Monday, March 17, 2014

Forgotten Films: Cherry Falls

In the years following the success of Scream, there was a resurgence in the teen slasher movie. Most were fairly derivative, following the standard formula and only marginally better than the fare offered up in the 80's slasher movie heyday. But there was one that was on my radar for a long time as it took the long and painful trip trying to get to the cineplex, only to be delayed not once, twice but five times in trying to get an R rating by the MPAA. In the end, it was quietly released on the USA network in a heavily edited form. This film was Cherry Falls and it may be the most subversive horror film to come out since the original Scream.

The main premise of this film is a killer is targeting the teens of the small town of Cherry Falls with a very distinctive M.O: they're targeting virgins. It's a clever reversal of the well worn slasher movie trope that if you have sex, you die. The Police Department figures it out fairly quickly and alerts the parents, despite objections of the principal, stating if the students find out they're going to have "one hell of a fuck fest on our hands!" Of course, the Principal is right.  

The main character, our final girl if you will, is Jody Marken (played by Brittany Murphy), daughter of the town sheriff (played by Michael Biehn). You know you're in uncharted territory when the stereotypical over-protective lawman father wakes his daughter up in the middle of the night to inquire about her sex life and if she can go further. 

Outside of it's unique trope reversal, the film follows the slasher film formula pretty much note by note. A small, peaceful town with hidden secrets that will be revealed as an old evil gets stirred up again, parents sins visited upon their children, etc. Still, it offers up each item with it's tongue firmly planted in it's cheek. I mean, the requisite climactic party at the end of the film takes place at a massive orgy as the entire high school gathers to try and take themselves off the endangered species list.

The film isn't perfect though. Aside from Jody and maybe her Dad, the film doesn't really give us a lot of characters to become endeared to for long, so when the bodies start piling up the audience is more indifferent. The other character I really liked was Jody's gay best friend, Timmy, but he leaves the film far too soon for me. 

Still, Brittany Murphy's turn as Jody more than makes up for it, showing her inner scream queen in all her glory and making Jody who can not only seriously haul ass when needed, but is also a more than competent fighter. It's a good performance by Brittany Murphy in a genre she may not have been well known for.

While, Cherry Falls is perhaps not the most original slasher film ever made, it gives enough satirical twists to the usual formula to make it a worthwhile viewing for fans of the genre, even in it's heavily edited form. Unfortunately, the film is downright impossible to find these days with the DVD out of print. I can only hope the relatively new horror imprint Scream Factory can get the rights to release this one, in it's uncut form if possible. It's a fun little horror flick that deserves to be seen more than it has, lost at the moment in obscurity due to unfair production problems. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Veronica Mars

"A long time ago, we used to be friends but I haven't thought of you lately at all..."
- The Dandy Warhols

I came fairly late to the Veronica Mars fandom, deciding to take a chance on it after a good friend of mine recommended it to me and I got a killer deal on the DVDs. I should state this friend had also recommended to me Doctor Who and Parks and Recreation, two shows I have also fallen rabidly in love with, so clearly she has exquisite taste in television. 

Needless to say, I fell hard for Veronica Mars. I devoured the DVDs, quietly grateful that I had the entire series at my fingertips and not having to wait week after week for new episodes. With clever plotting and a witty, endearing performance by Kristen Bell as the title character, it was hard not to get sucked in. But then, after 64 episodes, it all ended with the third season closing on an uncertain note. It was clearly not meant to be a season finale, but had to do for the ever growing masses of "Marshmallows" as Veronica Mars fans refer to themselves. (It's a reference to something Veronica said, that deep down she was soft as a marshmallow.)

Then, last spring, the unthinkable happened. Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell were launched a Kickstarter campaign to get the oft rumored Veronica Mars movie off the ground. The fandom let out a collective squee as a little over $5 million was raised for the film. The resulting film was released this past weekend. 

Veronica Mars was a teenage detective, working part time at her father, Keith Mars' Private Investigations firm. The show was fashioned in the vein of film noir with a contemporary sensibility. She would work on various cases throughout the series, frequently getting assistance from her friends Wallace (played by Percy Daggs III), Weevil (played by Francis Capra), and Mac (played by Tina Majorino). 

For the first two seasons there was a season long "big mystery" Veronica was working on as well as smaller ones contained in individual episodes. 

In the first season, Veronica explains how she used to be friends with the popular kids in school but all that changed when her best friend Lily Kane died. Veronica decides to take it upon herself to solve her friend's murder. Over a season long arc, Veronica discovers new clues leading her to the real killer, with plenty of twists and turns along the way. As well as solving Lily's murder, Veronica also took regular cases from her classmates. On the whole, it made for rewarding, addictive binge viewing. 

Season two upped the ante with the big mystery arc being a mysterious bus crash that led to the death of several students. Once again, Veronica plunges into the mystery after she and her Dad realize it was more than a senseless accident. In the back of her mind, she can't help but wonder if the accident was caused to try and kill her since she was supposed to be on the bus but wound up not getting on at the last minute. 

Season three shook things up in more than one way, with many of the main characters graduating college winding up at the local Hearst University. A new addition to the gang comes in the form of Stosh "Piz" Piznarski (played by the adorkable Chris Lowell), a Mass Comm major and Wallace's roommate. The format was also switched up where several smaller mysteries were worked throughout the season, each resolved and followed by another. A lot of Marshmallows didn't like Season Three as much, with many complaints levied against the addition of Piz, some even going as far as calling him the Riley Finn (from Buffy) of Veronica Mars. This is a comparison I reject outright on the basis that Chris Lowell could never, ever annoy me like Marc Blucas did. Besides, his character made sense, being an essentially good guy in a world that is populated by increasingly shadier ones. 

Over the three seasons, there were a few significant boys in Veronica's life. The first was Duncan Kane (played by Teddy Dunn), Lily's brother. He and Veronica were together when Lily died and their relationship fell apart when Veronica's dad, then the Sheriff, indicted his father, Jake Kane, in the death and she picked her father's side. The other main man would be Logan Echolls (played by Jason Dohring), who is initially a spoiled rich kid but when he suffers a personal tragedy, he and Veronica are drawn closer. Then there is Wallace, who she meets in the first episode when she discovers him duct taped to the school flag pole. Both in need of a friend, they quickly bond after that. I always appreciated that their friendship always remained strictly platonic, with no romantic drama on either side. It's a refreshing change of pace. Then there is Weevil Navarro, the leader of the local motorcycle gang and a frequent help to Veronica when she needs to find out some information on the seedier sides of town. Last but certainly not least is Keith Mars, played wonderfully by Enrico Colantoni. The relationship between him and Veronica as father and daughter is the heart of the show. She learned all her tricks from him. While he discourages her investigating things at time, he is also willing to help her when he knows he can't.      

Which brings us, finally, to the movie. We pick up with Veronica again, years later. She's living in New York and has recently graduated from Law School. She's interviewing with Law Firms and dating Piz, who she apparently reconnected with in the Big Apple as he is working at a radio station there. She gets a call from old boyfriend Logan Echolls, who is standing accused of murder and needs Veronica's help to clear his name. And as luck would have it, her 10 year high school reunion is happening then as well. Normally, I would give a movie crap for something like this, but hey, I can't fault them for wanting to get everyone back together.

It's amazing how well everyone manages to slip back into their old roles as well, like no time has passed. The film is fairly cleverly plotted, with some decent twists to keep things interesting. Of course, the main thrust of the film is making Veronica choose once and for all the life of a PI or the life of a big city lawyer.

The film stays true to the spirit of the show, while at the same time translating it to the format of a theatrical film, albeit a modestly budgeted one. No doubt, this one was for the fans, with little tidbits and cameos throughout that would have more meaning for fans. That being said, newcomers should be able to enjoy the film and would hopefully be inspired to check out the series.

Of course, I would recommend the opposite. Dive into the exquisite series and stay for the movie. And if Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell decide they want to do another one I have my money ready. After all, as they say, I'm a marshmallow.