Jenifer (Masters of Horror S01E04)

Masters_of_horror_episode_jenifer_DVD_cover_art‘Jenifer’Season 1, Episode 4
Directed by Dario Argento
Written by Steven Weber
Based on a Comic by Bruce Jones

Masters of Horror is an anthology TV series created by Mick Garris which first aired on the Showtime network in 2005. Each episode is a stand alone one hour film, directed by a master horror director. Masters of Horror ran for two seasons and is available on DVD.

‘Jenifer’ is in every way a perfect and pure horror story.  We’re not only dealing here with a simply horrifying tale and some perfectly grotesque imagery, the story itself, its simplicity, development and resolution is perfect.

~spoilers~

The basic story sees everyday cop, Frank Spivey (Steven Weber) happen upon a seemingly deranged man about to murder a beautiful woman.  Spivey shoots the man and saves the woman, Jenifer (Carrie Fleming),  revealing she’s not actually that beautiful at all but rather a grotesquely deformed head on a knock out body.

The authorities assume Jenifer is mentally disabled – she can’t speak and has a rather childlike quality to her – and she’s committed to a state institution.
Spivey has developed some kind of intense attachment to her, whether its due to her fingernail scratching is hand or some other more mysterious perhaps just basically psychological Hero reason. He releases her from the institution and takes her home. This is the only downfall of the story – I’m sure that a cop can’t just simply check out a mental patient and take her home, but without it the rest of the story doesn’t work so we’ll move on.

Spivey can’t resist that body of hers, despite her horrendous facial deformities, and the pair form a weird and perverse sexual thing.
Obviously Spivey’s wife isn’t happy with the idea of a deformed mental patient living in her house – and when Jenifer devours their cat (!), Spivey’s wife and son leave. It seems they’ve been having relationship difficulties for a while but this isn’t really discussed. It would have been nice to have a bit more detail in his family life to provide a bit more context to his character and actions, and perhaps in a longer film this would have been the case. In a short film from a short story, we’re only interested here in the core horror tale and a deformed mental patient slurping on the intestines of a family cat makes for some damn good horror. And it just gets worse – or better, depending on how you look at it. She kills again and again and eventually Spivey takes her to live in a secluded cabin in the woods.

We’ve realised by now that Jenifer is some kind of animal creature – not just the snacking on entrails but her nature is strange and animalistic, particularly during sex. In addition to this animal nature, she’s also quite childish, something the filmmakers are playing on with the score of tinkling piano music sounding like a warped children’s nursery rhyme.

The horror, and Jenifer’s strange hold over him, escalate to point where Spivey just can’t take it any longer and he takes her to the woods to kill her.  She’s rescued by a hunter, and the story starts all over again in an exact mirror of how it played out before.

This full circle storytelling is the point of perfection in ‘Jenifer.’  It’s tragic that Spivey gets shot, everything that lead up to the point is deeply, deeply disturbing and the knowledge that it’s all about to happen again is just devastating. Unless you’re looking at it all from the perspective of a horror fan, and then it’s just ghoulishly awesome! Yes it is a simple tale, and yes it is slightly predictable, but what is a simple tale told perfectly? Perfect.

There is a bit of a Frankenstein theme going on here, particularly in the scene with Jenifer and the young girl next door. The major difference is that while both Frankenstein’s Monster and Jenifer are gross mutilated things, Jenifer is so much more of a monster than Shelley’s creation. She doesn’t have the benefit of being the tragic or the misunderstood figure, so the comparison doesn’t hold up for too long.

There’s plenty of guts and gore, though hardly any violence which makes the gore all the more disturbing.  The most disturbing factor though is the sex. Spivey is obviously repulsed by Jenifer’s face and head (not to mention actions) but he just can’t stop having sex with her. Whether that’s her hold over him or he’s just a man remains to be seen and isn’t that important. It’s not eroticism, as the horror aspects prevent it from being in anyway tantalising, but the sex scenes are indeed quite sensual.  So it’s this mix of the two where the true revulsion lies.

Italian filmmaker, Dario Argento is no stranger to horror, collaborating with George A. Romero on Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Due Occhi Diabolici (Two Evil Eyes – 1990) as well as writing and directing a host of other horror and thriller flicks. ‘Jenifer’ is clearly made by people who know horror inside and out and while its simplistic storyline might not be for all tastes, it is for mine, perfect. A definite contender for The Best Masters of Horror Award.

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Kate Krake

Kate Krake (aka Kate Murphy) is a writer with a long established passion for all realms of popular culture. She lives in Brisbane, Australia. Find out more on Kate's Blog.
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