake of the huge success of Wes Craven’s Scream in the late nineteen-nineties there were a bunch of also-rans which followed, many of them taking the genre more seriously than that did, though Cherry Falls was marked by its willingness to make fun of the conventions in much the same way the Kevin Williamson script had. Writer Ken Selden never had another script produced after this one, an indication of how many thought this went too far since the usual trope in these sorts of horrors was that the characters who had sex were basically signing their own death warrants, yet the twist this time was if you didn’t have sex, then you were fair game for the killer.
This switcheroo proved an issue with some audiences, though more problematic for horror fans it proved an issue with the ratings board in America, whose insistence on major cuts to the scenes of sex and violence in effect neutered what would have been in director Geoffrey Wright’s hands one of the more provocative shockers come the turn of the millennium, but as it was became so watered down that any aficionado of such movies could see where the gore was supposed to be, and the orgy where everyone kept their underwear on was hard to believe. Such a drawback was the teen sex angle that Cherry Falls was not even released to American cinemas, and to add insult to injury it was the edited version that was put out in foreign territories.
Does this mean the results, which never did get their director’s cut as Wright swiftly returned to a largely thwarted career thereafter in his native Australia, were not worth a look, then? Not necessarily, for enough of the subversive wit was present to make one pine for the movie that might have been rather than the one we got. Nevertheless, even in this form it was apparent even the cheekiest slasher was bound to the clichés that the others were, and it amounted to one of the “spot the killer” efforts as a woman from the past seems to be seeking vengeance on the town through the younger generation much in the same way A Nightmare on Elm Street had a town so afflicted. Still, as hoary as all that was, there were compensations, thanks to a cast who were in on the gag and a bunch of odd moments which distinguished it.
The main cast member who was more than up to the task of her role was Brittany Murphy, here in one of her first leads after her breakout part in Clueless. She played Jody, daughter of the Sheriff (Michael Biehn) who is understandably protective of her when there’s a murderer about, and she has just broken up with her boyfriend of a year Kenny (Gabriel Mann) without them doing the deed, which renders her a prime target. Proving herself capable and offbeat as the protagonist, this illustrated what a terrible shame her early demise was, and indeed the film has drawn the cult of mourning fans to it thanks to her bright presence, exhibiting the right tone of humour and physicality, and when things got weird as they frequently did with this, she was in her element. Supporting her were a collection of characters who react to the crisis in a spectrum of emotions from tears to flippancy, strangely believable though again, the sense that this was straining to be even stranger was never far away. Not the film it should have been, but not worthless by any means. Music by Walter Werzowa.