The wacky weatherman calls the plot silly, but it doesn’t matter “because the approach to the material is so good and so unexpected.”
Hello, saw the interest in Masters of Horror at Coax and thought I'd share my thoughts on the Dario Argento episode "Jenifer", which I saw tonight instead of the Gordon piece (which i really wanted to see). I was out when it aired, so I watched it On Demand when I got home. Somehow, I didn't get Witch House unlocked, I got Jenifer. I don't know if everyone with On Demand can watch it as well, or for how long, or what the deal is. For all I know, the Gordon one didn't air and everyone saw the Argento piece, but it feels like a mistake, so I thought I'd run the risk of being redundant and give you my opinion.
I am a big horror movie fan, and it therefore pains me to admit I have ony seen the second half of Suspiria and no other Argento anything. I know his reputation, but despite knowing I would probably really dig him, I haven't taken the initiative to watch anything he made. I see now I am pretty much gonna have to watch as much as I can find, becase, goddamn, he made one fucked up little film here.
On the Showtime website, the description makes it sound like some sort of Body Heat/femme fatale thing, with a supernatural twist. Not quite. It's more like the Jodie Foster movie Nell directed by Satan. The basic plot is this: A cop played by Steven Weber sees a man dragging a woman in the woods by rope while brandishing a butcher knife. Weber saves her by shooting the killer (who lingers, and gets to scream "You don't know what she is!" before expiring), only to discover she is hideously deformed, and mute. Argento doesn't let us see what's wrong with her face for a little while, giving just tantalizing glimpses off eyes that are too big and too deep, or fucked up teeth, and this is effective. It sets up some pretty high expectations. The makeup, when you finally see it, looks kind of like makeup, but this is not to say it isn't a creepy and unsettling design. I'm getting ahead of myself. Weber becomes fixated on this "poor retarded woman" and allows his desire to protect (and fuck) her control (and ruin) his life.
That's the short version. The truth is, the plot is fairly silly, with a weak narrative that kind of fails with one central conceit. The woman looks like a fucking demon, and yet the Weber character is obsessed with her above all other things. Some attention is given to a cut she gives him at the rescue, and I guess the inference is that he is now cursed to protect her or something, but that is inconsistant as well. The alternative is that he's simply the stupidest idiot on the face of the earth. I mean, she is CLEARLY not just retarded. She has enormous black demon eyes, for christ's sake. She looks about as human as Pumpkinhead. Eventually, we kind of just assume he's cursed, as the alternative would be a deal breaker. That's about the twenty-five minute mark.
However--none of that matters ultimately, because the approach to the material is so good and so unexpected. It's scary. It's very unpleasant. Horrific violence springs forth out of nowhere. Every time you think Argento wouldn't do something, he does, as graphically as possible. It may be the recent glut of PG-13 horror films out there, but the willingness to just pour the buckets of blood really stands out here. There are lots of intestines. There's about six or so red money shots. I think I know where the excised penis bit referred to in your recent MoH coverage would have gone, and if it was meant to go where I think it was, it would have been quite the coup-de-gras, making an already horrific moment damn nea unbearable. Speaking of which, there is also a whole lot of sex, shot graphically, like you might see in porn. Except the nudity is that unsettling and uncomfortable kind, like Jennifer Connelly in Requiem For a Dream, perhaps, in that Jenifer might have a killer body, but she retains her retarded gargoyle's face. And worse. The actress playing Jenifer is pretty good too, creating a fairly believable feral creature, and Weber is surpisingly decent, especially considering the character's lack of development. The score is great, with a scary singing child theme song, and weird electronica in some scenes. And even though the plot is odd and meandering, it isn't predictable.
Well, until the end. The end is disappointing, as it is EXACTLY, down to the last word, what I guessed it would be from the beginning. And in addition, it's completely at logical odds with the entire episode up until that point. It's a typical Tales From the Crypt ending, and if you are even a slight fan of the genre, you'll see it coming. So know now that Argento isn't going to blow your minds with the last 60 seconds and enjoy the weird and nonsensical turns, the sex, the gore, and the craftsmanship, because what this episode ultimately does is display a director doing everything he can to get under your skin, and in this, he succeeds. What I remember of Suspiria-from the blood to the performances to the music, feels very much like the same artist. I'm loving MoH so far. Can't wait for the next one (and Witch House, damn it).
Call me Harris K Telemacher, if you use this.