Written by: Steven Weber (teleplay), Bruce Jones (short story)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Starring: Steven Weber, Laurie Brunetti and Carrie Fleming
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
� If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck with a meat cleaver."
Like the Masters of Horror episode that preceded it, Jenifer is helmed by a director whose best days have long sense passed in Dario Argento. While it�s arguable that his work has never sunk to subterranean levels,
it�s been at couple of decades since he consistently churned out quality films. Jenifer doesn�t do a whole lot to make you forget his more disappointing output, but I think you can at least make the case that it�s the best work he did during the last decade. Small consolation, perhaps, but this is a gleefully little twisted tale that at least recalls the transgressive quality of his earlier oeuvre.
Argento�s protagonist here is a familiar one, as Steven Weber plays officer Frank Spivey; however, unlike Argento�s other cop figures, he�s not tracing down a serial killer. Instead, he gets his man in the opening minutes when he shoots a raving lunatic to death before he hacks up a girl (Carrie Anne Fleming) with a meat cleaver. The girl ends up being the titular Jenifer, whose face is hideously deformed despite her very attractive body. From the moment Frank meets her, he�s inexplicably drawn in by her seductive charms and is set down a path of destruction.
His destructive path is lined with disemboweled intestines, as Jenifer is harboring a ravenous mean streak beneath her seemingly harmless, mentally deficient woman-child exterior. As such, you can argue that the MVP of the film is the effects team headed by Nicotero and Berger, who craft some impressively gruesome effects to highlight the graphic nature of Frank�s descent. There�s an unexpected frankness to it that works on a raw, visceral level, particularly because most of it ends up being perpetrated in the middle of a quaint suburbia. It seems that whenever Frank leaves the house, he�s almost always greeted by the latest disgusting surprise Jenifer has left him.
Admitteldy, a lot of this is cheap schlock, as Jenifer aims for the most obvious form of queasiness by putting everything and everyone in danger, including children and pets. Argento has wallowed in this stuff for years, with even his earliest work being marked by a faint sleaziness (that subsequent Italian schlock-masters amplified to absurd levels). However, there was always a sense of style and grace to Argento�s best work, whether it be the Technicolor dreaminess of Suspira or the bravura camerawork of Tenebrae. This is what I miss more than anything from his more recent work--it�s almost as if he willingly abandoned his trademark flair and distinctiveness, a move that�s resulted in flat, generic gore-fests and dull police procedurals. Jenifer isn�t much different in this respect--I like that the film is more measured and assured than it is frantic, but it�s hard to find classic Argento in here.
If he�s to be found, it�s in the mix of the erotic and the grotesque, which are gruesomely fused in the title character. Outside of the gross imagery, she�s certainly the film�s most enduring and fascinating image, with her contorted facial features offsetting her otherwise appealing figure. With a giggly, childish demeanor, you�d feel compelled to call her impish if she didn�t eventually have someone�s guts dangling from her mouth. Her background is purposely suppressed to keep her enigmatic--she�s simply this weird, deformed girl that wanders into Frank�s life, only to tear it apart. Instead of being repulsed by her, he can�t resist her sexual overtures that also create a disconnect with her childlike exterior. She�s a walking contradiction through and through, both physically and morally--she looks ugly and her actions sometimes match it; however, there�s a weird sensuality to her too that makes it difficult for Frank to dispose of her.
Try as he might, he can�t bring himself to refuse her, leading to one of the more bizarre relationships you�ll ever see. It�s also the basis for Argento�s most memorable work in years--there�s something grand and silly about Jenifer, and it actually feels like Argento is having a good time with this instead of just going through the motions. With a more heightened sense of style and visual flair, it might have been something special, but, at this point, I�ll just settle for Argento not sucking up the joint. He doesn�t here, so you�ll want to check out Jenifer on DVD or via Netflix; either way, you�ll get a fine presentation, but the disc is of course rounded out with a bevy of extras that include on set interviews with the cast and crew, a script-to-screen feature, behind-the-scenes looks, trailers, a still gallery, and an audio commentary with Weber. Argento hasn�t really done much in the past fifteen years that deserves a spot on your shelf, but Jenifer just maybe eeks out a spot. Buy it!
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