Horror tends to involve more old-fashioned social attitudes than other genres. Promiscuous people get murdered. People, in fact, who contravene any one of countless social rules – neglectful mothers, disobedient children, arrogant bosses – end up dead, occasionally in ironic ways.
Cherry Falls takes that trope and the idea of subtlety, then throws them both away. Cherry Falls is the only horror film I can recall with a rabidly pro-sex message.
Someone is killing the teenagers of Cherry Falls, a small American town. No one knows who or why, but the victims all have one thing in common: they’re all virgins.
The town reacts exactly as you would expect a B-movie town to react: the parents demand solutions and the young people organise an orgy in order to be safe. The film revolves around the attempts of the (virgin) sheriff’s daughter to work out exactly what is going on, fight off the attacker, and preserve her virtue.
It’s not a subtle film. The name is clunkingly obvious, and that sets the tone for the rest of the film. Cherry Falls doesn’t leave anything to chance, doesn’t imply when it can outright state. The violence is cartoonish and over-the-top; lots of stabbing and blood, though not in close-up detail. The whole thing is gratuitous, from the premise to the crazed killer ‘s eventual final spree.
The one thing that is weirdly tame is the sexual content. It’s a film all about sex, one where the final scene takes place in a gigantic orgy, but the whole film is actually very time – Cherry Falls is socially conservative in aesthetic if not in subject matter. It’s not that I mind, but it seems an odd choice, considering the film’s premise. The film has a 15 rating, as they presumably wanted, but I’d argue that if you are going to make a horror film about sex, your film should be scary and contain sex. Cherry Falls doesn’t do very well on either of those criteria.
It is a very awkward film. Half of the scenes seem to be based around parents carefully and reluctantly trying to have serious conversations about sex with their children. There’s also an English teacher who has an uncomfortably close relationship with a pupil – an unfair negative stereotype, by the way, no one ever writes it as a maths teacher. The overall emotion I felt during this film was sympathetic embarrassment.
With that said, despite the awkward nature of the conversations, the conversations are the high point of this film. The relationship between the English teacher and the student is believable, albeit deplorable, and the scenes before the killer really gets into gear do serve to establish character quite effectively. The dialogue generally flows, and you get a good sense of who each individual is.
As mentioned above, Cherry Falls is not a scary film – bad things happen, but they don’t cause fear. Fear doesn’t come from simply killing, but from the way it is presented. Cherry Falls is a bit too obvious to be unsettling – there’s no sense of unease. The killer isn’t really a credible threat; it is generally a bad sign in a horror film if you find yourself thinking that you could solve the problem without much trouble.
It’s not a great film, to be entirely honest. Cherry Falls fluctuates between a boring horror film and a ridiculous one – sometimes it is filled with violence that fails to scare, sometimes it is almost farcical. When it came out, the film won awards and was generally quite well received; I’m not quite sure how that happened.