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Jenifer by Dario Argento

Jenifer is a blend of old and new Dario Argento, and I’m still undecided about how I like the combination. The last Argento film I saw was on the big screen–The Card Player at the Pioneer–and in fact, that is the only Argento film I’ve seen in the theater. It was a taut thirller, but the production values were grimy. Nothing like Argento’s cinematic splashes of red, his giallo style that he’s know for, with crazy wizard rock music serving as the backbeat during murders, of which there are many.

Jenifer starts out with the ho-hum production values of a cop drama, but much more low-key than an episode of Law & Order. Two cops sit in a car, piggishly poking through Chinese food while on break. They appear to be on the edge of a park, some type of wooded area, when their dinnertime is interrupted by piercing screams, the backside of a beautiful woman, and a fat, course man pursuing her with a butcher knife. The cops give chase, and one corners the man who has the woman bent over for the kill, a sacrificial virgin in a see-through dress, while his butcher knife arcs down.
The cop kills the man, who mutters something incomprehensible in an asthmatic wheeze, and from that point on, he inherits Jenifer.

From the back, Jenifer is seductive, a graceful, shapely body and long flowing blonde hair, but when she’s turned around, that beauty is canceled out by her face. Jenifer is horribly disfigured with rictus lips exposing gums and teeth, looking like she’s been turned inside-out. On top of that she’s mentally disabled. The cop learns she’ll be institutionalized for the rest of her life and takes pity on her, knowing what the state care system is like.

He brings Jenifer home to his family and puts this full-grown woman in a room suited for a small girl. Soon the cop learns that Jenifer’s appetites aren’t normal when she disposes of the family pet–a full disclosure in old Argento style complete with wriggling viscera.

The cop loses his family and finds himself drifting from place to place while bonded to Jenifer–a union that takes place in his car with unflattering lighting and a repulsive Beauty and the Beast moment all rolled up in one package.

Jenifer is a shocking and disturbing horror short, but I do feel it has something to say about love and jealousy, pity, and being taken for the fool. It’s not just gratuitous violence. After watching, I learned that Jenifer was filmed for a series called Masters of Horros, and Argento’s short was the only one that had to be censored. Horror has always been closely associated with sex, but apparently Argento crossed the line in Jenifer.

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