2 stars

"If you haven't had it... you've had it."

directed by: Geoffrey Wright
starring: Michael Biehn, Brittany Murphy, Jay Mohr, Gabriel Mann, Candy Clark, Caroline Perreyclear, Keram Mailicki-Sanchez, Rick Forester, DJ Qualls, Rand Courtney, Colin Fickes, Michael Weston, Danny Scalf


choice dialogue:

"We're talking hymen holocaust here!"

The girls of Cherry Falls discuss the upcoming evening's main event

slash with panache?

       When it came to handing out luck Geoffrey Wright's, the director previously of the vicious ROMPER STOMPER, new teen slasher was at the back of the queue. It's had so many censorship wrangles in the States with the MPAA that, at time of writing, it remains unreleased in cinemas there, and is all set, perhaps, to go straight to HBO. It is then somewhat ironic that the film is now out at UK cinemas with a '15' certificate, albeit, perhaps, in a hacked about form (the BBFC site lists it as passing without cuts- but as to what kind of version was submitted is anyone's guess?). The problems for this film, however, don't end there, oh no, siree…

       OK, the plot. It begins, in the same manner as John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN finishes, with a montage of images of wholesome small town Americana. As this small town- Cherry Falls in case you hadn't guessed, Leonard Marliston, a teacher at the High School (Jay Mohr) (left); and Jody (Brittany Murphy) and on/off boyfriend Kenny (Gabriel Mann)descends into darkness, the action starts as many other teen slasher flicks have throughout the years- with a couple using the night and the isolated lakeside setting as a cover for an illicit petting session. Just as things get a little too steamy the girl pushes the guy away, and is clearly only willing to go just so far. Soon, however, they have something else to occupy them. A car, till then parked unseen a little way behind them, begins to flash its headlights repeatedly. Annoyed, the boy gets out to confront what he takes for one of their friends. A gleaming blade cuts him short as a figure leaps from the stationary car, face hidden by a curtain of long black hair, and knocks him to the ground. Through the rear window the girl sees the glint of the blade as it is thrust up and down in a frenzy and, as screams howl out through the night air, she slams down the window locks. It all goes quiet … until she hears the pleas of what sounds like her boyfriend immediately outside one of the car's doors. Not wanting to open the door - the long haired stranger is nowhere to be seen - but unable to deny the cries of help she gingerly flips the lock and pushes the door open. Then … well, I wouldn't want to spoil it all for you. Let's just say, it doesn't end well.

       The murders are discussed on the steps of Cherry Falls High, and the motives discussed in class therapy sessions ("Well, hello Cindy Freud!"), with kindly teacher Leonard Marliston (Jay Mohr). Jody (Brittany Murphy) is quickly established as the film's main character, the somewhat misfit teenage daughter of the Sheriff (Michael Biehn) and an alcoholic Mother (Candy Clark), whose break-up with her boyfriend, Kenny (Gabriel Mann), Virgin on it!coincides with the first murders. His parting shot, after she refuses to have sex with him, "Does it bother you you could die a virgin?", proves a little two close to the bone when it turns out that both of the dead teenagers had the word "virgin" carved on their inner thigh.

      After another murder ("Looks like we have an encore performance."), which bears all the same hallmarks, the Sheriff decides his only course of action is to organise a town meeting for the parents of the kids at the school and tell them what we already know - the film's major (and let's face it- only) twist from the norm. It doesn't take long for them to put two and two together and come up with 69- "If word gets back that's somebody's murdering virgins we'll have a God damn fuck-fest on our hands!"

     Needless to say, word does get back, and, as more of them fall prey, the student's organise themselves a big-assed orgy at a deserted and abandoned country mansion (doh!), in a desperate attempt, to remove themselves from the killer's shit list.

     As concepts go for teen slasher movies it's a pretty cool one- unfortunately it seems that somebody came up with the idea for reversing the old 'have-sex-and-die' adage and wrote backwards from there, with little regard for it all tying together. CHERRY FALLS isn't a dire movie by any means, but it lacks any real sense of cohesion. It's not just the killer who's suffering from a split personality. It seems that several key players involved in the film had very different ideas about what kind of movie they were making too.

     It starts off shrouded in that kind of X FILES gloom- all sullen stares and moody cinematography; it then shifts gears into High School farce- cue HEATHERS and CLUELESS sound-bites ("She thinks fellatio is a character in Shakespeare."); before taking a trip via TWIN PEAKS to Cheeseville. Now, that might not sound like a bad combination but once you've got your audience laughing at a film poking fun at itself it's very difficult to get them Slasher antics in CHERRY FALLSto stop- and CHERRY FALLS very much seems to want to be taken seriously at times, whilst, unlike SCREAM (which wanted the audience to laugh with it), it clearly invites ridicule at other times.

    Needless to say, with such a grab-bag approach the film doesn't wholly succeed in any of its aims. It fails to be completely successful as a teen slasher- for a start there's not actually that much slashing going on! The film survives, up until the ¾'s point, on a measly body-count of four. There are a few effective suspense scenes, but they are too few and far between and not even peppered with "Boo!" moments (as if that was somehow below the filmmakers). And, any suspense is pretty much destroyed once we get a good look at the killer (or not, as the case may be). OK, Jason had his hockey mask, Ghostface his, er, face, the killer here hides behind a curtain of black hair, distinguished only by a white streak. It looks fine- creepy even, as the teen pruner hobbles on high heels after the victims through the shadows, but, it soon descends into farce when during the fight or flight scenes the killer's hair stays just so, obscuring their true identity at all times, like a goth Cousin IT, or Marsha Brady's cunning disguise after her nose swelled up after being hit by a football in the BRADY BUNCH. The killer's motivation doesn't bear up under much scrutiny either, and, if like me you've seen more than a handful of these things, despite a smattering of semi-successful red herrings near the beginning, you'll have guessed their identity by the half-way mark.

     On a positive note, the cast is uniformly excellent in their respective roles. Murphy, especially, is good as the spunky, but slightly wasted looking, heroine, who finds herself at the centre of the events overtaking the small town. The film looks great too, with a nice ambiance of Gothic gloom. There are some pretty funny moments and a couple of good scares- and the last twenty minutes are pure cheese, so it is by no means a complete failure- but it just plain don't hang together.

    Quite why the film ended out this way is anyone's guess. As I said at the beginning of the review it hasn't been at home to Lady Luck at all; it has clearly suffered under the wrath of the MPAA- who had problems with the sex scenes and one particular murder, which, according to the IMDB, was to be the longest ever shown, weighing in at over five minutes, but is now indistinguishable from all the rest. This goes some, but not all the way, to explaining why it is so unfocused. I would hazard a guess that it shows all the hallmarks of a power struggle between interested parties and perhaps that story, should it ever come out, could no doubt prove more interesting than the film itself.

BODYCOUNT 8      female:2 / male:6

       1) Male stabbed to death
       2) Female stabbed to death and hand nailed to tree
       3) Female killed (method unseen)
       4) Male found with throat slit
       5) Male found with words carved into forehead
       6) Male stabbed in neck and then axed to death
       7) Male gets an axe in his head
       8) Male impaled and then shot