CHERRY FALLS (2000) Blu-ray
Director: Geoffrey Wright
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

"Holy hymens, Batman!" A psychopathic killer targeting virgins provides teenagers with the perfect excuse for a mass cherry-popping in the hip slasher CHERRY FALLS, on Blu-ray from Scream Factory.

The small town idyll of Cherry Falls, Virginia is shattered one night when Stacy (Bre Blair, QUARANTINE 2) and Rod (Jesse Bradford, SWIMFAN) are brutally murdered before they can consummate their relationship with "virgin" carved into their corpses. When slut-shamed third victim Annette (Clementine Ford, THE L WORD) is revealed post-mortem to have been a virgin, Sheriff Brent Marken (Michael Biehn, ALIENS) realizes that he has a killer loose in his town targeting virgins. Despite the concerns of the school principal (Joe Inscoe, NELL) of a full-on "f#*kfest", Marken – also concerned for his own virginal daughter Jody (Brittany Murphy, DON'T SAY A WORD) who has just broken up with boyfriend Kenny (Gabriel Mann, DOMINION: PREQUEL TO THE EXORCIST) – calls a parents-only town meeting and reveals the link in the killings to an understandably bewildered audience. When school paper editor Timmy (Keram Malicki-Sánchez, TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D) spreads the news, the hormones of the student body explode into a "Pop Your Cherry Party" planned for midnight at the decrepit Donkey Hill Hunting Lodge ("All we need is floor space"). Jody barely survives a brush with the killer and is able to provide a composite sketch of a dark-haired woman who sparks recognition in her father, although he holds this information back from devoted Deputy Mina (Amanda Anka, LOST HIGHWAY) and the FBI agents (DOGMA's Mark Joy and HANNIBAL's Joseph M. West Jr.), deciding to delve alone into a long forgotten even in the town's past involving a missing high school girl. When Stacy realizes boyfriend Kenny has only gotten back together with her for the opportunity to get laid, she decides she would rather lose her innocence to charming English professor Marliston (Jay Mohr, JERRY MAGUIRE), but her efforts may no longer matter to the killer.

A hot property in development that became undeservedly obscure upon its initial release when ownership of the production company changed hands, CHERRY FALLS has deservedly earned its cult reputation in the ensuing years as a smart slasher film. Neither as smug as SCREAM (although one twist does anticipate one of the less inspired sequels) nor brainless as I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, the film manages to be hysterically funny and satirical without becoming a parody a la SCARY MOVIE. Besides putting conservative parents in the awkward position of having to engage in a dialogue about their children's sex lives ("Can you go farther… than you have?" asks Marken of her relationship with Kenny), it presents a heroine who would rather take on a killer than be pressured by her peers – who seem to be popping their cherries together as a ritualized rite of passage more so than a safety-in-numbers measure – or threat of death into losing her virginity before she is ready. The urgency for the teenagers to take themselves off "the endangered species list" leads to a frank and unsparing pep talk by school slut Sharon (Joannah Portman), and the party sequence finds social outcasts emboldened and some of the players off their game. While the film has quite obviously lost quite a bit of sex and violence to the MPAA (there's a blink and you'll miss it reveal of a character's hand blasted off that gets some clarification in the comical reverse angle), CHERRY FALLS remains a fun film. Candy Clark (THE BLOB) turns in a warm and wicked performance as Jody's mother, making the most of far too little screen time, and the supporting cast also includes early appearances by DJ Qualls (ROAD TRIP), Michael Weston (COYOTE UGLY), Natalie Ramsey (CHILDREN OF THE CORN 666), and Zachary Knighton (THE HITCHER remake) as a serial confessor.

Initially intended as a theatrical release for October Films' Rogue Pictures genre division label, the film played theatrically internationally but went straight to cable when Universal sold the company to USA Films who also felt that the film did not warrant an individual DVD release and double-billed it with TERROR TRACT. Although the film has built up a cult reputation stateside, Universal never re-released it when the film ended up back with them. Scream Factory's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray gives this gorgeous-looking film (shot by DON'T LOOK NOW's Anthony Richmond) a nice HD boost evident in the film's first close-ups of its soon-to-be first victims. Audio options include the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 stereo downmixes. The film is less dependent on jump-scares than most recent slasher films but the soundtrack has its loud moments and directional surprises while the scoring of Walter Werzowa (HELLRAISER: INFERNO) provides effective if undistracting support. Optional English subtitles are also included.

First up in the extras is a brand new commentary with director Geoffrey Wright (ROMPER STOMPER) who reveals that he was one of the many directors attached at one point to SUPERNOVA and that he was considered for CHERRY FALLS because his manager was the screenwriter's wife Eli Selden (EVE'S BAYOU) who was also Murphy's manager. Looking at the film with fresh eyes after fifteen years, he has changed his opinions on Mohr's performance towards the positive (he and the other actors did not react well to the flexibility the director expected in order to get the required coverage before production was shut down) and expresses regret about how the late Murphy changed to conform to Hollywood's expectations. He also reveals that the odd chemistry between Biehn's Dudley Do-Right sheriff and Anka's spunky deputy was intentional. He also learned quite a bit about Nicolas Roeg's THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH with the reunion of cameraman Richmond and actress Clark.

"Lose It Or Die: The Untold Story of CHERRY FALLS" featurette (24:30) features new input from writer Ken Selden (WHITE LIES) and producer Marshall Persinger (TWIN FALLS IDAHO). Selden discusses his desire to write a teen orgy and how he felt that the "have sex and die" rule of slashers was right-wing so he decided to invert it. He also reveals that Wright stuck to his script but with a darker tone, and that the climactic orgy as scripted was meant to be a sea of white sheets writhing but Wright's version of the scene with nudity had to be recut heavily to get an R-rating. Persinger reveals that Selden wanted to direct the film but October Films – who greenlighted the film as the first film of their genre division Rogue Pictures – wanted a director with arthouse cache. Before settling on Wright, Persinger had approached David Lynch (TWIN PEAKS) and George Armitage (GROSSE POINT BLANK) who both politely passed. They also discuss the film's falling behind schedule and going over-budget before being consigned to obscurity when Rogue Pictures was sold to USA Films and Television. In "Cherry Falls Deputy: Amanda Anka" (7:40), the actress (daughter of Paul Anka) reflects on this early credit, her thrill to be working with Wright once she became accustomed to his directing style, and getting guidance from old pros Biehn and Mohr.

The montage of vintage interviews (6:26) consists of the same sound-bytes with Murphy, Biehn, Mohr, and Wright that have been featured on international DVDs of this film. They find the participants seemingly ill-prepared to talk about the film or at least unable to do so without revealing spoilers. The behind the scenes footage (4:32) is not particularly interesting although it does reveal that one axe-to-the-head scene was achieved with post-production effects since the victim slumps to the ground after saying his line while we see Murphy splattered with blood thrown by a crew member in the reverse angle. The film's theatrical trailer (1:47) is also included. Viewers with a BD-ROM drive on their computer can also access the film's original screenplay as a PDF file. (Eric Cotenas)