Thursday 6 August 2009

Cherry Falls

A few years ago, my friend and I rented a double feature DVD based purely on the strength of its copy. The first movie was the horror anthology Terror Tract, which, though entertaining, was not very good. The second movie was Cherry Falls.

Jody is a high school student living in the small town of Cherry Falls. Her father is the Sheriff and her mother...well her mother is a bit of an alcoholic who fancies her boyfriend, Kenny. Life is pretty normal for Jody and her friends until someone starts murdering virgins. Soon the whole town is in an uproar and the students at Washington High take it upon themselves to solve the problem by having a sex party. As the virgins prepare to pop their cherries, Jody delves deeper into the mystery and discovers a terrible secret that leads her straight to the killer.

This movie gets better every time I watch it. Without being self-referential, Cherry Falls brilliantly comments on teenage sex while undermining horror movie conventions. Its themes of purity and vengeance are intertwined with those of love and desire. Also, it's pretty funny.

Jay Mohr plays Mr. Marliston, Jody's English teacher, and his awkwardness around her is incredibly endearing. It almost breaks your heart to learn that his only interest in Jody is as his victim. Additionally, Jay Mohr's performance as the cross-dressing killer ranks up there with Anthony Perkins and Michael Caine. His role of male teacher/female killer mimics similar dualities in Psycho and Dressed to Kill, in which a man provides help to or assists a woman in some way with the end goal of killing her while dressed in drag. In the case of Cherry Falls, Mr. Marliston's psychosis is driven by his mother's past and he exacts a revenge which is mother, now dead, is incapable of doing.

Brittany Murphy is Jody, the innocent victim in all this. And though she has a hand in defeating the murderer, he is ultimately killed by another woman, and non-virgin, Deputy Mina. But this movie is not really a tale of female empowerment or the triumph of the pure (biologically or morally) over the corrupt. Rather, teens in general, as opposed to women in particular, find empowerment through sexuality, and the film itself is morally ambiguous. In the same way Cherry Falls doesn't play host to a number of horror movie stereotypes and conventions, it refuses to comment on it's own story.

Perhaps best of all is the understated humour that runs throughout the film. In spite of the serious subject matter, the film finds humour in the situation seen through the lens of the high school experience. Everything's a huge deal when you're a teenager, and any setback in your personal life, no matter how insignificant, could spell the end of the world. Whatever happens to anyone else, however, is just gossip. Thus, the brutal death of fellow classmates, though tragic and sad, is ultimately treated with a certain amount of detachment which allows for a sardonic wit.

Holy hymens, Batman, they're killing virgins!

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