Reviews: Episodes ‘Jenifer’ and ‘Chocolate’

Today we’ve got two more reviews from Mick Garris’ Masters of Horror anthology, which has been kicking ass on Showtime for the past month or so. Inside you’ll find reviews for Dario Argento’s disturbing film Jenifer, which was written by Steven Weber; and Mick Garris’ own episode Chocolate, which he also wrote. If you’ve missed out on the other episodes, you can read reviews for Incident On and Off a Mountain Road, Dream in the Witch-House, Dance of the Dead and Jenifer here. Read on for the new reviews…
“Chocolate” by Mick Garris
Episode 1.5
Reviewed By: Tex Massacre

If you could see through the eyes of another, what sites would you see? What tastes and sounds would you encounter? What would you do, if you could experience the very soul of another human being? Would you love them unconditionally, even if you knew all of their deepest and darkest secrets?

Masters of Horror Creator Mick Garris writes and directs this fifth entry in the series. Chocolate is the story of Jamie (Henry Thomas), a recently divorced and mild mannered artificial flavoring engineer who unexpectedly begins to live through the eyes of a beautiful young artist (Lucie Laurier). But soon, the wonder and novelty of this unexplained gift are tragically replaced by grim reality.

Garris, working from an adaptation of his own short story, succeeds in not only pulling the viewer directly into Jamie’s world, sharing both his emotional highs and lows, and also engaging the audience equally in the world of this mysterious beauty. From the outset, we are given the final piece of the puzzle. We know the fate of those involved. The dance that precedes it is what makes this film a winning entry. Garris carefully plots out each detail, giving us the ultimate example of the god like power of the director. The tragedy is inevitable, and until the final climatic moment, we are helpless to determine who is the guilty and who is the innocent.

Interestingly enough, Garris’ entry into the series he created might be looked upon as an anti horror film. The elements of the supernatural, while central to the characters motivation are never exploited for the sake of the story. That story is one of loneliness and isolation and the desperate need that each and every one of us has to connect with another, even on the most simplistic level. Jamie’s story is that of the everyman and the horrors that befall him are even more heartbreaking because of it.

As this series was created to showcase the directors involved in producing each episode, I must say that in my opinion Garris is hardly a master of horror. In fact, I find Garris, who has made his entire career on laborious and often painful Television adaptations of Stephen King’s books a rather self-aggrandizing hack. However, it seems that based upon tonight’s performance, Garris might have a bright future ahead of himself, if he can mange to stick with stories like this. Sadly, his next 2 projects are both King related franchises. Until then, we can only wait and hope as we contemplate the fate of Jamie, as seen through the eyes of Mick Garris.

3.5 out of 5 Skulls

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“Jenifer” by Dario Argento
Episode 1.4
Reviewed by Rory Abel

Well, it’s taken four episodes but the “Masters of Horror” series has finally managed a decent episode. Ironically, a director who is not known for his restraint or use of meager budgets creates it. Yet, Dario Argento has managed to pull an enjoyable episode out of his hat. Now, some of this may rest on its similarity to the types of stories that appeared in the old “Tales from the Crypt” series. While “Masters of Horror” and “Jenifer” lack the cynical wit and black humor of the Crypt Keeper, “Jenifer” does have its roots in the same soil as the “Tales from the Crypt” and, like some of the early “Tales from the Crypt” episodes, “Jenifer” makes the mistake of not modernizing some of it’s more dated ideas. Overall still manages to be entertaining though.

“Jenifer” was originally published in Creepy in the 1970’s and was written by Bruce Jones, who’s still active in comics today. Its story is on the simple side and has the kind of ending that’s obvious from the beginning but was common in horror comics of the time. Steve Weber plays police Detective Frank Spivey, and borrows some of the ticks and mannerisms he employed in the television miniseries version of the “Shining.” As the story opens Frank witnesses a man dragging a bound woman and wielding a cleaver. When he realizes that the man intends to harm the woman, Frank comes to the rescue and kills the man. However, the woman proves immediately to be more than she seems. While at first a clear view of her face is kept from the audience, we are given glimpses of black irises as well as deformed teeth and lips. She also seems to be completely incapable of speak and lacking in intelligence. Yet, Frank is almost immediately drawn to her, though there are subtle hints that his attraction is not something he has a choice in. Soon, Frank has brought Jenifer, whose name is revealed through a piece of paper found in the dead man’s coat, into his home. There she displays some horrifying eating habits, which send Frank’s wife and son fleeing from the house. Yet, Frank can’t overcome Jenifer’s control and it throws his life into a downward spiral.

Overall, this is without a doubt the strongest of the Masters of Horror episodes so far. Yet, that doesn’t mean it’s a great one either. It suffers from many problems, mostly on the plotting side however. Argento employs some interesting camera angles and visual tricks but like all the other directors is hobbled by poor special and practical effects. The gore in particular is abundant but not particularly believable or disturbing. We’ve seen creatures eating from disemboweled people before and the shock of it has really worn off. However, unlike the gore in “Dreams in the Witch House” the effects here seem more realistically proportioned if not realistic. The acting is mostly on the strong side, though most of the actors aren’t really given much to play with. Weber does his best but the plotting often sabotages him. The sex scenes do tend to feel a little gratuitous by the end as well.

The story suffers from some abrupt developments at points. Frank makes the jump from well meaning cop to alcoholic failure almost instantaneous. Also, there are some elements that were clearly just to advance the plot but don’t really make much sense. Why Frank, a veteran cop, would go for a kill-shot rather than trying to wound the man attacking Jenifer is a little bothersome. Likewise, Frank’s attraction to Jenifer is never properly developed properly. It’s hinted that Jenifer is actually controlling Frank or at least influencing him but more depth was required. He has enough control to try repeatedly to get rid of her yet never abandons her, even after finding her eating people on several occasions. The simplest answer is that if he did the story would just be over. Most annoying is the dated inclusion of a circus. It’s unclear whether Frank sells Jenifer to the ringmaster or hires the man to kill her but either way his presence in the story is silly and out of place. It would have made more sense for Frank to force a criminal he had busted into the role of would-be assassin.

Yet, despite all these complaints, “Jenifer” still turns out to an enjoyable episode. Perhaps, after so many disappointing episodes, the bar has been lowered enough for it to slip through but that doesn’t stop it from being the best of the bunch. Ultimately, this is an episode worth watching.

3 out of 5 Skulls