Like any successful horror movie, the campy Stephen King adaptation Carrie (1976) inspired more than its share of imitators. And while many Carrie rip-offs were made for television, the shameless copy Jennifer received a proper theatrical release. Echoing many key points of the plot from King’s novel, Jennifer concerns a put-upon teenager who wrestles with ostracism at school and religious oppression at home, all the while suppressing a supernatural power that could turn deadly if unleashed. Cowriter/producer Steve Kravitz is so blatant about copying Carrie that he includes doppelgangers for the previous film’s most important characters: The Bible-thumping mom in Carrie becomes a Bible-thumping dad in Jennifer, the kind-hearted female gym coach in Carrie becomes a kind-hearted male teacher in Jennifer, and the mean-girl tormentor in Carrie becomes—a mean-girl tormenter in Jennifer. About the only significant deviation that Kravitz provides is the nature of the title character’s special gift. Whereas Carrie uses telekinesis, Jennifer has some vaguely defined ability to control and/or magically generate snakes.
Beyond employing a recycled storyline, Jennifer also suffers from a paucity of narrative events—the movie is nearly halfway over before the first supernatural occurrence. As such, viewers checking out Jennifer should lower their expectations considerably. Having said all that, Jennifer has a fun nocturnal vibe, leading lady Lisa Pelikan offers an appealing combination of fragile beauty and hidden strength, and the movie’s finale is a slice of kitschy-’70s heaven thanks to the rampant overuse of haze filters and star filters.
When the movie begins, West Virginia-born Jennifer Baylor (Pelikan) tries to balance responsibilities at home and at school while living in a cosmopolitan metropolis. She’s the primary caretaker for her aging father, Luke Baylor (Jeff Corey), an alcoholic widower who runs a pet store. Concurrently, she’s a scholarship student (read: charity case) at a haughty private school. Rich bitch Sandra Tremayne (Amy Johnson) puts Jennifer in her crosshairs because hunky teacher Jeff Reed (Bert Convy) takes a shine to Jennifer. Torment ensues and revenge follows. The middle of the movie is a bit of a slog, since Amy’s abuse of Jennifer pales next to the emotional torture featured in Carrie, but all of the actors in Jennifer contribute valiant work. (Nina Foch is especially good as the private school’s ice-queen administrator, whose philosophy is that “the rich are always right.”) The movie benefits tremendously from a robust score by Porter Jordan, which climaxes with a flamboyant passage putting a prog-rock spin on traditional Phantom of the Opera cues. And if Jennifer is ultimately little more than derivative and silly, it’s useful to remember that the cartoonish and salacious Carrie didn’t set the bar for cinematic quality particularly high.