The Horror of Jennifer Jason Leigh

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SHOCK takes a closer look at the darker roles of actress Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Love it or hate it (and this writer adored it) Quentin Tarantino’s epic, indulgent and malevolent 70mm Grand Guignol chamber drama THE HATEFUL EIGHT offers an embarrassment of unforgettable performances by a slew of solid actors that swirl and spit out QT’s rhythmic, endlessly inventive dialogue with fire and aplomb.

But at the center of the film’s merciless web sits one of the greatest actresses in the history of the moving picture to date, a performer who is often forgotten when having conversations about this very subject, but who Tarantino wisely dragged back to the forefront, kicking and shrieking, where she belongs.

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That’s Jennifer Jason Leigh of course, here playing the living, spitting, loathsome gangster-queen Daisy Domargue. A sight to see, with her split lip and black eye, we aren’t sure how to feel about the character initially but we cannot take our eyes off her. Because even when she’s not seething and bleeding and cackling through cracked teeth like some sort of demonic death-dealer, something is just off about her.

Leigh is always an unusual presence.

Even in the bloom of her youth, with her full lips and sweet face and nubile, fearlessly revealed curves, there was always something rather unsettling in her gaze. Like she was sizing you up, figuring you out. In Amy Heckerling’s comedy classic FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, Sean Penn’s stoner surfer Jeff Spicoli might have been the hook, but Leigh was the soul of the film, a sweet girl whose surface innocence hid something either wounded or calculating. There was an edge to her. A kind of danger.

It was mesmerizing then and just as much so – if not more so – now, as she settles into her middle age.

And because of this, Leigh’s presence has always lent itself to darker roles in stranger films. While she hasn’t been in many pictures that could legitimately be classified as “horror” by the average fan, she has often brought horror to the imaginary worlds she enters and when she does end up in darker films, she’s the secret sauce.

Here then, we look at a smattering of roles in which Leigh plays in a rougher, more phantasmagorical sandbox and uses her natural gifts to sculpt a slew of unforgettable characters.

 

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Weekend: Nov. 21, 2019, Nov. 24, 2019

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