Masters of Horror: Jenifer (Television)

Episode 4

Starring Steve Weber, Carrie Anne Fleming

Directed by Dario Argento

Airdate: November 18, 2005

Masters of Horror, so far, has demonstrated a number of things, especially the fact that each episode is not the strongest representation of the methods and nuances we’ve come to know the “masters” by. Unquestionably, they reflect their own merits and faults – the series alone is stirring up some erudite conversation amongst the masses – which is a feat for anything put out in genre today, so kudos to that – but there has been no single contribution that clearly indicates that the mind of the selected master is heavy at work. It’s arguable that Stuart Gordon came close with the cumbersome Dreams in the Witch House, and now here we are with Jenifer, a padded-for-length, sexually-charged Argento piece which challenges his fans to find any semblance of their beloved giallo guy.

Steven Weber – also responsible for adapting this story from a comic book by Berni Wrightson and Bruce Jones – is Frank Spivey, a detective whose first encounter with Jenifer comes when he discovers the poor girl bent over a barrel and about to be beheaded by a crazed, disheveled man. Spivey rescues Jenifer by shooting and killing her attacker – he consoles the helpless girl, quickly realizing her visage is one of nightmares. Pitch black eyes. Contorted, fanged mouth that’s prone to some heavy drooling. But what a body… It’s the crude locker room joke about a girl you’d screw, but she’s so ugly you’d have to throw a paper bag over her head.

It’s this tainted sex appeal that, in due course, attracts Spivey. He goes to lengths to free the mysterious, seemingly orphaned, Jenifer from social services and puts her up in his own home, driving out his wife and son after Jenifer is found eating the house cat. Even Spivey’s own attitude begins to metamorphose. The night he returns home from shooting a man dead, he gets a lil’ rough in the sack. We also get the gist he’s a drinkin’ man, but his condition worsens after his wife leaves and his sexual dependency begins with his hideous new companion. Long story short – and how true it is – guy meets girl, girl turns guy’s life upside down. Except here: girl has a tendency to eat flesh. Not in a dainty fashion either. We’re talking full-on RIP and TEAR. Spivey relocates with Jenifer beyond the city to a cabin the woods following an incident in which his gal pal makes a gut buffet of a little girl. But he finds out that he can’t break Jenifer of her unnatural habits.

In the grand scope of everything “Argento,” this is a big break from the norm. There’s plenty that reveals the Italian maestro’s vision – a few creative shots, Claudio Simonetti’s contribution to the soundtrack (the opening few seconds say it all) – at the same time, however, it’s interesting to see him take the homage route as often as he does here. There’s a morbid slice of James Whale’s Frankenstein thrown in here, a Bernard Herman-esque nod in the score there. Argento doesn’t shy from winking at his own past works either. The biggest struggle he faces is matching the sixty-minute running time. There’s not nearly enough material here to warrant an hour, and it shows. At one point Spivey attempts to pawn Jenifer off on a local freakshow, going so far as to paying someone to kidnap her. The result is confusing at best. We never hear from Spivey’s wife and kid again either.

Weber, even though he’s channeling his Jack Torrance days, is acceptable; and Carrie Anne Fleming’s turn as Jenifer is that of a mewing cat mixed with a child-like curiosity and the insatiable sexual appetite of Jenna Jameson. And there’s no real tension per se. Argento is more reliant on the shock factor this time around in both the gratuitous nudity department (I’ve got no problem there) or wet ‘n sloppy gore (ditto). Suffice to say, this is a great exploitation piece. One with a weak script, some broad characterizations (Spivey’s partner acts more like Mafioso than a detective), and choice cop dialogue (“If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it’s a duck with a meat cleaver.”). None of that has ever stopped Argento before, right? And we still love him for it.

3 out of 5 Mugs O’ Blood

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Jon Condit

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