Dalila Di Lazzaro
Fiore Argento F
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2nd Oct 12
Young girl who sexually attracts insects is sent to a Swiss boarding school where girls are getting murdered by a mysterious killer.
Review Phenomena opens with a young girl being left behind when her bus makes a pit stop, somewhere in Central Europe by the look of things. She wanders to a nearby house looking for help, and is consequently killed by an unseen ravage beast. Then the story quickly switches to little rich daughter of a famous actor (or maybe it was musician) Jennifer Connolly as she arrives at a Swiss boarding school. She's got two character quirks that drive the plot, firstly she tends to sleepwalk and secondly she has an amazing affinity with insects - they simply love her.
It's not long before Jennifer's out on a sleepwalk, and it's quite eventful. In true Argento style, she witnesses a murder that's she's going to struggle to remember. Then, she winds up waking up in a forest where she meets a chimpanzee who takes her back to wheelchair-bound insect Professor Donald Pleasance's house. Turns out that the chimp is Donald's helper - he points at stuff with his laser pointing gadget and she gets whatever he's pointed the laser at, it's very clever. Donald's currently advising the Police on the local serial killer problem using his insect knowledge (somwhow) and is amazed when he discovers her mastery over the little critters. In fact, he's more than amazed, he bluntly tells her that the insects she goes near become sexually aroused, and then quickly asks her to visit more often.
Anyway, some more stuff happens until we get to a key event at the school where one student has overheard Connelly's claim to have power over insects, has told everyone, and all the girls gang up and start to tease her. In a bewildering show of power she gathers all her strength and summons a massive insect swarm, completely shitting everybody up. She then collapses.
Waking up in hospital and overhearing their radical plan of treatment from her, Connelly sneaks out, and heads back to Donald Pleasance's house, as you would. Kind of brushing over her current predicament, Donald pulls out some kind of death fly in a glass box that will apparently go nuts when it's within a certain distant from decaying human flesh, and suggests she gets on the bus that the girl from the beginning of the movie got on, and gets off to investigate when the fly kicks off. I guess the police must have been busy, so she agrees.
Sure enough the bug kicks off at the bus stop and Connelly heads out to investigate. And things get more interesting from here on in.
By the mid-80s, Argento had quite a few movies under his belt, some considered classics, some considered crazy. Phenomena is a straight combination of the two. How the hell it ever got made though is beyond me, I can imagine Argento trying to pitch the script...
"So Dario, let's get this straight. Underage Jennifer Connelly goes to an all girls school... what is it with you and all girls schools Dario?"
"Alright, so there's an underage girls school, and there's a known serial killer in the area, killing underage girls, right?"
"Right, and oh, you've got Donald Pleasance in it? Well, I guess he's not earning much from the straight-to-video Halloween sequels. And he plays a... an insect scientist who's wheelchair bound but has a pet monkey that gets stuff for him?"
"Right, okay. And, oh, I see Jennifer Connelly has some power over insects, oh, they're sexually attracted to her?"
"This underage girl?"
"Right, and do you plan to have Connelly take her top off in the film?"
"Um, yes, but you only see her back."
"And.. oh, I see Connelly sleep walks, I guess that puts her in peril? Oh, let me guess, she sees a murder but doesn't remember it?"
"Yes, how did you..."
"...And DP's pet monkey, I bet he finds her and takes her back to DP's place, where he discovers she sexually attracts his insects, so then he gets a bit of a thing for her?"
"Err, sort of, it's more like..."
"SO, to wrap things up there's a serial killer, an all girls school, loads of underage girls getting murdered, Donald Pleasance as a mad wheel chair bound insect nut, and everyone fancies Jennifer Connelly, including the insects?"
"Does the monkey fancy her too?"
...everyone breaks out laughing while Dario storms out of the room in protest.
Despite all that, it did get made. More accessible than Suspriria, more coherent than Inferno (by far), Phenomena is the kind of movie that in has many great moments, but they're often followed by unfathomable plot twists or random new plot devices. And typical of Giallos, characters bounce in and out of the plot at will, with a few red herring characters sneaking off early and many key characters disappearing for half the film and only surfacing in time for the end.
And what an ending it is. You have to take your hat off to the fact that Phenomena has one of the most protracted end sequences you'll ever see. What starts off feeling like the natural end of the movie really isn't, in fact you're probably about ten minutes and four or five life threatening sequences from the actual credits. The unlikely decapitation (done with bright red 80s campy Euro-horror gore), the pit of human remains, the guy chained to the wall, the killer's startling reveal and the burning boat - you don't get endings as long and as value for money that much these days.
All in all, despite it having a ridiculous plot and premise, Phenomena is actually great entertainment all the way through. It has strong performances from Connelly and Pleasance, good pacing, a few thrills and one wacky ending. It's a good mix of Italian Giallo and American Slasher played completely straight despite the story, and as such is both geniunely quite creepy at times, while unintentionally funny in a brilliant kind of way at others. Admittedly this is no Deep Red, and when you speak to Argento purests they'll probably sight Phenomena as the start of Dario's downward trend of making not so great films, but it certainly entertains in spades. Maybe one to watch more drunkenly with your mates to get real value out of.
Versions Latest release by Arrow Films on the Cult Labs label is the longest English language cut available and is loaded with special features. Look at the reviews for this edition on Amazon, many people have described the quality as stunning, and agree this is the definitive release, especially if you go for the blu-ray version.
- 4 panel reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork
- Two sided fold out poster with new art work
- Exclusive collector’s booklet featuring brand new writing on Phenomena by Alan Jones, author of Profondo Argento
- High Definition transfer of the Italian cut of the film
- Original English* & Italian Stereo Audio
- Brand new subtitle translation of the Italian and optional English subtitles of the English audio
- Introduction by special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti (1080p)
- Dario's Monkey Business: The Making of Phenomena - A 50 minute long documentary featuring interviews with key talent behind the film including director Dario Argento, star Daria Nicolodi, underwater photographer Gianlorenzo Battaglia and more!
- Music for Maggots - An Interview with composer with Claudio Simonetti
- Creepers for Creatures - Sergio Stivaletti lives Q&A sessions from Dublin and Edinburgh