“She’s actually evil. Not ‘high school’ evil.”
We are nearing the end of February here at Nightmare on Film Street, a month dedicated to women in horror and their impact across the genre! For this edition of Making a Monster, we’re looking at a sacrifice to Satan gone sour, demon Jennifer from Jennifer’s Body!
Written by Diablo Cody and directed by Karyn Kusama, who is reportedly helming Blumhouse’s new Dracula, the film has found itself amidst an explosion of popularity and appreciation over a decade after it’s lukewarm release (we’ll explore reasons why later.) To start, Let’s go behind the scenes and learn the process that brought Jennifer from script to screen!
A Fairy Tale Gone Psycho
When creating the script for Jennifer’s Body, writer Diablo Cody found inspiration in a familiar place – childhood. “The friendships that I had as an adolescent had this unparalleled intensity,” Cody stated in an interview with Reuters. “I wanted to show how almost horrific that devotion can be. It’s almost parasitic.” Wishing to flip the common horror trope of women being terrorized by men, Cody and director Karyn Kusama created a story of a teenage girl feasting her way through the boys in her life in order to survive. Jennifer, after a failed satanic ritual by a desperate-t0-be-seen rock band, becomes a succubus.
A being born in European folklore, a succubus is a demon in female form that preys upon males, seducing them to steal their souls in their sleep. Actress Megan Fox, who portrays Jennifer, explained to Digital Journal the characteristics that drew her into the role. “I think what I loved about the movie is it’s so unapologetic and how completely inappropriate it is at all times. That was my favorite part about the script and about the character. It’s fun to be able to say the shit that she got to say and get away with it and how people find it charming.”
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Hell is a Teenage Girl
To design “Evil Jennifer” as it was referred to on set, Greg Nicotero of KNB effects drafted several pieces of concept art that featured the character with different horribly disfigured jaws. The idea was her jaw would unhinge like a snake to “fully envelop” her prey. The very intense first look eventually toned town at the request of the Moving Picture Company, who created the visual effects from KNB’s designs. The artists and filmmakers alike wished to balance the gruesomeness special effects allow for and a degree of subtly, maintaining the “Megan Fox allure” as they called it. Artist Erik Nordby discussed the process in an interview with Animation World Network. “Anything below her nose, we were allowed to have full reign to make as horrific as we needed to, and then we above her nose, we could manipulate it somewhat with warps and color correction in her eye sockets. So even at her worst, she had some of that sexiness throughout.”
MPC created the “five stages of Jennifer” to accomplish the final look. Stage one was simply beautiful Jennifer, unaffected visually by the demon. Stages two and three recessed her eyes and, basically, made her look plain and normal “like the rest of us” (sad but true). This is where things really started to take a turn. “Stage four was some custom dentures that KNB made for her, and then visual effects in stage four was mainly facial warping and recessing her eyes some more and having a pinning effect to her irises and a variety of other musculature deforms, just bringing her cheek bones down more.” Stage five Jennifer, which we see near the end of the film, unleashed the full extent of the effects. Stage five came with it’s own set of logistical hurdles, however.
The Many Layers of a Demon
You would assume that Jennifer turning full blown demon would feature actress Megan Fox spending hours upon hours in the makeup chair, as is the story most often told with movie monsters. Nordby explained, “before we started shooting, it involved the full appliance attached to Megan’s face and then her real jaw would be greened essentially inside of her mouth and then the appliance would drop below her real jaw and then visual effects essentially owned everything in her mouth and everything outside would’ve been a special effects appliance.”
MPG realized early on though that the time needed to complete the effects was not acceptable. To counter this, a photo double was hired for 10 days to sit with the effects on at all times, with Fox only required to wear a set of dentures while filming. The actress would rehearse how she would attack her victims, as would the camera shots filming it. The photo double would then go through the exact same motions as Fox, wearing the effects apparatus. In addition, KNB created a meticulously detailed puppet head for the scenes of full-demon Jennifer. MPG combined several layers of effects in post-production to create the final, visually stunning demon Jennifer.
“…we were allowed to have full reign to make [her mouth as] horrific as we needed to…”
This final form became a hot topic of contention during post-production. At first, the filmmakers thought the completed unhinged jaw look was too scary, so MPG tamed it down. The next day, the new shots weren’t considered frightening enough, so the artists spiced them up again. Fortunately, the layered effects and countless camera angles allowed for many different options. The studio could tailor the end look to meet whatever mood the filmmakers wished to achieve for that particular scene.
Not dissimilar to John Carpenter’s The Thing, audiences and critics rejected Jennifer’s Body at first. 11 years later, the film came into it’s own with a newfound appreciation for the feminist qualities interwoven in it. One of the likely factors which caused the movie to face such harsh criticisms was due to poor marketing decisions. I remember the release of Jennifer’s Body vividly, likely because it was marketed to me, a 17-year-old male high school kid who pined over Megan Fox. Jokingly but accurately mocking the hype as “Twilight for boys” by Roger Ebert, the film was sold exclusively on the actress’s status as a sex icon.
While I did love horror from an early age, horror wasn’t why my friends and I bought a ticket to the theatre. And, not surprisingly, I wasn’t real impressed with the movie viewing it from that lens. Cut to 2021, it’s easy for a more mature me to see now that Cody and Kusama made a very underrated film that turned the “final girl” cliché on its head while avoiding the on the nose pandering lesser films fall victim to. While I’ve never been shy to share my vitriol for studios stepping on filmmakers, it’s a wake-up call to actually experience how much power studios wield just marketing a film. Fortunately, Jennifer’s Body seems to have finally found it’s deserved place.
“[Jennifer’s Body] turned the “final girl” cliché on its head while avoiding the on the nose pandering lesser films fall victim to.”
Where do you rank Jennifer’s Body on your list of favorite comedy horrors? Would you have liked to have seen the more intense, grotesque “evil Jennifer” as she was originally portrayed in Cody’s script? Are you lime green Jell-o and you can’t even admit it to yourself? Let us know over on Nightmare on Film Street’s Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram pages!