May 27, 2012 at 12:03 am (6 Heads, Jennifer) (, )

Jennifer – 1953 – United States

A desperate lady takes a caretaker job at a sprawling manor. Immediately, the setup evokes eerie mystery. The secretive former caretaker (Jennifer) disappeared under strange circumstances, leaving diary entries like “Spent the day in the gardens. Felt someone was following me.”  Townies swap lurid tales involving blackmail and suicide. The new caretaker frantically assembles clues while being stalked by suspiciously harassing characters. The surprising twist ending is an anticlimax, but numerous loose ends create doubt that satisfyingly lingers after the hasty conclusion.

Jennifer generates tension in simple and effective ways. It’s easy to empathize with the charming and sincere caretaker. Conversely, the other characters radiate sinister cunning. The overly friendly grocer constantly invites himself over. In his romantic advances are hints of steely calculation. Of course, competent actors are an utter necessity for this sort of subtlety. The rambling Mission Revival Style manor has plenty of character too, and is cleverly photographed to accent its vast emptiness.

Furthering the anxiety is an efficiently spare soundtrack, alternately murmuring and agitated. A piece called “Vortex by Zindell” figures into the plot. While it’s apparently not an actual record, it’s intense and frightening. In a chaotic scene, Vortex is heard overtop a jazz tune between adjacent listening rooms in a record shop.

Jennifer isn’t perfect. The clues are either heavy-handed or minute enough to be dismissed as paranoia. But the engaging premise keeps thing moving. Jennifer is a fine example of a taut thriller done cheap.

Rating: 6/10 Shrunken Heads. Jennifer is director Joel Newton’s only credit. Likely, it’s a pseudonym.


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