Tuesday, March 03, 2015
JENNIFER director Brice Mack started with Disney in the 1930s and painted backgrounds for FANTASIA, SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, CINDERELLA, and SONG OF THE SOUTH. That’s a long way from making a cheap horror flick about a beleaguered teenager and her army of killer snakes.
Lisa Pelikan (GHOULIES), who plays the title character, looks like Sissy Spacek, but lacks the vulnerability that made Spacek’s Carrie White so damned heartbreaking. Nevertheless, Pelikan is extremely good as the West Virginia native attending a tony California all-girls school on a scholarship. While the snooty rich girls in their fancy lingerie tell stories about schtupping John Travolta and dress in flapper gear to go disco dancing, Jennifer stays home behind the family pet store, cooking and caring for her nutbar fundamentalist father (Jeff Corey as Piper Laurie).
Kay Cousins, a television actress who married Russell Johnson (GILLIGAN’S ISLAND’s Professor), wrote JENNIFER, and does a nice job setting the mood, establishing the characters, and building to a satisfying finish, as does Mack (SWAP MEET). Unfortunately, due perhaps to a paucity of imagination, but more likely a paucity of budget, JENNIFER just doesn’t pay off.
Jennifer is bullied relentlessly by her obnoxious classmates, who are led by the psychopathic Sandra (Amy Johnston), the daughter of a prominent senator (PSYCHO’s John Gavin in a cameo). Sandra’s manipulation of lisping, overweight Jane (Louise Hoven), who’s so desperate to fit in with the cool girls that she endures a heap of humiliation, shows the limitlessness of her cruelty. And we really want Jennifer to sock it to Sandra. She does, but it just isn’t enough.
The more bloodthirsty of horror fans may lament the lack of gore in the PG film, though Mack allows some nudity — and non-gratuitous at that. Convy as a sympathetic science teacher turns out to be a superfluous one as well, though Nina Foch’s (AN AMERICAN IN PARIS) turn as the school’s supercilious headmistress (“The rich are always right.”) is JENNIFER’s true villain. Try not to dwell on Porter Jordan’s hilariously overwrought theme song, which sets a campy mood that Mack’s film, thankfully, doesn’t achieve.