Monday, January 11, 2016

Jenifer (2005)

It seems that all the great Italian genre filmmakers eventually turn to television at some point. The last film Mario Bava worked on was a TV project entitled The Venus of Ille (1979), a tag-team effort between Bava and son Lamberto who of course also found himself at the helm of many a TV movie in the 80’s. Ruggero Deodato began his career making commercials and continued to do so throughout his filmmaking career. In 1989 Lucio Fulci and Umberto Lenzi teamed up for the House of Doom series with Fulci directing two made for TV films for the series, The Sweet House of Horrors and The House of Clocks, and Lenzi directing the other two, The House of Lost Souls and The House of Witchcraft. For the most part Sergio Martino has worked almost exclusively in television since the early 90’s, even directing the giallo mini-series Private Crimes (1993). Perhaps due to his legacy (and no doubt box office dependability in Italy), Dario Argento has managed to remain active in theatrical features although in 2005 he too took the TV route. That year not only saw Argento direct the TV movie homage to Hitchcock appropriately entitled Do You Like Hitchcock? but also Argento’s entry in the first season of Showtime’s Masters of Horror series Jenifer, one of the highlights of the first season and one of Argento’s most atypical and perverse films.

While witnessing a deranged man attempting to butcher a defenseless woman (Carrie Anne Fleming), detective Frank Spivey (Steven Weber) has no choice but to shoot the man dead. He discovers the woman’s face to be horribly disfigured and that almost nothing is known about her other than her name being Jenifer. Soon Frank is unable to get Jenifer out of his thoughts and feeling guilty about her having no place to go, Frank takes Jenifer home with him, much to the horror of his wife and son who quickly leave after discovering Jenifer’s barbaric side. Frank soon discovers another side of Jenifer, that she is a nymphomaniac with an insatiable sexual desire that he is unable to deny. Completely under Jenifer’s spell, Frank retreats to a cabin in the woods with Jenifer in a new town, a decision that can only end in disaster.

Going back and forth between being disgusting, erotic and hilarious and at times all three at once, Jenifer, both the film and the titular character are definitely oddities. Running at a rather brief 58 minutes, the film wastes little to no time getting down to business in terms of Jenifer showing her true nature and Frank’s downfall that that goes along with it. For some this might seem like jumping the gun a bit in terms of character development but it really gives the character of Jenifer an even greater mystique and makes Frank’s descent from family man and police officer to delirious drifter all the more haunting. Argento is certainly fascinated with the idea of a man willing to have sex with a women with a perfect body (which Jenifer has) in spite of her hideously mangled face and the sex scenes do provide some squirm inducing moments but they also serve as examples of the films deranged sense of humor. Visually the film is Argento at his most straightforward as the story really didn’t call for any directorial flamboyance however when the time comes to show just how much damage Jenifer can do with her teeth, Argento doesn’t hold back on the violence one bit and the effects are outstanding, the main highlight obviously being Jenifer’s face which is legitimately frightening. Under all the make-up Carrie Anne Fleming does a fantastic job with nothing but body language and manages to convey a sense of sadness about Jenifer while still being terrifying.

Normally when most fans think of the Masters of Horror series and censorship the banning of Takashi Miike’s Imprint (2006) comes to mind, however Jenifer is notable for being the first episode of the Masters of Horror series to require cuts prior to broadcast. There were two brief instances of Jenifer performing oral sex that just didn’t fly with the network, however they do make an appearance during a making-of documentary on the DVD. What’s also revealed on the DVD is just how far Argento originally wanted to go with the sexual content, even requesting that the make-up crew create an “alien vagina”, as Argento described it, for Jenifer out of a smorgasbord of parts although that never ended up being put to use. What’s also interesting that that lead actor Steven Weber also wrote the screenplay which was adapted from a 10 page comic originally published in 1974 in the 63rd issue Creepy. As far Masters of Horror goes, Jenifer is one of the best the series had to offer but it also works great as a stand alone film, albeit a short one. Its an original mix of horror, sex and just the right amount of humor and a fairly unique direction taken by Argento who would return to direct a second episode of the series the following season, the equally bizarre Pelts (2006). One of his finest, more contemporary efforts.

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