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Hark, horror fans! If you’re looking for a delicious jolt of freakiness to get you through the holiday season, you can do a lot worse than Netflix’s limited series Brand New Cherry Flavor. Sure, I know what you’re thinking: “Weird title. Doesn’t sound like horror.” But mark the words of this lifelong scaremonger, lads and lasses. It most certainly ‘tis.
Art. Lust. Power. Revenge. These are the themes haunting the throbbing, gristly heart of this inventive supernatural thriller based on Todd Grimson’s novel. Brand New Cherry Flavor centers on Lisa Nova, played by Rosa Salazar, an up and coming — but maybe a tad naïve — auteur in 1990s Hollywood.
Lisa’s talent quickly earns her a place in the LA art-house scene, but she quickly gets swindled out of her debut film by a predatory producer, Lou Burke (played by Eric Lange). Angry, desperate, and powerless, Lisa sets out to turn the tables on Burke by befriending a mysterious spiritualist — read: witch — named Boro. Together the two women conjure up a curse for Burke, helping Lisa to get revenge. Boro, however, has her own ideas on payment for her services, none of which Lisa fully understands, of course, until it’s too late.
Let’s just say what Boro wants is enough to make Lisa have kittens. Like, literally. A side effect of the spell is that Lisa disgustingly coughs up live kittens which Boro collects. For nefarious, purposes, natch.
And darlings, that’s just the first episode.
As the show unfolds, Lisa becomes upset: the curse doesn’t appear to be working. Nothing bad seems to be happening to Burke, leaving Lisa to wonder if she has wasted her time. Then slowly, the bad mojo kicks in. The only problem is, the more Burke seems to suffer, the more Lisa’s own life begins to unravel as well. Worse, her friends find themselves thrust into the danger zone, and Lisa is visited by a terrifying presence that even the great Boro herself seems to fear.
For horror fans, there’s enough gore and sadistic thrills to sate even the most jaded among us. Mindless zombies lurk in shadowy corners. Eyeballs are unceremoniously ripped out of their sockets. Lisa develops a strange sore on her side that eerily resembles a vagina. The special effects feel fresh and exciting, and the scenes with Lisa’s tormenting ghost are particularly bone-rattling. Spooky stuff, indeed. Kudos to the actors, as well. Salazar plays Lisa as tough but vulnerable, with a wry wit that offsets the constant look of revulsion she wears as her life spins out of control. Eric Lange drips with schmaltzy fakeness as the horny and depraved producer. And Catherine Wheeler inhabits Boro with real style and substance, stealing every scene with an understated cool that remains fraught with tension.
Produced by Nick Antosca from Channel Zero, Brand New Cherry Flavor is a freaky good time. It’s also a cautionary tale about the power of wishes: Think of it as The Monkey’s Paw for the digital generation. My only complaint is that the final episode doesn’t wrap things up as neatly as one might expect. I understand that there are talks for Netflix to pick it up for another season, but as of now, nothing is certain.
Oh, and that title. It still puzzles me. Rumor has it, that’s exactly what the producers had in mind. I have my own theories about what it means, but like all good art, the interpretation is best left up to the viewer.
Stream Brand New Cherry Flavor on Netflix over the holidays, you won’t be disappointed.
Robert Stahl is a former bartender who left his bottle opener behind to follow his dreams as a writer. Now the Dallas-based freakazoid writes advertising copy by day and fiction in the evenings. He loves to connect with others about the craft of fiction. Click the link to find his blog as well as links to some of his stories: robertestahl.com.