Hello. My name is Jennifer. I go by Jen, but that's beside the point. My name is Jennifer, and I have a question: Why are all the "Jennifer" movies scary? By that I mean films with the name "Jennifer" in the title, most of which are frightening, disturbing, violent horror films. Jennifer 8 was about the hunt for a serial killer. Dario Argento's titular Jenifer was a retarded, mute cannibal. Even Diablo Cody couldn't lay off, making her latest protagonist, a Jennifer, the symbol not only of high school evil, but of evil evil. What's in a name, and why does mine strike fear into the hearts of filmmakers?
To investigate the unfair cinematic sullying of the name on behalf of Jennifers everywhere, I decided to take a closer look at "Jennifer" movies to find out how, or even why, we seem to inspire these scary, scary stories.
Jennifer's Body (2009)
The combined forces of Diablo Cody and Megan Fox came together to craft the latest onscreen treatment of Jennifers in this week's '80s throwback horror flick. Granted, it's a tongue-in-cheek kind of demon tale with plenty of literal man-eating and bloodshed, but what it's really about is the fickle bond of female friendship. (And snappy hipster-speak. Lots of snappy hipster-speak.) Fox perfectly embodies the kind of evil girl that we all knew in high school – hot and full of herself, and as handy with a put-down as she is with a cherry stem. Fox's Jennifer Check is as lethal as jail bait gets. Even worse? She's kind of a bad BFF. We don't all eat human flesh and steal your boyfriends, I swear.
Jennifer the Snake Goddess (1978)
Filmmaker Brice Mack got his start as a Disney artist (Snow White! Lady and the Tramp!) and even illustrated childrens' books. So why, in 1978, did Mack make his directorial debut with a horror film about Jennifer Baylor, a poor outcast girl with an uber-religious parent and the power to control snakes? (It might have had something to do with a little film called Carrie, which came out two years prior and made bucketloads of cash.) Exchanging telekinesis for snake charming and Lisa Pelikan for Sissy Spacek, this exploitation cash-in follows the Carrie formula pretty closely, including the key defense that Jennifer uses her powers for evil only when she's pushed to the brink.
Jennifer 8 (1992)
Technically, this thriller isn't about anyone named Jennifer; hotshot city cop John Berlin (Andy Garcia) and his country station cronies give the name to each of the victims of a serial killer with a thing for blind chicks. "Jennifer 8" is really a student named Helena (Uma Thurman), who's fingered as the next target. In addition to romancing Berlin, Helena joins forces with another cop's wife (Kathy Bates) to trap the real killer, but still; using "Jennifer" as a nickname for slain women? So creepy.
Jennifer AKA Lips of Blood (1975)
French fantastique specialist Jean Rollin made Levres de Sang during one of his busiest decades, in which time he cultivated a niche telling erotic vampire tales. (His other specialty? Porn.) In Paris, mysterious encounters befall a young man named Frederic (Jean-Loup Philippe); a photograph of an abandoned chateau dredges memories of a teenage girl, while a pair of fanged twin girls follow Frederic around town, saving him from other assailants. Eventually, Frederic finds his way to the ravishing young lady of his dreams, a vampire chick who loves him back. There's just one problem: she's his sister. (Ick!) Her name? Jennifer.
Jenifer (Masters of Horror, 2005)
Which brings us to what might be the worst Jennifer of them all. In this entry for the Masters of Horror anthology, horror auteur Dario Argento presents a nightmare scenario: Married cop Frank Spivey (Steven Weber, also the film's screenwriter) takes in a deaf-mute but nubile woman named "Jenifer" whose face is extremely hideous and deformed, but whose childlike affections are gosh-darn endearing and seductive to men. Giving up his life and family to be with Jenifer, Frank finds that she has yet another irksome quality, in that she likes to eat people. (Look for the not-safe-for-TV shots, in which Jenifer chows down on some genitals, featured on the DVD.) So let me get this straight. This Jenifer is hideous, mentally disabled, and a cannibal, but she's good in the sack? Well, I guess I can live with that.
So there you have it. A demon, a freak, a victim, an incestuous vampire, and a deformed people eater, Jennifers all. Thanks a lot, Hollywood.
[Jen Yamato is excited to join the Cinematical team, welcomes your feedback, and likes her name, thank you very much.]