Hollywood and Washington sure have been looking cross-eyed at each other lately, especially when it comes to those "violent" movies that turn high schools into war zones. That's bull poopie, of course, but it's where they stand right now and we, the blood-thirsty masses, are stuck seething in the middle. It's also why a fantastically fresh and sly slasher like Cherry Falls (2000, 92 minutes) missed theatrical release date after date as a nervous USA Films refused to gird their loins and finish what they started. Instead, they dumped the already MPAA-butchered film to its basic cable sibling, the USA Network, who pulled out its own pair of scissors. Surely dignity would befall this lost lamb in the free-and-easy land of DVD, right? Nope. USA has crassly crammed the R-rated cut onto a skeletal disc along side Terror Tract (2000, 97 minutes). A travesty, yet not for the obvious reason, but because BOTH flicks are supremely deserving of a heckuvalot more respect.
Cherry Falls: Dieing a virgin. Could there BE a greater horror to today's teens? Well, the students of George Washington High School can top that. How about being brutally butchered, crucified AND having never known the carnal caress of another? Yes, a female serial killer with an impressive Ginsu collection is trolling the lover's lanes of Cherry Falls and making minced meat of frustrated guys and the gals who never waved them home. As the young bloodied flesh starts to populate the morgue, it becomes clear who's marked for death, so the wily (OK, horny) student body decides to protect themselves by joining in a MASS deflowering. Talk about turning lemons into lemonade! Brittany Murphy is our willowy heroine who must endure unspeakable torments far greater than even the boorish advances of her horndog boyfriend (Judge Reinhold-lookalike Gabriel Mann). Remarkably, even with the ratings board's meddling there's still plenty of the red stuff, but it is the flick's wry, subversive undercurrent that is ultimately the most appealing. CineSchlockers will likely have fast-forwarded right past Ms. Murphy's chicken-deboning in Girl, Interrupted to see if they really CAN see Winona Ryder's goodies.
Cherry Falls Notables: Three breasts. Eight corpses. Two-fisted gun shooting. Sleepwalking. Fist-fighting parents. Toe sucking. Neck slashing. Gratuitous scanning-newspaper-headlines-on-microfilm scene. Stuffed shark attack. Food fight. Mass diddling. Gratuitous use of the word "hymen."
Cherry Falls Quotables: An eager beau gives it his best shot, "Doesn't it bother you that you could die a virgin?" Timmy the drama queen squeals, "You haven't heard about Rod and Stacy?! ... Wake up! They're dead! They flatlined! They shuffled off the mortal coil! They've croaked and gone to see their maker! Duh! How can you be so critically uninformed?!" Principal Sisler is worried, "If word gets back to these kids that somebody's murdering virgins, we're going to have a goddamn f@#%-fest on our hands!"
Cherry Falls Time codes: An exceedingly uncomfortable father-daughter moment (23:28). Slutty Cindy schools the girls on the facts of life (44:33). An illustrated flyer for "Pop Your Cherry Night" (46:12). How this whole mess got started in the first place (1:10:22).
Terror Tract: House hunting is never an easy, or even pleasant task. But real estate agent Bob Carter (John Ritter) seems like the happiest guy ever. He drives a Mercedes, wears a gold watch and beams with enthusiasm as he shows a selection of homes to the Doyles (Allison Smith and David DeLuise, yep, Dom's boy.) They LOVE the first house, but Bob winces as he must tell the hopeful young couple an itsy bitsy fact about the property's history -- its previous residents are, well, DEAD. Thus begins three separate vignettes as the Doyles are shown different homes. First is "Nightmare," the somewhat trite story of a cheating wife who's caught in the throws with her part-time stud by her fulltime, shotgun wielding husband. Pretty typical stuff, until someone winds up dead, but doesn't quite stay that way. Second is "Bobo," a beautifully twisted tale of a father, his daughter and the homicidal monkey who comes between them -- and worse. As the manic papa is Bryan Cranston who is equally subtle as the dad on "Malcolm In The Middle." Third is "Come to Granny," which has to be one of the creepiest taunts ever uttered by a screen slasher. This killer dismembers his victims while wearing a geriatric Halloween mask. The twist here is that a kid sees flashes of the killings during herky-jerky psychic fits, like the one that prevented him from scoring with Meadow Soprano (Shonda Farr) during a moon-lit dip. It's after this chapter that the Doyles decide that MAYBE this neighborhood really isn't for them -- which is precisely when Mr. Ritter steals the whole movie.
Terror Tract Notables: No breasts. 15 corpses. Scissors to the back. Bobbing for corpses. Scalding coffee. One dead dog. Rubber monkey attack. Soap dropping. Puking. Gratuitous Stephen Hawking reference. Wild driving. Cat mowing. Neck slashing.
Terror Tract Quotables: Pop should trust his gut about Bobo, "There's something about it. It sounds stupid, but I almost feel like it's -- I don't know -- E-V-I-L!" Being a real estate agent in this neighborhood isn't easy, "If you want something THIS nice, you're going to have to take something with a little history."
Terror Tract Time codes: The circle of life (:15). Bobo goes to jail (51:05). Bob Carter REALLY needs to close this deal (1:30:40).
Audio/Video: Both are presented in their original widescreen (1.77:1) format. Cherry Falls is consistently sharp and artifact-free throughout. However, Terror Tract's print is subtly uneven giving it a foggy look, which could be intentional given the mind's-eye retelling of the stories. Their Dolby Digital 2.0 track is strong and clear.
Extras: Nothing more than the quiet assurance of three hours well spent. Static menus without audio. Printed insert with production notes. Oh, what it COULD have been! Perhaps a commentary by Cherry Falls director Geoffrey Wright, and while we're at it, HIS cut of the film? It'd have also been worth while to hear about the two-man approach of Terror Tract directors Lance Dreesen and Clint Hutchison. Instead, USA snows us with the "double-feature" gimmick.
Final thought: Cherry Falls proves once again that the slasher genre can be as satirically sharp as its psychopath's blades -- without overtly leaning on pop culture. And Terror Tract is a welcome surprise in the best tradition episodic horror. Highly Recommended.
G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.