Due to its fourteen million dollar budget, the film “Cherry Falls” has the distinction of being the most expensive television movie in history. Although made for the cinema, it never received a theatrical release. Instead, the film aired on the USA Network on October 20, 2000.
In the town of Cherry Falls, Virginia, two teenagers, Rod Harper (Jessie Bradford) and Stacy Twelfmann (Bre Blair), are kissing and caressing in a parked car. Moments later, another vehicle pulls up behind the car they’re in. The driver does not shut off their headlights. Rod gets out of the car to investigate. A few minutes later the teenagers will be dead. The killer, however, takes things a step further and carves the word ‘virgin’ into the flesh of both of the victims.
During the same evening as the murder, Jody Marken, portrayed by Brittany Murphy (8 Mile), and her boyfriend Kenny Ascott (Gabriel Mann) are having problems. Their issues have reached a point where Kenny breaks up with Jody. Before he has a chance to leave, Jody’s mother Marge played by Oscar nominee Candy Clark (American Graffiti) asks Kenny for a cigarette. She hides her smoking as well as sneaking drinks, so as not to incur the ire of her husband Brent, who happens to be the town’s sheriff. The part of Sheriff Marken is acted by Michael Bien (The Terminator).
Sheriff Marken gets called in to work. Alongside his deputy, Mina (Amand Anka), he begins to investigate the crime scene. The next day, the sheriff speaks during Mr. Marliston’s English class. In the role of the teacher is Emmy nominee Jay Mohr (Last Comic Standing). The investigation doesn’t get a chance to gain traction before another teenager, Annette Duwald, played by Golden Globe winner Clementine Ford (The L Word) is murdered.
After the third murder, Sheriff Marken arranges, with the help of the high school principal Mr. Sisler (Joe Inscoe), to hold a town meeting. During the meeting it is revealed that the killer seemingly targets virgins. The information of course leaks out, prompting the town’s teenage population to take measures to protect themselves. While the meeting takes place, the killer attacks Jody. She survives the ordeal. Working with the police sketch artist, the composite that is drawn disturbs her father, it reminds him of a woman he knew named Lora Lee Sherman. Unbeknownst to Jody, he and three other men, who live in the town, have been harboring a secret for over two decades.
What is the secret that Sheriff Marken and the other men are keeping from the town? Who is Lora Lee Sherman? Is she responsible for the spate of killings that have taken place? How many more teens will be murdered before the killer is caught. Will the killer be caught? All of those questions and more will be answered by the film’s conclusion.
“Cherry Falls” was directed by Geoffrey Wright (Romper Stomper). The screenplay was written by Ken Selden (Cruel Justice). On July 29, 2000, the movie premiered at the Munchen Fantasy Filmfest in Germany. Parts horror, mystery, and thriller, the movie has a runtime of 92 minutes. (As an aside: Cherry Falls is the only non-Australian film Geoffrey Wright has directed).
The film was accused of being a rip-off of “Scream.” There are similarities to be sure, but I didn’t find any blatant attempt on the part of the filmmakers to copy the Wes Craven smash hit. I also give those involved with “Cherry Falls” credit for attempting to inject a bit of originality into the plot. The established rule in horror movies is that the characters who have sex die. In this film, that is not the case. I enjoyed watching the movie. My only problem with it, is that I figured out, at least I thought I figured out, which was later confirmed, who the killer was – and too soon. I would have liked it if I had been kept guessing for a longer amount of time during the duration of the movie. Furthermore, it was both good and bittersweet seeing Brittany Murphy in the movie, knowing how young she was when she died in December 2009 at 32 years of age.