WRITER: Screenplay by Kay Cousins Johnson
Story by Steve Krantz
DIRECTOR: Brice Mack
STARRING: Lisa Pelikan as Jennifer Baylor
Bert Convy as Jeff Reed
Nina Foch as Mrs. Calley
Amy Johnston as Sandra Tremayne
John Gavin as Senator Tremayne
Jeff Corey as Luke Baylor
Louise Hoven as Jane Delano
Ray Underwood as Dayton Powell
QUICK CUT: A young girl going to an exclusive private school on a scholarship becomes the target of bullies. How shall they work out their differences??
Jennifer - A shy, quiet girl stereotype. She's a southern girl, her father was in a congregation that did that whole snake handling thing, and Jennifer had a gift for it. Beyond just being lucky. She's your regular small town girl, who just wants to get a good education, but encounters too many bullies.
Mr. Reed - One of the teachers at Jennifer's school, who may or may not have had an affair with a student. He's kind, he tries to help, and he always tries to do the right thing and doesn't let students get away with things just because they have rich parents.
Sandra - The leader of the bully pack, and Jennifer's chief rival. She's the daughter of a senator, whose chequebook makes all of her problems and screw ups go away with lots of zeroes. She has zero concept of consequences, and is perfectly okay with going to great lengths if it means she gets her way.
Jane - One of Sandra's minions, but because she is not attractive enough by the standards of some, and a bit of a nerd, she's only tolerated by Sandra and her crew because she too has money.
Luke Baylor - Jennifer's father, and he is VERY VERY religious. He believes his daughter is Chosen By God, because of her abilities, and thinks she is wasting her life actually studying and going to school.
THE GUTS: Welcome back, Triskelions. We are getting back to basics and back to school after our summer in the woods. There's a special theme running through most of the reviews between now and November. I'm not gonna say anything, and wait and see if anyone can guess...
First up is a little film from 1978 called "Jennifer". It's about a young girl with a sole religious parent and secret abilities, who gets bullied at school, until she strikes back violently at her oppressors. For some reason, this sounds familiar.
In some markets, "Jennifer" was known as "Horrible Carnage" and let me give you some spoilers before we even get started...MOST INACCURATE TITLE EVER. Trust me. You'll see.
Before the credits roll, we meet the titular Jennifer and her father, a very religious man, but he's at least the loving yet controlling type, and doesn't think is daughter is of the Devil. He's running a pet store in town, while his daughter goes off to school.
As she arrives at Green View School, a prestigious school for the rich, or those lucky enough to have a scholarship like Jennifer, the credits kick in, and we get this wonderful ballad about Jennifer. The type that only the 70s could get away with.
The movie wastes no time in introducing Jennifer's rivals, the local spoiled rich kid Sandra, and her clique. We're never really given any particular reason for WHY they're rivals, and Jennifer clearly doesn't think they are, until later. It's just your typical rich kids hating the townie type set up, I guess.
We spend a lot of time with high school drama, and I'm going to do my best to skim past it to the good stuff. The real rivalry starts though, with Sandra trying to frame Jennifer for having the answers to a midterm exam.
Most notable throughout all this is their teacher, Burt Convy, famous 70s and 80s game show mainstay. You would think he'd be better at not letting these kids steal the answers to questions... Did they teach you nothing in Game Show College, Burt?!
They try and punish Sandra, but oop, her father is a senator, and sends large donations to the school, so never mind that happening.
Back at home, Jennifer's dad is complaining about having red meat for dinner, and talking about having visions, and longing for the good old days when little Jenny would reach into boxes and grab snakes.
Oh no, they're the worst of the bunch, the snake handlers. And letting a little girl do it, ugh. Fortunately, it looks like Jennifer can speak parseltongue...
Since she got Sandra into trouble with the school AND her father, Sandra sets her sights squarely on Jennifer, and we montage through a quick series of pranks, leading up to Sandra faking getting burned while Jennifer serves her in the dining hall. Fortunately, Professor McGameshow defuses the situation by defending Jennifer.
The girls get ready for a party, and they are dressed so strangely. I can't quite tell if they're just plain dressed up in 70s fashions, or if they're going to a costume party, or what. I have zero sense of these things. It feels more like dressing to the nines with 'modern' fashion than anything else. BEHOLD THE HORRIBLE CARNAGE.
We stumble into one plot point while dancing for far too long at the club; Sandra's trying to enlist her boyfriend into further humiliating Jennifer. Like a normal person, he doesn't care, and wants her to shrug it off because it's not worth it, but Sandra always gets what she wants.
As the girls are having fun, Jennifer's taking care of the animals, when her dad comes down. He reminisces about the good old days when Jennifer would charm snakes, command them to stay and attack like good puppies. HORRIBLE CARNAGE.
Jennifer on the other hand, just remembers it a bit darker, and feels her powers were evil and wicked.
Papa Baylor tries to prove a point, and comes after his daughter with some snakes, so she runs away into the night. As one does when SOMEONE COMES AT YOU WITH SNAKES.
As she runs through the streets, the movie flashes back to her father's congregation, and everyone cheering her on to play with snakes. Maybe she'll luck out and find David Blake from Sssssss.
In a raging fit of coincidence, the next day, Professor Convy talks about snakes, and how they've been worshiped, and many still believe in the superstitions surrounding them. Jennifer questions this, and kinda reveals to the school that her and her father worship snakes.
Some of the girls invite Jennifer onto the swim team and gee, this can't go horribly wrong, can it? It IS worth noting that there is one girl who asked her, that pops up once or twice during the movie, and is genuinely nice to Jennifer, but they never really develop her or the relationship. She's more of an afterthought than anything. But, it's not even a different scene before Sandra has pushed Jennifer into the pool and actively tries and hold her under to drown her. Look, this girl has problems.
Another girl in the group, the barely tolerated because her family is rich Jane, interferes and stops Sandra before her father has to write a cheque to make the murder charges go away. So now she's become a target of Sandra's.
Jennifer accuses the bully, and Sandra actually has the stones to deny it. You *grabbed her arm* and *held her head under water*. There's not many ways to interpret that!
After the attack, Sandra's getting changed, and we focus on an intensely staring Jennifer...AND SUDDENLY THERE'S SNAKES! Now we're talkin'. After 40 minutes of slowly chugging along, SNAKES. ...But it goes nowhere, they just kinda appear, squirm, and are never mentioned. HORRIBLE CARNAGE!
Jennifer continues to struggle for independence from her father, trying to do her own thing, be her own person, and spends some time at the pool after classes. Unfortunately, that just gives Sandra and friends an opening to steal her clothes.
There are kids lurking in the shadows freaking out the naked girl, and she eventually finds her clothes hung up atop some pipes, with a ladder waiting for her. Sandra's boyfriend shows up with his camera and spooks her with the flash, making Jennifer fall into the pool, and getting some choice candid nudes of the girl that quickly spread through the school.
Professor Password tries to intervene, wanting to know who did it, but Jennifer says she'll take care of, it's her problem. And look, she can summon snakes to do her bidding, I think she's got this handled. HORRIBLE CARNAGE?
We find out the kitten Jennifer likes got sold, and they randomly drop in her backstory that there's blood on Jennifer's hands. Way back in the day, she summoned snakes and they killed the preacher's son. This made them get run out of town, and is why she sees her powers as evil.
But dad gets into one of his religious rants about how her powers are good, despite the muuurder, and tells her to believe in the dark. Uhh. Yeah, that doesn't sound GOOD to my ears.
In the meantime, Sandra gets her revenge on Jane. You know that usual gag, of getting the person that someone really likes, to flirt with them, ask them out, and then be like, hahahaha, just kidding, you're ugly!?
Yeah, this isn't that. Sandra sics the guy Jane has a thing for on her, and he...pretty much rapes her. Ha...ha? Yeah, no, stop that. From this point out, this group gets everything they deserve. HORRIBLE CARNAGE!
As if that wasn't enough, Jennifer discovers who bought her cat, when she finds it dead and hanging in her locker. It's a safe bet that Sandra is responsible. Seriously, this girl is messed up.
This finally pushes Jennifer over the edge, and she calls upon the powers of her dark lord Voldemort, to have the snakes do as she commands once more.
Look, if there's any reason to go full on turbo Dark Phoenix on someone's ass, it's murdering a cat. And rape. I don't mean to dismiss that, but Jennifer doesn't know about it yet.
Oh, and Sandra blames her poor dead kitty on Jennifer to the school, as one more attempt to ruin the girl. Look, Sandra, if you don't stop, you're gonna have so many snakes up your ass, your tongue is gonna do your smelling for you.
Jennifer pays a visit to Jane to see how she's doing....ahahaha, I'm just kidding, she brings her snakes and they make a pact for revenge.
While Jennifer helps Professor Convy move his stuff after he gets fired for protecting her, Sandra conspires with Jennifer's dad to prank her. She wraps it in the guise of a friendly group of friends friendily taking a friend out to a friendly breakfast, but we all know better.
So the girls show up the next morning before dawn for a little friendly kidnapping, and stuff Jennifer in the trunk of a car.
Jennifer listens to Tocata and Fugue in the trunk, while she plots her next move. Probably one involving snakes. And hopefully the long promised HORRIBLE CARNAGE.
They drive off to a parking garage where they like to hang out, pull Jennifer from the trunk, and faster than you can throw pig's blood on the prom queen, Jennifer brings them snakes and death.
While the snakes wander around the cars for a bit, they suddenly start appearing all over people thanks to Princess Python. You get a snake, and YOU get a snake! EVERY BODY IS GETTING SNAAAAKES!
Things get really trippy during this whole thing. There's slow motion, there's back lighting, there is strange coloured lights on everyone. It's very dream like, floating through the ACTUAL CARNAGE AT LAST even if any deaths are vague, save for like...one.
We at least get a giant snake that shows up and bites Dayton's head off. At least, that's my best guess, since Jane is squawking ecstatic over it.
Sandra wisely says screw this, Sandra OUT! and drives off as fast as her wheels can carry her. Unfortunately, that mother of all snakes is hitching a ride in the back seat.
It attacks her, and naturally the car flips over and explodes. So, dead girl, but there's lots of fried snake for dinner. And MODERATELY ACCEPTABLE CARNAGE.
The next day, Jennifer goes in to see the dean, and she knows the girl is involved somehow. Yeah, good luck proving THAT. "Dayton is dead, and no one knows why!" MAYBE BECAUSE HE HAS NO HEAD?
But that won't be a problem for Jennifer, as she leaves but the dean finds some scaly friends in her desk to make sure she doesn't ruin her day. Be careful, Jane. The two of you might seem like friends now, but if Jennifer ever gets upset...
And that's where the movie crashes to an end, with no HORRIBLE CARNAGE, and a legit freeze frame on Jennifer and Jane.
Video: It's a bit soft and washed out, but this is on par with what I expect for budget horror from the 70s. It looks good all things considered.
Audio: A perfectly solid mono track.
Sound Bite: "When the reptiles take over the world, you can raise their young." So, so on the nose.
Body Count: Look, all I'm gonna say to set this list up is to once again mockingly shout HORRIBLE CARNAGE!
1 - Over an hour into the movie, and the only death so far comes at Sandra's hands, of Jennifer's kitten.
2 - Dayton gets his head bitten off by giant snake of doom.
3 - Sandra gets snaked, and her car zigs when it should've zagged, going boom.
4 - Mrs. Calley dies by snakes.
Best Corpse: Not many to choose from, but c'mon. Even with a longer list, I'd still probably go with Dayton's head getting bitten off and swallowed by a giant snake puppet.
Blood Type - F: The ONLY thing saving this from having a completely failing grade is that giant snake. I...actually kinda like it. Sure, it looks fake, it moves fake, but for the 70s, it's pretty solid.
Sex Appeal: None to speak of.
Drink Up! Every time that one girl shouts, "Hey! Anyone want some INSERT DRUGS HERE??"
Video Nasties: Not a whole lot of choices here, but have a taste of snake attacks, trippy dreamlike visuals, and GIANT SNAKE EATING HEAD.
Movie Review: Okay, straight up, yes. This is Carrie, with snakes. Justin's always been trying to find telepaths, but he missed the White family, and ended up with snakegirl instead. The story is a slow burn, and it's one that mostly works. Sure, they never deliver on HORRIBLE CARNAGE, but I won't hold a bad name choice in foreign markets against a movie. I'll make fun of it, sure, but it's not "Jennifer"'s fault. You really get to know and live with these characters, and the slow turn of Jennifer to the dark side with snakes, works fairly well, even without the punch in the gut like a bucket of pig's blood. It's slow, it works, and the revenge is mostly satisfying. I'm gonna commit blasphemy here but...I actually kinda like this MORE than "Carrie". I like that Jennifer has a loving parent, even if he's an overbearing religious sort. I like that he's supportive, even of her gifts, and I like that most of the students either don't care about Jennifer, or are generally accepting of her, and it's just a few bad eggs. Carrie is probably the better made movie, but there's elements here and there, that I feel work just a little bit better. Still, the slow burn, and a payoff of a few snakes wriggling around and no real major boom or conclusion, and being pretty low budget, does drag this down a bit. Three out of five kittens.
Entertainment Value: Seeing Burt Convy actually acting is an unexpected treat. The Carrie similarities are fun to spot. There's just a smattering of camp here, especially for something in the 70s. The subject matter is played mostly seriously. If the movie had a bigger ending, or more happening along the way, OR if this had been an utter mess, this would have been a real treat. It's still very watchable, very enjoyable for fans of a slow burn, and definitely a hidden gem worth checking out. Three out of five bags o' snakes.