Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Halloween 31 For 31: Cherry Falls (2000)

Director: Geoffrey Wright
Screenplay: Ken Selden
Cast: Brittany Murphy (as Jody Marken); Jay Mohr (as Leonard Marliston); Gabriel Mann (as Kenny Ascott); Michael Biehn (as Sheriff Brent Marken); Jesse Bradford (as Rod Harper)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #30

Cherry Falls is a slasher film with so much more of interest than others of the time, worthy of a remake to emphasis its ideas more. It's certainly more interesting in premise than Scream (1996) to be frankly honest, which has always felt like a meta-movie which didn't go far enough and merely played the clichés over again with a wink. Cherry Falls deals with one of the more problematic tropes slashers films have been stuck with, that the virginal survive based on a grossly misinterpreted version of how Laurie Strode in Halloween (1978) was actually more aware and alert as a person to avoid Michael Myers rather than whether she was a virgin or not. A serial killer starts killing virginal high school students in a small town. Panic is heightened even more when its brought up by Sheriff Brent Marken (Michael Biehn) that its virgins being targeted only, a nerve pierced open when the students quickly learn of this and a planned orgy party is set up to take everyone off the list of potential causalities.

Virginity is a strange fetish, for a lack of a better term, in human culture, worshipped as being of greater importance especially in women whilst having an inherently misogynistic reasoning behind it in some cases in terms of how it links to marriage and how once, and still is in some belief systems, it was of importance for a bride to be a virgin. Particularly for women the idea that a single aspect, literally a part of flesh if you dear reader forgive the crassness of the phrasing, is of importance to be kept intact that it can lead to them being persecuted if it's not there is one of those aspects of humanity that embarrasses me in how a species with apparent higher intelligence can lead to such misogyny from a mere vague concept of no real importance. As for those male and female who've not had the pleasure of sex, virginity is less a sacred totem then the irritating stigma of awkwardness and embarrassment the older you get when the term is still applicable to yourself. As a viewer from afar, virginity is a complicated issue for my American cousins when you have ideas like the purity ring and Evangelical practice of chastity amongst teenagers. In slashers, the trope that those who had sex were punished is an embarrassing distortion of moral storytelling let alone shameful morally itself, not only because the original un-watered down fairytales of yore were about young girls and boys being resourceful and showing kindness to others rather than whether they were virginal or not, and were more likely to be bloodthirsty and generally bleak in their outcomes anyway regardless, but because slashers from the eighties teased with nubile teenager flesh than told the viewer off with someone getting a machete in the head.

With Cherry Falls the premise turns this on its head brilliantly. The parents are now in an awkward situation where it may be better that their daughter or son lost their virginity, as is the case with a creepy scene where Marken goes into his daughter Jody's bedroom, played by the late Brittany Murphy, and asks whether she's gone further in "bases" with her boyfriend Kenny (Gabriel Mann). The principal Tom Sisler (Joe Inscoe) threatens to throw every punishment he can at any student who goes to the sex orgy, easy to read an undercurrent of his conservatism and morals being horrified when he learns of the campus' plan, whilst the teenagers are in mass hysteria of delight, the one "experienced" girl lecturing other female students on the outdoor bleachers about the first time, using birth control and how useless guys are even in unhooking bras in very sexually explicit detail. The added spike to all this is that, in a major plot twist,  the film evokes issues of rape, misogyny and "slut shaming" even if an undercurrent in a spoken line of exposition, the literal sins of the community responsible for the murderer and their desired revenge on peoples' children unless they vanquish their own virginity and undermine conventional morality, a premise that in a better and braver film would be as trangressive as you could get. A lot of what succeeds in presenting this is how the teenagers felt like teenagers from the performances and those cast, Murphy like girls I grew up with in secondary school and college in look and personality, not a supermodel cast in a film but pretty in a way others can be, barring a jarring moment of seduction that felt like a 360 degree character change out of place or badly written. The teenage characters in general feel more real to me than those in Friday the 13th films I've seen, because they are cocky and vulgar but significantly have moments of incredible awkwardness even if they're the jocks and home coming queens. Not merely talking about Vitamin C as in the first Friday the 13th film, but the moment a female character tries to flirt with a boy she likes at the cafeteria only for him to be more concerned with how good the food is.

Unfortunately by the end it becomes merely a rollercoaster with no weight to it. It dodges those transgressive bullets that would've made it more compelling - Jody considering having sex with Kenny, her father being connected to the cause of the killings, even the orgy and how even the geeks look like they'll be happy and reveal in wanton sex alongside the popular people. This is stranger knowing that it's both a film that was brought out as half its original form, censored for release and only showed on TV original, with that version the only one available in the US and Britain, but managing to have such an adult tone to the dialogue in its swearing and deliberately provocative pieces of script. Eventually it ends with someone being chased by a knife welding maniac in a prolonged chase scene, which only works when it's at the best in creation, and merely concluding with all the threat of before (morally and evil) being put to rest, the only interest being the unexpected final image of a river turning red with blood not expected from a slasher grounded in reality. Everything that felt brilliant at first turns sour and it becomes conservative itself after the initial shock it brings out.

The general look and style of the film is solid, the only issue in the use of drum and bass music in the score, because it time stamps the decade Cherry Falls was made in without being memorable or great, and that, honestly, I need to find out the best examples of that electronic music and compare it to all other drum and bass songs to be able to pick out the differences.


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