Jennifer 8 is one of those serial killer thrillers quite common in the 1980s and 1990s. "Dead Aim" (1987), "Whispers in the Dark" (1992), "Blink" (1994), and Copycat (1995) are several that come to mind. The movie may be broken down into three parts: (1) the mystery build-up, (2) the romance, and (3) the recovery (back to the thriller). Andy Garcia stars as LAPD cop John Berlin who relocates to an old farmhouse in Eureka, CA to flee his cheating ex-wife and to lick his wounds. Fred Ross (Lance Henriksen) is Berlin's partner and brother-in-law. On his police radio, Berlin learns that the local cops are at a dump examining the body of a derelict. He arrives and soon the police discover a severed human hand and a bra with dried blood; later they deduce that the fingers were severely scratched because the person was a young blind woman who had used Braille. Learning of seven unsolved cases involving murdered blind women dating back to 1985 that drained police resources to no conclusion, Berlin becomes convinced that the deaths are all related. He wants to reopen the old cases. Of course, no one in the PD believes him. Berlin and Ross drive to the blind people's institute to interview the roommate of Amber, one of the missing women. The roommate is cello teacher Helena Robertson (Uma Thurman), who earlier had been in the dormitory room briefly with the bad guy (called "John") while he moved out with Amber. Helene remembers just a few details, like the sound of the car engine. Berlin comes to believe that Helena is Jennifer 8, the eighth (intended) victim nicknamed Jennifer. Helena resembles Berlin's former spouse. In this second phase, angry dark-eyed Berlin and soft blue-eyed Helena eventually fall in love.
Berlin wants to go back to the dump, but Ross says to him, "No way. I'm not going back. You might find someone's p---- in a hot dog roll." But go they do, and find a clue. But police chief Citrine (Kevin Conway) and others are adamant to close out the case because the evidence is so scanty. Of course you know that Berlin, like a pit bull, will not let go. There will be other trips to the institute, and the situation will be even spookier for Helena, as most folks would have departed the grounds to spend the Christmas holidays at the residences of their families. Even when she stays at the farmhouse, the atmosphere is eerie. Then, on a snowy and fateful Christmas Eve at the institute, a main character is bumped off, and suspicion falls entirely on Berlin. Enter FBI agent St. Anne (John Malkovitch) – smug, unyielding, insufferable, but effective. What a scene-stealer! Chomp! Chomp! Then again, you know that Berlin will clear his name in the end.
There are lapses in credibility, like Berlin's release while charged with a capital offense (murder one!), his odd motive to rummage through an Oakland house, and even his atypical second arrest. Minor plot holes or some crude editing do not really detract from the movie, because we can visualize that such and such happened although it was not shown. The climax, appropriately creepy, is somewhat turgid. Although some have questioned Uma Thurman's interpretation of a blind woman, the acting is commendable. Michael O'Neill as cop Angelo Serato, seems miscast. Does he really look like an Angelo? Then again, that is just a tertiary role. A big plus for Jennifer 8 is the on-location wintry shooting, for Eureka is cold, dreary, and darkly atmospheric. The ominous background music adds to the eeriness. But, with some better editing and a better ending, the movie could have been even greater. So is it worth seeing? Of course!
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