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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Cherry Falls (Blu-ray)
Cherry Falls (Blu-ray)
Shout Factory // R // March 29, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $26.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted March 20, 2016 | E-mail the Author
I mean, it's the cardinal rule of slasher cinema: keep it in your pants or else you're gonna be hacked apart into bloody, fist-sized chunks. The last person standing is always, always, always a pure, innocent, virginal teenage girl. The killer in Cherry Falls either hasn't seen those movies or just doesn't give a shit about following genre conventions. The sleepy, little Virginia town of Cherry Falls has been plagued as of late by a rash of gruesome murders. The victims are all teenagers. They all attend the same high school. They all had "virgin" savagely carved into their thighs, and as far as the coroner can tell, the label fits.

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If Kenny (Gabriel Mann) had gotten his way, he and his well-not-his-girlfriend-anymore Jody (Brittany Murphy) would no longer be in this psychopath's crosshairs. Jody wouldn't give it up, which is kind of a mixed blessing for her father (Michael Biehn), the sheriff investigating this onslaught of grisly murders. There's not exactly any lingering doubt that Jody is gonna be Cherry Falls' Final Girl, but what does that mean in a movie where virginity equals death? When she's finished unearthing some of the town's most closely guarded secrets -- long-held horrors that hit awfully close to home -- maybe Jody can swing by the sprawling orgy that her classmates are throwing. You get laid and you're probably not going to get disemboweled. Win, win, right?

On paper, anyway, Cherry Falls is brilliant. It's a gleamingly incisive skewering of slasher flicks, satirizing the genre while serving as a hell of a body count movie in its own right. Thumbing through the shooting script, it's genuinely funny, it's sopping with blood, it's unflinchingly gory, and the whole thing climaxes with a lunatic hacking and slashing a path through a high school orgy. At the same time, there's a reason why I said "on paper, anyway", and that's because Cherry Falls as it was originally envisioned never went any further than that. Some of the dialogue that cracks me up in the screenplay doesn't pack anywhere near as much of a wallop when spoken aloud. Director Geoffrey Wright struggled mightily with the shooting schedule, so some key moments in the screenplay were either never shot or heavily compromised just to get something in the can. October Films championed Cherry Falls, but they were acquired by USA Films before the movie ever had a chance to make it into theaters. The new regime thought so little of the flick that they hacked it to ribbons and dumped it straight to basic cable. What was intended to be a slasher spoof teeming with boobs and blood wound up being neutered into a $14 million TV movie. Essentially zero gore remains. There are brief flashes of the aftermaths of these kills, but the meat of the attacks now take place off-camera, and even a bunch of the stalk-and-slash suspense has been gutted out. One of the first murders is long, involved, and unnerving in the screenplay, and the movie reduces it to a few sputtering, stuttering, cringingly ineffective frames. It doesn't help that the slasher looks fairly ridiculous, consistently failing to inspire any menace or dead. Fuck-or-die is the driving force of its plot, and yet there's about as much sex and skin as you'd see in Beach Blanket Bingo. The disappointments never really stop, with even the epilogue in the finished film paling in comparison to what was in the original screenplay.

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I'd love to say that this special edition release from Scream Factory restores the film to its intended glory. For their part, Scream Factory wishes they could say that as well. It's just that Wright never had the opportunity to assemble a proper director's cut. Cherry Falls was compromised that early on, and the more explicit footage that Wright shot -- everything from a bloody orgy to a cop's head split down the middle with an axe -- has long since been lost. All Universal had in their archives was the R-rated cut seen on the double feature DVD (sharing a bill with Terror Tract, of all things) from a decade and a half back. The international releases were based on this same heavily censored version, so that's a dead end too.

Despite being so wholly and completely eviscerated, plenty of intriguing stuff remains in Cherry Falls. Gender conventions have long been a staple of slasher cinema, and the movie embraces and upends those standards. Final Girls often start off being somewhat weak and incapable, gradually steeled over the course of the film for the final confrontation to come. Jody, meanwhile, is feisty from word one and clearly capable of taking care of herself. Kenny is sexually aggressive early on, but when the tables are turned and Jody is on the prowl, he looks like a lost little puppy. (...and that manic toe-sucking foot fetish bit that follows...? There aren't words.) When the high schoolers bunker down for an orgy, the girls aren't desperate for a man to stick it in 'em so they can live another day; they know they're a hot commodity and treat the sex act that's to follow like a negotiation. "...and your K2 snowboard!" Many slasher flicks revolve around hulking men as their killers, and then there's all that phallic imagery and penetration and on and on. Cherry Falls' murderer is instead a raggedy haired woman. There's quite a lot more I'd like to say there, but I have to play nicely with spoilers. (I will say that the whodunnit angle is one of the least successful elements of Cherry Falls, and chances are that you'll have correctly guessed who the killer is well before the halfway point.) As heavily censored as it is, the climax at the orgy is still completely fucking bonkers in the best possible way.

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Hey, we like your slasher flick about a nutjob who inspires an entire high school to have an orgy to dodge her blade, but could you lose all the sex and violence? You can keep the teenagers, though! With most of the suspense, all of the skin and sex, and most every last trace of grue carved out, Cherry Falls is too compromised to work as a slasher or even a genre sendup. The pacing is kind of sluggish, the mystery is woefully uninvolving, and too few of the gags land in practice. At least Cherry Falls is an interesting failure, though, and the teases of what could have and should have been can be awfully tantalizing. Still, the allure of Cherry Falls is ultimately the movie that doesn't actually exist. That makes for a compelling special edition, with several newly-conducted interviews and a feature-length audio commentary ranking chief among this disc's extras. As a film, though, Cherry Falls was never really given a chance to work.


Video
The master that Universal supplied for this release is almost certainly a teenager in its own right. Cherry Falls still looks alright in high definition, but I really wish this one could've gotten a fresher scan. The muddy levels of detail and clarity never rank any higher than "okay, I guess", film grain tends to come through as chunkier and less fine than it should, and the whole thing seems a bit oversharpened and digital. Look at the haloing around areas of high contrast in the screenshot below, for instance, and even the stairstepping on the principal's pens:

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Despite showing its age, this master's shortcomings are rarely distracting. There's unquestionably a better presentation of Cherry Falls to be had if Universal had put forth any real effort, but I'm not going to pretend that what they've delivered here is any sort of dealbreaker. For their part, Scream Factory has put together a well-authored disc, not leaving me with any concerns about its AVC encode or whatever. Not the release it should've been but passable just the same.

Cherry Falls spans both layers of this BD-50 disc, and the image is slightly letterboxed to preserve its intended aspect ratio of 1.85:1.


Audio
Scream Factory has piled on a pair of 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks for Cherry Falls: the first in stereo and the other remixed to 5.1. The six-channel remix runs hotter than the stereo track, with dialogue sometimes sounding more sibilant and strained. The score comes through well in both tracks, backed by a reasonably substantial low-frequency bite, and stereo separation is impressively robust. The remix fills the surround channels with some nice ambient effects, though not to the point that the rears draw all that much attention to themselves. The end result is less polished than I would've hoped to hear, but it's all perfectly listenable.

Rounding out the audio options are a commentary track and English (SDH) subtitles.


Extras
There's no slipcover, reversible cover art, or DVD this time around. Seeing as how Cherry Falls went straight to basic cable in the U.S., though, it's not as if there was a theatrical one-sheet (not a domestic one, anyway) to fall back on. Even though they shrugged off those sorts of frills, Scream Factory has flexed their muscles where it counts and assembled a respectable special edition.

  • Original Script: If you're one of those proud, few people with a BD-ROM drive on your computer, a PDF of the shooting script for Cherry Falls is right here waiting for you. Some handwritten notes and revisions are tossed in for good measure (including stuff like "maybe we should leave these guys alone for sequel potential?"). Since there's nothing that could rightly be called a director's cut, and since none of the more explicit footage has resurfaced over the past decade and a half, this is the closest we'll come to seeing the movie that Cherry Falls should have been.

  • Love It or Die: The Untold Story of Cherry Falls (25 min.; HD): Far and away the highlight for me are these interviews with screenwriter/co-executive producer Ken Selden and producer Marshall Persinger. From Selden's itch to write a flick with a teen orgy to winding up as the most expensive TV movie of all time, "Love It or Die" tackles everything you could ever have wanted to know about Cherry Falls. The two of them touch on how charmed the project was early on: written quickly, picked up almost immediately, and its screenplay even finding its way into the hands of David Lynch and Grosse Pointe Blank's George Armitage. They speak about the film's Vertigo-influenced visual style (realized by Don't Look Now cinematographer Tony Richmond), how catastrophically far behind schedule Geoffrey Wright quickly fell, and how the unfortunately timed acquisition of October Films torpedoed its intended theatrical release altogether. It's well worth setting aside a half hour to give this one a look.
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  • Cherry Falls Deputy (8 min.; HD): Supporting player Amanda Anka chats about how she was cast in the film, how ahead of its time Cherry Falls was, and what it was like to work with Geoffrey Wright, Michael Biehn, Jay Mohr, and Brittany Murphy. It's a perfectly pleasant conversation, but it's clear why none of this was spliced into "Love It or Die". There really aren't any highlights to be had here. Likeable but routine, this is by far the most inessential of the disc's newly-produced extras.

  • Audio Commentary: Though he doesn't appear in any on-camera interviews in the here and now, director Geoffrey Wright has recorded a commentary track exclusively for this Blu-ray release. It's a very honest commentary, acknowledging gags that didn't work and how his difficult presence on set rankled everyone from Jay Mohr to once-legendary cinematographer Tony Richmond. Although the commentary is peppered with sizeable gaps of dead air, the best notes are worth the wait, particularly his descriptions of the film's gloriously gruesome, grindhouse-worthy finalé.

  • Vintage Interviews (6 min.; SD): None of the surviving cast were interviewed for this special edition, but archival interviews with Brittany Murphy, Michael Biehn, Jay Mohr, and director Geoffrey Wright did make the cut. The conversations with the cast skew promotional, recapping their characters and the overall premise, with some occasional notes about how intriguingly satirical the screenplay is. There's nothing all that substantial in the first three segments, although Murphy is so adorably off-kilter that they're still worth a look. There's more meat to Wright's comments, as he speaks about the conspiracy of untrustworthy men that Jody is pitted against as well as what drew him towards the unconventional choice of Murphy in the lead.

  • Behind the Scenes (5 min.; SD): Four and a half minutes of fly-on-the-wall footage during production document several of Cherry Falls' standout sequences.

  • Trailer (2 min.; SD): Last up is a standard definition trailer.

The Final Word
When I first read about it in Fangoria a lifetime ago, I was as desperate to see Cherry Falls as any slasher that had ever been on my radar up to that point. More than a decade and a half later, I'm still waiting to see the bitingly satirical, gloriously gruesome, lose-it-or-die flick that Fango showcased. Maybe one day all the original elements will be unearthed, and perhaps Geoffrey Wright will be able to piece together something more closely resembling the shooting script. For the time being, though, this neutered version of Cherry Falls is all that remains. I mean, we're talking about a basic cable slasher sendup with borderline-zero gore. Its plot hinges on sex and climaxes with an orgy, yet most every trace of skin has been yanked out. What remains is a curiosity...a fleeting taste of what could have been. This special edition release by Scream Factory honors what's available as best it can, but so long as the original vision remains lost, Cherry Falls is a difficult movie to recommend with any real enthusiasm. This special edition comes Recommended; the deeply compromised cut of the film itself not so much.
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