In a reversal of the usual morality in U.S. teen-slasher pics, virgins find themselves top of the menu in “Cherry Falls,” a semi-successful spin on familiar material that could build minor cult status, especially on ancillary. Shot in spring ’99, this second production from USA Films’ genre division, Rogue Pictures, about a loony on the loose in a Virginia town, is preeming in selected Euro territories after long dithering by USA about Stateside theatrical release; pic will now go out directly over its cable arm, USA Network, on Oct. 20. In the U.K., item grossed a surprisingly respectable $1.3 million during first two weeks of release.
From its punning title to its playfulness with genre norms, script by Ken Selden (director/co-scripter of the weird 1997 romantic comedy “White Lies”) is clearly trying to do something different with the form, while still delivering the goods at a visceral level. Opening has two high school teens about to make out in a car at night when their coitus is terminally interruptus’d by a mad slasher. Immediately afterward, the same fate looks likely to befall Jody (Brittany Murphy) and b.f. Kenny (Gabriel Mann) in an auto — but it turns out to be Jody’s protective mom (Candy Clark) doing the interrupting this time.
Following the demise of another local babe, who also ends up with the word “virgin” carved on her inner thigh, the feds arrive, much to the chagrin of the local sheriff, Brent Marken (Michael Biehn), Jody’s father. Panic soon spreads among the Cherry Falls community when Brent announces the killer’s m.o., and parents are soon up in arms when the students of George Washington High announce their solution to the problem — to get laid as soon as possible.
As posters go up for a Hymen Holocaust to be held at the abandoned Donkey Hill Hunting Lodge, school principal Tom Sisler (Joe Inscoe) notes, “We’re gonna have a fuckfest on our hands!”Jody, meanwhile, has started her own investigation into the murders, which seem to be linked with a student, Loralee Sherman, who mysteriously left town 27 years ago after being raped by four high school jocks.
Aside from its premise, there’s a perverse edge to the picture that consistently hints at a more interesting movie than ends up onscreen. On a purely visual level, a considerable amount of sex and explicit violence seems to have ended up on the cutting room floor: Pic was reportedly re-edited five times to achieve an R rating by the MPAA (with the third victim’s agonizing, 5-1/2-minute death totally re-shot), and the British censors’ “15” version shows signs of heavy cutting, with nary a nipple in sight. The finale alone, with Jody strapped in a chair in the killer’s horrific basement, hints at a genuinely nasty chiller.
Other intimations of undeveloped perversity include Brent’s creepily close relationship with Jody, her mom’s spaced-out attitude to what is going on (well etched in Clark’s perf), and the students’ “American Pie”/”Heathers”-like attitude toward American small-town conservatism. Whether these were pushed more to the limit in Selden’s original script is a matter for conjecture; as it is, the movie now falls uncomfortably between two stools, being fully developed neither as an outright slasher pic nor as a dark comedy on inverted morality. Story is also scattered with plot holes, with the killer’s motive especially murky. If ever a movie called for a director’s cut DVD, this is it.
Without equaling his striking first movie, “Romper Stomper,” “Cherry” is at least a major advance on Australian helmer Geoffrey Wright’s second feature, “Metal Skin,” one of the most gratuitous exercises in urban nihilism of the ’90s. “Cherry” is, by contrast, atmospherically lensed in rich dark tones, generally well staged and solidly played by a largely low-wattage cast, with Murphy especially good in a double-edged performance as a virgin with dark attitude. Walter Wersowa’s “Alien”-inflected score is effective. For the record, end credits unroll backwards, a la “Kiss Me Deadly.”