Dario Argento's episode of in the Masters of Horror series garnered quite a bit of controversy when it was revealed that the sexually gruesome story would be edited down for airing on Showtime. Hardcore gore fans burned up the message boards online, griping about censorship. But wait! They were assured by the producers that the offending scenes would be restored for the DVD release.
So… are they? Yes, and no. But more on that later.
Jenifer is an interesting entry into the series not only because it's directed by a bona fide "master" of the genre by anyone's definition, but it is different in that the screenplay was written by its starring actor. The ever screen-friendly Steven Weber plays Frank Spivey, a detective who rescues a strange young woman (Carrie Anne Fleming) with a freakishly disfigured face from a seemingly deranged killer. Her saving grace may not be her face, but she's got a "great rack" (as Weber jokes in the commentary, stating that he and Argento confessed they'd both do a woman like that, as long as she was seriously stacked).
When Frank takes responsibility for the mentally challenged stray and brings her into his home, the wordless Jenifer soon reveals herself to be a creature of indescribable carnal appetites and unspeakable violent depravities which include a kitty-killing, murder of the next-door neighbor, and entrails-eating. Frank's only option is to take the seductive psychopath to the isolated woods and stop her, once and for all. Of course, things do not go as planned…
Moss, clad in only in a prosthetic mask (excellently rendered by Howard Berger of KNB) and a flimsy white nightie, does a fantastic job of making an unbelievable character somehow believable. Weber's innate likeability saves the Frank Spivey character from being a total jerk, even as he abandons his wife and son for the freakish femme fetale from another planet.
Jenifer, even without the restored footage, is a pretty raw horror story that pulls few punches in the sex and violence departments. However, even on disc it was gelded by the producers in that they decided child-murder, cat-consumption and cannibalism was OK — but showing penises (and quite obviously fake ones, at that) was a no-no. You will not get the willies from severed willies in the episode as it plays, but you will indeed see the scenes playing in the background during the featurette as Argento talks about the unkindest cut of all. (And wait until you hear what they made out of chicken livers! Oh, boy…) So, we do get to see what was missing, but not necessarily in context – at any rate, the promise was kept.
The featurette So Hideous My Love, which centers on Argento, is quite interesting. We have quite a few thoughts from him (in Italian, with subtitles), plus Jenifer score composer Claudio Simonetti, whose band Goblin also did the music for other Argento films and George Romero's Dawn of the Dead. In addition are interviews in the featurette Working With A Master, from Berger, Weber, and Moss about collaborating with Argento and specifically, the filming of Jenifer. The featurettes show a lot of artwork from the source material for Jenifer, a comic book written by Bruce Jones and illustrated by Bernie Wrightson — it's very interesting to compare the page to screen.
Other featurettes include a look at the special effects with Berger; interviews from the set with Weber and Moss; and a commentary from Weber. Weber's commentary reveals the previously undisclosed back-story for Jenifer (she's an alien), and talks about some of the more technical aspects of the shoot as well. It's a frisky commentary, nicely buoyed by Weber's self-deprecating and ironic sense of humor.
In addition, the cover art is a great departure from earlier releases which, while they were uniform, looked somewhat tacky and were far too busy in their design. The Jenifer DVD jacket is simple, striking and scary.
The Jenifer DVD is a definite must-have for horror fans and for Argento completists.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson