31 Days Of Horror #7: Jennifer (1978)

Lisa Pelikan plays Jennifer, a young woman attending a posh school thanks to her scholarship. Her lower social status sees her targeted by bullies, led by Sandra (Amy Johnston), and things get worse and worse until Jennifer decides to strike back. She may not have the same resources or connections as her bullies, but she has a special connection with snakes that may prove to be the ace up her sleeve.

The young, sweet woman in trouble with bullies. The friendly teacher (played by Bert Convy) who takes an interest in her wellbeing. The harsh and uncaring principal (Nina Foch). The religious aspects (snakes are tied in with religious imagery, obviously, and Jennifer’s father believes she has a gift, despite the fact that it caused them to have to leave her childhood home after killing a preacher’s son). The big “prank” that pushes the leading lady into action. Yes, this is an unabashed retread of Carrie, with the ability to control snakes replacing general telekinesis.

Written by Kay Cousins Johnson, from a story by producer Steve Krantz (although I suspect he just said: “let’s make a version of Carrie, but with snakes”), Jennifer is a surprisingly solid shocker, as derivative as it is. Although hampered by the unoriginality and predictability, director Brice Mack does enough to keep everything moving along nicely. In fact, he only reminds viewers of how much better this material would be with a De Palma at the helm when he tries harder, and fails, to make things more De Palma-esque.

Pelikan is good in the main role, sweet and downbeat throughout and able to get wide-eyed and glaring when required, and Amy Johnston is even better as the girl viewers will love to hate. Not only is she manipulative and nasty, she becomes outright delusional and psychopathic at times. Jeff Corey may not be half as memorable as her male accomplice, but Louise Hoven balances things out, portraying the one group member who starts to take a stand when she sees things going too far. Convy and Foch are both decent, although I can’t help but feel that two bigger and better names could have been used to fill those roles (no specific two, take your pick from many).

For horror fans of a certain age, Jennifer will always be one of those nostalgia-tinged movies. It was a VHS mainstay that populated both video rental shelves and retail bargain bins, drawing in prospective viewers with its tagline and cover art. And, considering the immediate reach and appeal it had, it didn’t have to be any good. So the fact that it was a decent film ended up being a pleasant surprise. The fact that it just about holds up nowadays is another.

DIRECTOR: BRICE MACK
WRITER: KAY COUSINS JOHNSON, STORY BY STEVE KRANTZ
STARS: LISA PELIKAN, BERT CONVY, NINA FOCH, AMY JOHNSTON, JEFF COREY, LOUISE HOVEN
RUNTIME: 90 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: USA

Film Rating: ★★★☆☆

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