One of a few rip-offs of Brian De Palma’s CARRIE to be released in the late 1970s, Brice Mack’s JENNIFER finally makes it digital debut thanks to Scorpion Releasing’s recommendation to Kino, who have been doing a bang-up job of tapping into the vast MGM film library.
Originally raised in hill country, quiet and reserved redheaded Jennifer Baylor (Lisa Pelikan, who had previously played a young Vanessa Redgrave in JULIA) is now attending the posh Green View private school for girls due to a scholarship. Taking care of her overbearing, Bible-embracing father (Jeff Corey, BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES) and working in the family-owned pet store, Jennifer finds opposition in the snooty “rich girls” at school, especially blonde brat Sandra Tremayne (Amy Johnston, THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY) after an incident involving cheating on an important exam. The pill-popping, booze-sipping headmistress Mrs. Calley (Nina Foch, THE RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE) is of no help and despises Jennifer in favor of Sandra whose father donates large checks to the school (“rich is right” she exclaims) but the outsider finds compassion and friendship with her teacher Jeff Reed (Bert Convy, A BUCKET OF BLOOD) who is totally sympathetic to her.
Sandra’s obsessive hatred of Jennifer evolves into a number of dangerous pranks, including a nude photo being taken of her during a night-time stunt in the swimming pool and the discovery of a dead cat in her locker. Sandra’s conforming, chubby lackey Jane (Louise Hoven, AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE) believes her friend is going too far, and when she opposes her, Sandra punishes her by asking her reckless boyfriend Dayton (Ray Underwood, MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH) to sexually assault her in a car parking lot elevator. But Jennifer hides a dark secret, a power she obtained in childhood during a church rally after fearlessly sticking her hands into a basket of poisonous snakes, and it's something she wanted to keep in the past (due to the deadly result of its use). Now with Jane as a secret ally, Jennifer lets herself get abducted by Sandra and her gang of ski-masked disguised friends for a taunting session on top of the parking garage; now with her unnatural telekinetic abilities back in full force, she retaliates by conjuring up killer snakes of all shapes and sizes!
The parallels between JENNIFER and CARRIE are obvious (the tormented outsider with special powers, the religious zealot father, the concerned teacher and the bitchy scheming adversary) and the title character’s manipulation of animals also recalls such 1970s horrors as WILLARD and STANLEY. Producer Steve Krantz (FRITZ THE CAT) had executive-produced another (sort of) CARRIE rip-off the year before with RUBY (which featured CARRIE’s Piper Laurie) and AIP’s publicity campaign made use of blatant comparisons (“JENNIFER ...makes ‘CARRIE’ look like an angel!”). No new ground is broken with JENNIFER, but it’s an entertaining gem with a good performance by Pelikan and a colorful supporting cast who handle the somewhat recycled material in a lively manner. Much like Giulio Paradisi’s THE VISITOR (1979), JENNIFER carries a kind of “kitchen sink” mentality in that incorporates elements from a number of other successful genre movies (and enough of its own plot ingredients), and the end results are entertaining and a worthy drive-in entry in American International Pictures' library (and this was one of the last horror movies the company released). The well-paced thrills and various malicious acts towards Jennifer (as well as weird flashbacks, disco scenes and car races through the high level parking garage) lead up to one hell of a frantic climax (using real snakes and oversized serpents created by the special effects team) that plays out like a cinematic hallucinatory trip. Although the film is low on gore (unusual since this was the late 1970s), there’s more than a few glimpses of bare breasts (including the lead actress) as well as some very saucy dialog, so it's surprising that the MPAA passed this with a “PG” rating.
Not a CARRIE clone in every respect, the title character is not in the least bit creepy (and just as attractive as her popular nemesis, Sandra). Pelikan really plays the character well (and she still has a thriving acting career), and her last shot is basically a wink to the audience which kind of leaves us with a feeling that what we just saw was all tongue-in-cheek. Legendary acting teacher Corey adds another exploitation film role to his massive credits, and although it may be tough to accept the Brooklyn-born veteran thesp as a country Bible belter, he’s memorable enough and understated in comparison to Piper Laurie as Carrie’s fanatically dangerous mother. Convy at the time was known for hosting TV game shows (his “Tattletales” was still a top-rated daytime program at the time of the film’s release), so it might be jarring to see him and his Brady fro here, but he’s perfectly acceptable in the role once you do just that. PSYCHO star John Gavin plays Sandra’s wealthy senator father, and “Land of the Lost” star Wesley Eure (who appeared in THE TOOLBOX MURDERS the same year) plays one of her mischievous cohorts. Veteran actress Lillian Randolph (here as a friendly kitchen worker who befriends Jennifer) will be familiar from Frank Capra’s IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, among other Hollywood films. There’s a menacing-sounding score by Jerry Styner, but an attempt at a pop theme song by Porter Jordan comes off quite desperate. Director Mack only directed a handful of feature films, as he was more prominently employed as an animator for Disney, going back to the early 1940s.
Never before released on DVD, JENNIFER was last seen in the VHS days when Vestron released it back in 1985. With a newly commissioned HD transfer from MGM, Kino and Scorpion present the film on Blu-ray (with a subsequent DVD release) in 1080p in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The source material is in excellent shape, and the image is clean, well-detailed and as sharp as can be, with the bold colors looking absolutely gorgeous and fleshtones have a realistic look about them. Any grain on display is moderate and looks natural. The audio is presented in DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track, and it’s a good enough mix with clear dialogue, music and effects. The only extra on the disc is AIP’s original theatrical trailer. Also of note is the newly commissioned cover art which is far more impressive than the film’s original one-sheet poster art. (George R. Reis)
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