It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Fears come back from the dead and walk in the day. Goths thrive at midnight showings of “Rocky Horror” and vandals throw eggs at houses. And the Film Beat? We’re popping popcorn and crawling under blankets to watch some of our favorite scary (or just vaguely spooky) films. ’Tis the season for tricks and treats — whether we’re jumping in our skins or howling at the moon. Join us as we walk through films that remind us of the dark night of Halloween.
I think I was 11 the first time I watched “Jennifer’s Body.” I can’t be sure because I remember it through the kind of exhausted haze that only a middle or high school sleepover can induce. Through the struggle to keep my eyes open at one o’clock in the morning, trying to hide the fact that I usually went to bed at ten every night, I remember watching Megan Fox (“Night Teeth”) hover above a pool in a soaked, blood-stained white dress and elbow-length gloves. I definitely remember a close-up shot of her and Amanda Seyfried’s (“Mank”) locked lips, lingering indulgently as they kissed, and I remember myself thinking, fleetingly, “This is making me feel a weird new feeling; I wonder what it could mean.”
Pretty much everything other than that was lost on me. I fell asleep right after the movie, and by the next morning, I’d basically forgotten I watched it at all. Aside from occasionally scrolling past that one screenshot of Fox holding a lighter’s flame to the end of her tongue when I ventured onto the emo side of Tumblr, I didn’t really interact with it again until April of this year when a couple of friends and I sat down to watch it with some cheap wine.
There are a handful of movies that fall into an incredibly niche genre for me that’s kind of hard to describe. They’re movies that I just know would have been incredibly formative had I seen them in my early teens. Maybe even more than the potential to have been formative, though, is that they somehow felt nostalgic to me upon first viewing as if I didn’t only get around to watching them in my early 20s. I connected to them immediately because they scratched an itch in a very particular part of my brain, so much so that it feels like I’ve always known them intimately. So far, I’ve only found three movies that fall into this category: “Frances Ha,” “But I’m a Cheerleader” and “Jennifer’s Body.”
It’s possible that I don’t watch enough horror movies to make this call, but as far as I know, there’s nothing like “Jennifer’s Body.” I’m sure there are a lot of movies that mix scares, gore and humor well, but Fox’s performance as Jennifer simply elevates everything. Jennifer is a Midwestern, late-aughts wannabe Kardashian, complete with the vocal fry, who delivers every single one-liner with a complete lack of self-awareness and all of the confidence in the world. It makes all of the jokes feel like surprises. Every laugh it got out of me during that first rewatch was halfway between a laugh and an incredulous bark.
Take, for example, the climax of the movie: Jennifer and Needy fight in Jennifer’s bedroom. Needy’s brandishing a knife because she’s there to avenge her boyfriend, who the demon-possessed Jennifer killed to satiate her appetite for male flesh. The two fight, fall onto Jennifer’s bed in slow motion, and Needy stabs Jennifer in the chest. As she gasps and bleeds out, Jennifer croaks out quietly, “My tit …” These are her last words.
When the movie premiered back in 2009, it was critically and commercially panned, but it’s since been revisited, reevaluated and redeemed as a “feminist cult classic.” I think of it as something of a rape-revenge film as well, the kind of movie that “Promising Young Woman” could only ever dream of being. Jennifer is killed as a virgin sacrifice by an indie band (yes, really) in search of fame and fortune, but because she’s not actually a virgin, she comes back as a possessed succubus with the insatiable urge to eat men. It’s easy to see why a movie like this would’ve been met with such resistance a decade ago, and why it’s so loved now. Women have always been angry, but now we’re louder about it.
The world wasn’t ready for “Jennifer’s Body” in its time, and, as much as I like to think otherwise, I can’t be sure that I would’ve been ready either. I suppose I can’t be too hard on myself about that, though. I was young, and I had a lot of internalized misogyny that would’ve made it hard, if not impossible, to like this movie. I probably would’ve found Jennifer grating, probably would’ve lied through my teeth and gushed with my friends about how hot Adam Brody (“Promising Young Woman”) was, probably would’ve walked away from it and then dismissed it outright as a bad movie.
So maybe I have to amend my earlier criteria for could’ve-been-formative movies because the reality is that I just wasn’t smart enough to enjoy “Jennifer’s Body” for the vast majority of my tween/teen years. Instead, I should say that, if I’d been able to fully appreciate them, movies like “Jennifer’s Body” would’ve helped me become a better person sooner.
Daily Arts Writer Katrina Stebbins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.