As the ‘90s drew to a close, Scream (1996) came along and changed the slasher genre forever. While the ‘80s were packed with memorable slasher movies such as Friday the 13th (1980), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and Child’s Play (1988), the ‘90s were slightly lacking. However, post-Scream, the genre was invigorated, and in the years that followed, we were hit with more new slasher movies than you could shake a kitchen knife at. On August 25, 2000, the UK was treated to a gem of a slasher film, Cherry Falls (2000), being released in cinemas. While censorship issues meant the film was released two months later as a TV movie in the United States, Cherry Falls has still earned its place as a cult-classic in the slasher world.

 

 

While Scream stressed the importance of the typical rules of horror movies, Cherry Falls decided to take the most important one and turn it on its head. Typically, it’s the sexually active characters who tend to meet a grisly end first. However, this time around, the killer is specifically targeting virgins, creating a moral quandary for the local teens as they had to decide if they wanted to have sex to take themselves out of the firing line.

Cherry Falls opens on Rod and Stacy making out in a car next to the titular falls in the town. While Rod is trying his best moves on Stacy (and by best, I mean pretending to be an alien who needs to breed with Earth women to complete his mission), Stacy refuses to go any further than kissing. The pair are then interrupted by a woman dressed in black, who kills both of them swiftly and brutally. We then cut to Jody (Brittany Murphy, Girl, Interrupted, 1999) and her boyfriend, Kenny (Gabriel Mann, Josie and the Pussycats, 2001), who are also kissing in Kenny’s car. Much like Rod, Kenny is trying to pressure Jody into sleeping with him. When she refuses, he decides to break up with her, as he feels he’s already put too much time into their year-long relationship and is getting little in return.

Our third victim is Annette, who has a very public fight with Dylan in the school cafeteria after it turns out he has been spreading lies about the sexual activity together. That night, she is attacked in her home and strung to the ceiling for her parents to find when they return from their date. It’s here we find out the common link between our three victims – they were all virgins when they died. The theme of teen sexuality runs through the entire movie, even when murder isn’t involved. The film does an outstanding job of representing the struggles of all parties involved and shows how complex sex can be when you’re a teenager.

 

Cherry Falls [has] earned its place as a cult-classic in the slasher world.”

 

The interaction between Rod and Stacy seems pretty typical of any teen movie, with the boy desperately trying to talk his girlfriend into having sex with him. However, as the film progresses, we see that it’s often more complicated than that.

Kenny breaks up with Jody when she refuses to have sex with him, and yet when she arrives at his house later and decides she’s ready, Kenny freaks out. While he only seemed interested in her for sex, he later insists that he wants to make sure that she is sleeping with him because she wants to commit to him, not just because she’s trying to block out the bad things in her life.

In the scene where Jody decides she wants to lose her virginity, she’s entirely in control of the situation, asking Kenny to bite her toes as he rubs her feet. It could be the fact that she’s not being pressured, and is instead asking Kenny to fulfill her sexual needs that makes her more ready to sleep with him. However, this seems to perplex Kenny. We’re always told that teenage boys are sex mad, and girls just go along for the ride (pardon the pun) when this definitely isn’t the case. Kenny thinks he needs to be the one initiating the whole thing, and so when Jody does, he’s confused.


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This damaging stereotype that teenage girls have to be convinced and pushed into having sex means the female side of things is often left out of sex education. As the teens of Cherry Falls decide the best way to avoid the killer is to hold a ‘pop your cherry’ ball, Cindy takes it upon herself to educate the girls on having sex, because clearly they haven’t been getting reliable information anywhere else. She covers essential topics such as birth control and the female orgasm (or lack thereof), and how chances are it will be a little awkward. Rather than being portrayed as the ‘slut’, Cindy is shown as a fountain of knowledge and experience. She is filling those vital knowledge gaps, to give the girls a chance to enjoy sex and know exactly what they’re going into.

While your friends getting murdered is obviously not ideal, most of the teens in Cherry Falls seem excited by the prospect of the ‘pop your cherry’ ball. Perhaps the idea of losing your virginity en masse is more appealing because it takes off the constant pressure that these teens feel when it comes to their sexual status. While it’s not condonable, the way that Rob and Kenny find themselves constantly pressuring their girlfriends for sex, as well as the fact Dylan lies about his sexual encounter with Annette, shows the sort of pressure the teens, especially the boys, are under to appear sexually active.

The way the sex party is handled in the movie is actually pretty sweet, considering they could have focussed mostly on the physical side of things. Instead, the focus is on the teens pairing off with each other. With the pressure of asking those you have a crush on taken away, the teens put their hearts on the line and do what they haven’t had the guts to do previously. Even the ‘loser’ kids who spend most of the film being the target of the popular kids’ bullying find themselves the perfect partners pretty quickly.

 

This damaging stereotype that teenage girls have to be convinced and pushed into having sex means the female side of things is often left out of sex education.”

 

The truth is, the people who are most concerned with teenagers having sex are the town’s older generation, and that’s exactly what the killer is banking on. Principal Sisler is outraged at the thought of telling the teens’ parents that the killer is targeting virgins for fear the town will have a ‘fuck fest’ on their hands. Even the town meeting erupts into violence when the parents start making comments about the sexual activity of each other’s kids.

The killer, revealed to be Jody’s English teacher Mr Leonard Marliston (Jay Mohr, Small Soldiers, 1998), targets virgins as revenge for what happened to his mother, Lora Lee Sherman, twenty-seven years previously. After she was raped by four football players from wealthy and prominent families, the crime was covered up, and Lora Lee was forced to flee town. Lora Lee became pregnant with Leonard as a result of the attack and drummed the story into Lenoard every day of his childhood.

Because Leonard has seen all the people who attacked his mother, and even those who helped cover up the attack, rise to positions of power in the community, he knows how corrupt the town is. Leonard wants to target the only innocence that these people have left – their virginal children.


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By dressing up as his mother when he kills, Leonard brings Lora Lee back to Cherry Falls and exposes the hypocritical nature of the adults in town. This is is especially true with Jody’s father, Sheriff Marken (Michael Biehn, Aliens, 1986). Marken is particularly hard on Jody, giving her an extremely early curfew and grounding her when she returns home late from a date. Jody puts up with his strict ways because he is her father and the town sheriff, and therefore a strong moral compass for her. And so, when Jody finds out that her father was involved in Lora Lee’s rape, it not only destroys her relationship with him but also makes her question everything she’s grown to trust.

Sheriff Marken is the one person Leonard wants to destroy the most because it turns out Marken is Leonard’s father. He builds a close relationship with Jody so that when she feels betrayed by her parents and Kenny, it’s Leonard that she runs to. Once Leonard reveals that Marken did participate in the rape, and was not merely a drunken bystander as Jody’s mother suggested, he gets to watch Marken in the most pain possible, as he loses that strong relationship with his daughter. Ensuring that bond is severed before he kills either Marken or Jody is Leonard’s endgame, as he knows it will hurt Marken a lot more than merely killing Jody.

The adults of the town are so worried about the teenage population’s moral decisions, when, in truth, they need to take a look at themselves. Both the town principal and sheriff participated in the rape of Lora Lee, taking complete advantage of her after her car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. The town also takes advantage of the fact that Lora Lee is an outcast, and decides to side with the popular, well-off families of the football players involved, rather than supporting a vulnerable outsider. Even Jody’s mother knows the story and still chooses to marry and have a child with Sheriff Marken, simply sweeping the whole thing under the rug by rationalizing his involvement in the attack.

 

“[…] Cherry Falls is actually a pretty good representation of the confusion and pressure of sex as a teenager.”

 

Parents so often think they know better in horror movies, much like Marge forcing Nancy to sleep in A Nightmare on Elm Street, but the teens seem to have the most sensible approach to the situation. They group together and organize a consensual sex party, finding a secluded location which will house everyone, and even come up with a cracking pun for the poster. The kids have started to cotton on to the fact that the whole idea of virginity and its associated innocence is outdated and silly. Most of them don’t think twice about having sex to save their lives, whereas their parents and seniors still seem worried about the moral ambiguities involved in the whole thing.

Even casting the rules of horror aside, Jody is still a virgin as the film comes to an end and she takes the killer down in traditional ‘final girl’ style. However, rather than being completely anti-sex, or chaste, like final girls frequently are, she is now armed with the knowledge that she feels ready to have sex with Kenny. She also knows that Kenny only wants her after he ditched the sex party to reconcile.


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Overall, Cherry Falls is actually a pretty good representation of the confusion and pressure of sex as a teenager. Rather than having naked teens in every second scene, it chooses to give us a more realistic glimpse into the most awkward time of our life. It’s also very sex-positive, showing that consensual sex between two people is nothing to be ashamed of and that informing the teens involved, as Cindy does, is often more helpful than trying to prevent it completely. Finally, it somewhat reassuringly shows that no one really knows what they’re doing when it comes to teenage relationships – not even adults.

 

Have you seen Cherry Falls lately? How do you think it holds up twenty years after its release? Let us know by giving us a shout on  TwitterReddit, or Facebook! And for more horror movie retrospectives like this one, stay tuned to Nightmare on Film Street.