|Masters of Horror - Dario Argento - Jenifer|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 15 August 2006|
A group of friends, mostly horror writers and directors, have occasionally met for dinner here and there in Los Angeles. Somewhat in the spirit of “Hey, Judy’s got the costumes, my uncle’s got a barn, we can do the show right here!”, Mick Garris, one of the group, proposed a series of made-for-TV hour-long horror dramas, each to be made by a name horror director.
The resulting series, “Masters of Horror,” aired on Showtime and was popular enough that a second “Masters of Horror” season is now in production, and a “Masters of Sci-Fi” series is also in the works.
Anchor Bay is releasing the first series two episodes at a time. Each episode comes in its own cardboard sleeve, with the DVDs almost incredibly jammed with extras. Someone knew that horror movie buffs are among the most avid DVD collectors, and that they simply can’t be told too much about their favorite movies. This extras-laden treatment is rare in general, and incredibly rare for individual episodes of a TV series. Watching all the extras takes considerably more time than the individual episodes; this may be too much of a good thing.
Masters of Horror series entry “Jenifer” could hardly be more predictable—or more disturbing. It raises questions it has no intention of answering (such as the origin of the title character), and offers images both as gruesome and as sexual as any presented on mainstream (in this case cable) television. It’s very much the work of its acclaimed director, Italian Dario Argento. His previous movies include “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage,” “Deep Red” and “Suspiria.”
When actor Steven Weber was making the miniseries “Desperation” for director Mick Garris, he became curious about the “Masters of Horror” Showtime series that Garris was just then launching. Weber told Garris of a very disturbing tale from an issue of the black-and-white comic book Creepy, “Jenifer,” written by Bruce Jones and illustrated by the great Bernie Wrightson. Why don’t YOU write it? Garris suggested. And Weber did.
He also plays the lead, policeman Frank Spivey. While on a boring stakeout with his partner, he sees a harassed—looking man dragging a blonde (Carrie Anne Fleming) down to a bridge, obviously to kill her with the cleaver he’s carrying. Although Frank shouts a warning, the wild-eyed man raises the cleaver so Frank shoots him dead.
When he unties the woman, he’s shocked to see that she has a grotesquely distorted face, with huge, liquid eyes—and that she can’t seem to talk. A note found in the dead man’s clothing indicates her name is “Jenifer.” Distraught by the shooting and Jenifer’s weird nature, Frank turns her over to the authorities.
But something about Jenifer has affected him very strangely. He has sex with his wife that’s so violent she’s left angry, in pain. When he checks on Jenifer at the hospital she’s been taken to, he sees her naked, and she has a beautiful figure. Jenifer initiates wild sex in his car, stunning but enthralling Frank. Driven by impulses he can’t face, he brings her home with him. His wife is furious; his teenage son is surprised, though he does blurt out “She’s got a great rack for a Morlock.”
When Jenifer is found eating the family cat, his wife and son move out. Soon, Jenifer moves into his bed. (About here, the short movie seems to forget that Frank ever had a job.) More sex, always intense and exciting—but then he finds Jenifer in the basement, devouring the corpse of the little girl next door she’s violently killed.
When he simply abandons his home and takes Jenifer to a cabin in the woods, Frank strips away almost all of his life, of his civilized nature, and the story comes to a very predictable, but nonetheless disturbing, climax.
Fleming is genuinely creepy as the bizarre Jenifer of unknown—possibly inexplicable—origins. She never speaks, but her whines and moans of lust are uncomfortably realistic, as are her snarls and growls as she feasts on her kills. (Which seem to consist mostly—and moistly—of yards of intenstines.) In her interviews in the supplementary material, it’s surprising to see that in reality, Fleming is quiet, even soft-spoken.
Weber is good in a role that requires him to fall apart emotionally, to essentially be reduced to a throbbing penis of a man, sexually addicted to the hideous Jenifer. His script is efficient, with characters sufficiently established in just a few words. But in expanding the story from comic book to screen, he does stumble a little. Early on, Jenifer scratches him on the hand; the wound is emphasized for a few scenes—is it doing something to him?—and then completely forgotten. You can expand a story—but you still have to link its enlarging elements.
Dario Argento doesn’t speak English very well—his interview in the supplements is subtitled—but he understands how things should look. Many of his movies are illogical, but hold together because of his sure hand with a camera and with staging of individual scenes. He’s also completely unafraid of going “too far.” He did here. Near the end, Jenifer disables a teenage boy and begins eating him—starting with his penis. KNB effects obligingly came up with a realistic rubber penis, and Argento filmed Fleming gnawing on it. These scenes were cut from the show itself, but are included in the extras.
Argento didn’t bring any of his usual crew from Italy with him, but cinematographer Attila Szalay is clearly up to the demands; at times the angles and staging resemble panels from a comic book. However, the score by Claudio Simonetti is routine, at times uncomfortably similar to Bernard Herrmann’s famous score for Hitchcock’s “Psycho.”
As usual with these Masters of Horror discs, Anchor Bay has lavished “Jenifer” with extras, but there is a formulaic feeling to them, as if some of them are done by rote, not out of any kind of involvement with the material. The “script to screen” segment, for example, is very routine: we see pages of the script as a voice reads the dialogue; then there’s a segment of the scene being shot, concluding with the finished scene. There isn’t any narration to guide the viewer through this, nor is the “making of” segment” narrated. This reduces them to mere visual curiosities.
Weber participates in a commentary track, there’s the usual “Working with a Master” segment, this one featuring Weber, makeup artist Howard Berger (who also gets a segment all too himself), Carrie Anne Fleming, Claudio Simonetti and, somewhat surprisingly, actor Tony Mustante, who starred in Argento’s “Bird with the Crystal Plumage.”
“Jenifer” is one of the strongest Masters of Horror segments; it’s extreme, complete with dream sequences, and simply sidesteps normal logic. At the end, all we know about Jenifer is what she looks like, what she does and what her magnified sexuality drives men to do. But that’s enough.