Spacek Training

The first rule of Hollywood Lore 101 is when something sensational catches on, rinse, spin-dry, repeat and repeat again. In the case of AIP, it’s their coat of arms. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the 1976 horror phenomenon, Carrie had producers and hack writers scurrying to their respective legal department’s how-much-can-we-get-away-without-being-sued-for-libel divisions. And, as quick as directors could shout, “menstrual blood in the shower!” the floodgates had opened and out poured a veritable Carrie nation – the jewel in the crown being 1978’s JENNIFER, now on Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber, Scorpion Releasing, 20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment/MGM Studios, Inc.

In its defense, JENNIFER is sincere in its general execution, and ultimately comprises a reasonable carbon copy of the Carrie template. It is, however, the sprinkling of fresh tidbits that occasionally surpass the now-culture imbedded scenario of the Stephen King original.  Add to the mix that JENNIFER is also extremely well-cast, and lays claim to the debut of ubiquitous 1980-1990s TV and B-movie actress Lisa Pelikan (it isn’t, this movie being her twelfth credit). Unlike the geeky, downright strange (or, how Bing Crosby described Danny Kaye in White Christmas: “a real weirdsmobile”) teen lass (so poignantly enacted by Sissy Spacek), Pelikan is an ex-pat from a small mountain community who has been granted a scholarship at a posh school due to her impressive cerebral skills. Because of her slight accent, smarts, and disinterest in trendy assholes (“Don’t ask why the spiders are crawlin’ up your leg, just brush ‘em off”), she is immediately ostracized by the super-rich girl contingent, led by Sandra – perhaps the meanest mean girl ever to skank up celluloid. Sandra (Amy Johnston) is so nasty and cruel that Patty McCormack’s wallet likely came with her picture in it. Can’t be a complete accident that she sorta resembles Seventies international bad girl/goddess Mimsy Farmer. Or is that just my wishful thinking for giving them moguls too much smarty-pants acknowledgement?  Sandra’s uncaring pop is, (big shock) a senator, played with apathetic plasticity by John Gavin. He’s more worried about his career than his sprout’s well-being (she’s already been tossed out of approximately 200,000 schools for aberrant behavior beyond the call of booty). So, I guess one is supposed to feel sorry for her, but that’s a near impossibility as the character is such a goddamned miserable bitch. And since the school relies upon generous donations from her father, the waspy dean (the great Nina Foch) ain’t gonna do shit. Besides, she has to support her drug habit. So, poor Jennifer is made to suffer. And suffer she does.

In the King novel (and movie), the title character’s single parent was a maniacal religious freak, played to perfection by Piper Laurie. Jennifer’s single parent is likewise Christ-fixated (in that precocious Spanish Inquisition sort of way), and is portrayed by the equally superb Jeff Corey. And here the secrets come out. Corey and Pelikan were unequivocally banished from their bucolic homeland for witchcraft. Ya see, Jennifer has a penchant for snakes, and snakes can give one “da power.” This begat a backwater notoriety concert tour resulting in a series of serpent sermonizing an’ a-scarifyin’ (“Give me the vengeance of the viper!”). Eventually, Jennifer’s hillbilly (or is it hillbillina?) Aimee Semple McPherson routine caused the death of a child and excreted the bee-jeezus out of the rubes, Papa Corey included. So the pair high-tailed it out of there and opened a pet shop in the upscale community where Jen aced her scholastic entrance exams.

The fact that Jennifer is fearful of her own powers is yet another intriguing facet to this opus. I mean, we know she’s gonna cave, it’s just a matter of when. Neither Bert Convy, as a sympathetic teacher nor Wesley Eure, a simp pathetic student, provide much help.

Like Carrie’s antagonist, meanie Sandra has a dumbass boyfriend, Dayton (Ray Underwood), sculpted in the John Travolta mold (and, trust me, unlike grease, mold is the word). It doesn’t help that this “teen” looks around forty years old (in actuality, Underwood was 28), and apparently enjoys wearing Liberace’s cast-offs (ah, those disco-pathic Seventies).  And, yes, there is a shower scene – one sans Karo syrup, but nevertheless just as embarrassing.

And, here comes the truly fascinating addition to the story, one that underlines the already-feminist vibe the picture has commendably been giving off (JENNIFER was scripted by a woman, screenwriter Kay Cousins Johnson). Jane, another abused girl (Louise Hoven), is ordered by Sandra to be raped as a goof/punishment. Moron Dayton viciously performs the deed, which finally wakes the up-till-now complacent student up. Rather than go to the authorities, she bonds with fellow pariah Jennifer. This sets in motion the much-anticipated in-prom’s-way final act. The concept of a horror movie wherein a rape victim calls upon the supernatural to extract revenge is genuinely inspired. That producer Steve Krantz (who cribbed the story…ummm, concocted the King “homage”) and writer Johnson didn’t really “go” with this, making it the picture’s prime focus, constitutes a mammoth missed opportunity. I can’t imagine coming up with this plot point, and NOT eschewing the Carrie shenanigans in favor of starting from scratch with a totally innovational horror approach. But WTF do I know?

The climax is suitably karma-friendly, although the budget prevents the prosthetic effects that the villains so richly deserve. It does seem as if the production ran out of funds, since even the non-splatter action effects appear compromised and, truthfully, not all that exciting.

That said, JENNIFER, otherwise ably directed by Bruce Mack, has enough oomph to pass muster, justifying a valid addition to any Seventies horror shelf.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray of JENNIFER looks pretty good, high praise from a 1970s offering, processed by the likes of MovieLab. The widescreen visuals by Irv Goodnoff are good ’nuff, and replicate a nice, sharp palette of colors indicative of the era. There’s an instantly forgettable score supervised by TV’s Ed. Norton (I wish!), Jerry Styner and Porter Jordan, and an authentically awful title song composed and sung by Jordan that may have your guests hurling projectiles at the screen before the main credits finish rolling, some of the organic variety.

JENNIFER.  Color.  Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition].  2.0 DTS-HD MA.  Kino Lorber/Scorpion Releasing/20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment/MGM Studios, Inc.  CAT # K1418.  SRP:  $29.95.

jenniferCOVER

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