It's not very often that you see one film blatantly rip off another nearly plot point by plot point. Oh sure, there are derivatives and descendants and homages...and then there's Jennifer (1978). Can you think of any other horror films whose titles are a girl's first name? Hmm? Maybe one that came around two years previous to this one? I'll give you a hint: Brian DePalma's 1976 masterpiece of horror, Carrie, based on the Stephen King book of the same name. Oh, sure, you're thinking...OK, the titles are similar, but surely that's as far as it goes. Well, if you don't believe me, let's just run down the list, shall we?
+outcast girl picked on by more popular schoolmates (Carrie: Sissy Spacek is shy and naive; Jennifer: Lisa Pelikan is a "hillbilly bitch" at a posh school)
+crazy cuckoo nutso religious fanatic single parent (Carrie: mom; Jennifer: dad)
+ally comes in the form of a teacher (Carrie: gym teacher; Jennifer: science teacher)
+big disco dance (Carrie: prom; Jennifer: unidentified party)
+outcast girl reluctant to use mental powers out of fear (Carrie: telekinesis; Jennifer: err...she makes snakes appear and she can command them)
+outcast girl finally pushed to limit and uses powers to exact revenge (Carrie: prom night-n-pigs blood; Jennifer: on a parking garage roof after being kidnapped)
+outcast girl's arch-enemy killed (Carrie: car crash; Jennifer: car crash)
OK, I think I've proved my point. So then, exactly where do these movies differ? Well, most of all it's just a matter of quality. Carrie is one of the best, and Jennifer is a pale imitation. Carrie has the incredible performances by Sissy Spacek and Amy Irving, Brian DePalma's swift direction, the absolutely frightening Piper Laurie, and...Nancy Allen. Jennifer's advantages over its predecessor are:
+liberal use of the word 'skag'
+giant puppet snake head
+Jennifer has her own theme song ("There's magic in your naaaaaame!")
+liberal use of Bert Convy
I love Bert Convy...I don't know why. Maybe because he was such a staple in my formative years, what with the Love Boat appearances and the Win, Lose , or Draw craze and girl, don't even get me started on The Cannonball muthafuckin Run.
The one glaring difference between these two very similar films is the behavior of the title character's antagonists. Sure, Chris is a bitch. It's really, really not cool to throw tampons at someone in the shower, and the whole pig's blood thing was...well, awful and humiliating. But the characters in Carrie are very real- Tommy (William Katt) and Sue (Amy Irving) are kind and sympathetic to Carrie, which in turn counterbalances the behavior of the film's villain, Chris (Nancy Allen). And yeah, she's bitch, but, pig's blood aside, Chris never engaged in much more than teasing and pranks. The impact on Carrie was devastating, but you know, that's the way girls act. Girls are really cruel to each other- even towards their friends, never mind the girl who gets picked on. In fact, the cruelty females exhibit toward one another in adolescence frequently continues on into adulthood. To quote...Will Rogers, I think it was...women are fucked up, dude.
In Jennifer, though, the girls are downright psychopathic. Jennifer's arch-enemy, Sandra (Amy Johnston) will stop at nothing to get Jennifer kicked out of school. She throws Jennifer's clothes in the pool. She cracks eggs on her books. She steals Jennifer's clothes after a swim, takes pictures of the girl while she's naked, and posts them on school bulletin boards. She tries to drown her. She kills Jennifer's favorite cat. Sandra orchestrates the rape of another girl who won't go along with her plans. Eventually she and her mob of thugs kidnap Jennifer in the middle of the night- and if it weren't for Jennifer's magic snake hoodoo saving the day, we can assume the plan was to kill the poor girl. The teenagers in Jennifer aren't very realistic...I'm not even sure if they're human.
All that said, however, I didn't hate Jennifer. It moved along at a fairly good pace and I actually enjoyed it for some reason. Maybe because I'd seen it all before...or maybe it was the Bert Convy. I give it 6 out of 10 Bolex watches.