From the director of Withnail & I and How to Get Ahead in Advertising comes the creepy, clever, but ultimately generic serial killer horror thriller Jennifer 8. Andy Garcia, Uma Thurman, and Lance Henricksen headline the show about a killer targeting blind women. Watchable, entertaining, but not the best this horror thriller scores an excellent new Collector’s Edition from Scream Factory with an impressive A/V package and an alternate cut with the longer original ending and a new retrospective feature. Recommended
One can argue whether or not Serial Killer movies are simply Thrillers or if they’re actually Horror movies all day long. Personally, I file them in “Horror” in my collection. Even if they’re multi-Oscar-winning entries like The Silence of the Lambs, that’s just a really well-made horror film that benefits from a little extra class with a great cast, screenwriter, and director. But really, it’s not that far removed from something like John Carpenter’s Halloween. But winning a few big Oscars is all it took for Serial Killers to become genre de jour in Hollywood in the early 90s. So after writing the incredible The Killing Fields and directing two classic but unprofitable odd-ball films, Bruce Robinson penned and helmed his own Serial Killer Horror/Thriller entry Jennifer 8.
Proving his leading man chops is Andy Garcia as former L.A. cop Detective John Berlin. John’s just followed his old Captain Freddy Ross (Lance Henricksen) from the big city to the sleepy northern California town of Eureka. But it’s not a slow onboarding to the new gig when a woman’s severed hand is found in the town dump while investigating an apparent suicide. Irritating his colleagues, Berlin becomes convinced this nameless victim is one of a series of six other unsolved crimes codenamed “Jennifer.” His only potential witness is blind musician Helena (Uma Thurman). But when this deranged killer targets her, Berlin is the only one who can keep Helena from becoming Jennifer 8.
On the surface, this flick has a lot going for it. A great cast; Andy Garcia was in his leading man prime giving an intense performance. Uma Thurman was a sexy talented up-and-coming actress with a lot to prove and she positively glows in this film. Lance Henricksen is doing overtime in his supporting role as the exhausted friend with a dirty sense of humor Ross. Even though he has all of five minutes John Malkovich adds some real menace and tension as an irritated FBI agent with a bad cold. The premise is certainly tantalizing: a killer targeting blind women and the only witness may have heard the man speak, smelled him, and heard his car. The moment a lowly cop says “I think I found a hand…” the film is off to the races, but sadly doesn't get far.
The problem is Robinson’s script doesn’t really have new ground to cover. In a number of ways, this film covers a lot of the same points as Ridley Scott’s decent-enough Someone to Watch Over Me. Once the typical protector/romance roles between Garcia and Thurman’s characters are established, anything unique about the film slides away. Plot beat after beat, Jennifer 8 becomes more conventional with twists and turns becoming increasingly predictable and frustratingly convenient. The little piece of information that hides the killer’s identity from every smart character in the film pointing to that individual and going “Oh, yeah it’s that guy!” is so slim it’s almost laughable.
However, Jennifer 8 isn’t for nothing. While it’s clunky and not overly original or all that surprising plot-wise, the film is beautifully shot and some slick memorable set pieces add to the tension and thrills. A midnight stakeout of Helena’s Institute on Christmas Eve is one hell of a creepy sequence complete with a talking elevator telling you what floor the killer may be on! Top it off with a great score from Christopher Young and you have something of a stylish entertaining thriller that isn’t the best of the genre, nor is it the worst.
Now this Blu-ray release of Scream Factory offers up a slightly different outing with an extended edition complete with an alternate ending. I’d heard of this ending and read about it a little, but this was a first-time viewing and it’s alright. It’s not so much of a deleted unused ending as it is the same ending with extended footage. Personally, I think it was a wise cut to leave off the extra material, but I’ll let viewers decide that for themselves. Worth noting the footage does appear to have been sourced from low-grade elements, possibly even a workprint tape, and this cut is only available with DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio. It’s a noticeable step down in quality so when the new footage starts you know it immediately.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Fresh from Scream Factory comes a brand new single-disc Collector’s Edition release of Jennifer 8 on Blu-ray. Pressed on a Region A BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a standard case with an identical slipcover depicting the film’s original poster artwork. The disc loads to a menu screen letting you choose which version of the film to watch before letting you choose your audio or view the extra features.
Reportedly sourced from a fresh 4K scan of the original 35mm negative, Jennifer 8 looks pretty damn fantastic. Previously offered in 1080p back in 2013 during that Warner Bros./Paramount distribution partnership, I thought that the older disc was good, better than DVD, but nothing too memorable. For this release, fine details are excellent letting you appreciate facial features, the early 90s clothing, the set design, and some particularly gnarly details. Fine film grain is apparent throughout but not overly intrusive or noisy, nor does there appear to be any signs of smoothing or over-used DNR. Black levels are spot on and nice and inky - again that previously mentioned stakeout scene is nice and creepy with deep shadows. Colors are nice and vivid, it takes place around Christmas so there are plenty of reds, blues, and yellows about. Skin tones are healthy and human without being peached or too pinked. All around a pretty great transfer.
On the audio side Jennifer 8 stalks away with two options, a respectable DTS-HD MA 2.0 and a pretty damn excellent DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. To be fair to it, the 2.0 track is pretty solid for a lot of the film. It’s largely conversational without tons of action, but that 5.1 mix really sells the big active set pieces. Cops stuck in the rain looking for more body parts at a dump, the flapping doors and the creaky elevator of the institute; there are some really slick sound design moments that the 5.1 track simply handles better than its 2.0 counterpart. Then you have the great Christopher Young score which gets much more care and attention to fillout the tense soundscape. So depending on how you’re rigged up, that’s the best way to go. The asterisk to that last point is the Extended Cut only plays in DTS-HD MA 2.0 so there’s not a lot of wiggle room for you there.
The main draw here for fans of the film is going to be the alternate cut - which to be honest really doesn’t change all that much except for the ending. Since I’m averse to that kind of spoiler I won’t detail it or say more than simply the Theatrical Cut’s original exit plan worked better. Because I consider it a curiosity more than definitive version of the film, I'm filing it in bonus features. However after that we have a great retrospective Is It Dark Yet? featuring new interviews from writer/director Bruce Robinson, Andy Garcia, and Lance Henricksen. For a film 30 years on from release and didn’t enjoy much of any extra features on past discs, I like seeing a retrospective like this. We get a lot of overview for the making of the film from Robinson, but also seeing Garcia and Henricksen participate is a nice touch as they explore their performances and memories making the film. Garcia's explanation for how John takes a shot midway through the film is a highlight.
Depending on who you ask, Jennifer 8 is either a pretty good, not perfect, but entertaining Serial Killer Horror/Thriller - or the worst thing they’ve ever seen. As someone who isn’t blind (no pun intended) to the flaws of the film but enjoyed it, I’ve had some wild conversations in the past with people who vitriolically hate this film. It has a creepy atmosphere with some really slick setpieces, and solid performances from the key cast for an overall entertaining flick to watch on a cold winter night. Scream Factory gives fans of the film a new Collector’s Edition to paw over for their physical media shelves complete with an excellent A/V presentation, a new retrospective, and an alternate cut of the film with the extended ending. If you enjoy the show, definitely a disc to call Recommended
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