"MASTERS OF HORROR: DARIO ARGENTO’S 'JENIFER'"
by Kevin Carr
|| MOVIE: *** (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: ***** (out of 5 stars)
Steven Weber as FRANK SPIVEY
Carrie Anne Fleming as JENIFER
Studio: Anchor Bay Releasing
Directed by: Dario Argento
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I’ll admit that while I’m a horror fan, I haven’t been an avid fan of Dario Argento. “Suspiria” was interesting, but hardly the masterpiece it is often remembered to be. “Four Flies on Grey Velvet” was boring, and “Deep Red” is actually laughable as many films of the 70s are today.
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However, like most of the “Masters of Horror” series, Dario Argento’s “Jenifer” is pretty decent. The film is an adaptation of the Bernie Wrightson horror classic from a 1974 issue of “Creepy.” It was adapted for the screen by actor Steven Weber, who also plays one of the leads.
Weber stars as Frank Spivey, a police detective who stumbles upon an attempted murder while on a stakeout. He shoots a man who is trying to kill a deformed and disfigured woman named Jenifer (Carrie Anne Fleming). Spivey takes Jenifer to the station with him and is put on leave while he recovers from the shooting.
After realizing that Jenifer is being put in a cruel government asylum, Frank takes her home with him, much to the chagrin of his wife. Over the next few days, Frank becomes obsessed with Jenifer, who is hideous to look at but has an uncontrollable sexual appetite. Unfortunately, she also has another type of appetite. After she kills and eats the family cat, Frank’s wife leaves him, and Frank goes on the run with Jenifer.
This film tells a story of obsession and raw animal devotion. It’s hard to classify, and while it fits as a horror film, it also works on a strange level as a love story. The character of Frank is sexually obsessed with Jenifer, who is more than willing to give him what he wants. Yes, she’s hideously deformed in the face, but she has a great body – and you know how us men will put up with almost anything for a woman with a nice rack.
Like Argento’s other work, there’s an etherealness about it that you don’t get in American cinema. As an installment of the “Masters of Horror” series, it is excellent. Instead of just enlisting American directors, series creator Mick Garris has made sure to dip into the cinematic pools in other countries as well.
Compared to the limited amount of Argento’s work I’ve seen, I have to put “Jenifer” on the higher end. Argento approaches his work with a furious rawness that rings with pure truth. American directors often attempt this, but too often it seems forced. Argento just lets it happen.
While Weber did a decent job with the screenplay adaptation, it has its rough spots. This is understandable considering it’s being adapted from a comic book that’s several decades old. And it’s a great example of how things can be done with ease in a comic that just seem strange in a film. For example, I doubt a police detective can release a victim of attempted murder into his custody that easily. Also, there were several events that happen throughout (some of them rather violent) that receive almost no attention on screen when they would attract a lot in real life.
Still, “Jenifer” is an intriguing piece. It’s hard to view the title character as a monster, even though she is. There’s a tenderness there that Argento is able to weave into the story.
The special features are plentiful, including several behind-the-scenes documentaries as well as a commentary by Steven Weber. The most interesting parts of the bonus items are interviews with Carrie Anne Fleming (whom Anchor Bay fans might recognize as the sexy vet wannabe in Stephen J. Cannell’s “The Tooth Fairy”). The make-up ordeal she undergoes is fascinating for the would-be filmmaker, and understanding what she went through for the character is a story on its own.
Specifications: Digital Stereo Sound. Widescreen (1.77:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions.