Crime, Horror, Supernatural

Phenomena (1985)

Comments Off on Phenomena (1985) 25 October 2017


Studio: Synapse

Theatrical Release: August 2, 1985

Blu Ray Release: September 12, 2017

Director: Dario Argento

Not Rated

Review by James Klein

Considered to be Dario Argento’s favorite film, Phenomena is a mix of mystery, horror, and supernatural all rolled into one bat-shit, incomprehensible nightmare of a film that feels like an epic fever dream. For those who like traditional storytelling, stay far away from Phenomena as there are moments of head-scratching confusion that if you are willing to accept Phenomena as a horrific art-film, you may enjoy it and forgive it’s flaws. 

After a freaky, brutal murder of a young teen as her head goes through a glass window with pieces of glass landing right on her face in slow motion, the viewer is introduced to American teen Jennifer (Jennifer Connelly from Labyrinth and Dark City) arrives at a new school in Switzerland as her Hollywood actor father is off on set making a film. Jennifer is no ordinary teen, she has a special bond with insects that she claims to love. The insects do not sting or bite her, even going so far as to allowing her to pet them and hold them. Jennifer also has a tendency to sleepwalk at night and has visions of a serial killer that has been killing young teens right in the area where the school is at. 

Jennifer befriends the invalid Professor John McGreggor (Donald Pleasence from Death Line) who is a entomologist that is working with the police in tracking down the serial killer. McGreggor also has a pet monkey named Inga who helps him around in his home. Inga does serve a purpose at the films conclusion but for much of the film one may wonder what the hell is the point of this pet chimp. As the professor assists Jennifer in finding out where her missing room mate may be as he no doubt believes she is the key to tracking down this killer, the plot thickens and Jennifer soon finds herself face to face with the killer. 

Phenomena‘s third act plays like a strange nightmare with Jennifer going through tunnels, finding herself caught in a pool of dismembered bodies, fighting off a troll like monster while having a flock of insects come to her aid…it’s pretty weird and may turn some viewers off at how odd it is. Argento’s stylish directing isn’t quite on par with say Deep Red or Tenebrae but still packs a punch with some great, gory and gross visuals. The one thing Argento can’t seem to do is direct his actors in such a way that doesn’t come off as forced or stagey. The script, co-written by Argento himself, is also poorly written with some awful lines of dialog that no teen would utter (what teen in 1985 had a deep admiration for The Bee Gees?). Connelly does her best with what is given to her and while she looks great on film and tries her best, she seems either miscast or too inexperienced in carrying this film on her shoulders. Pleasence simply doesn’t have a big enough role to take on the film himself. 

An odd directorial choice is also the music. Argento’s go-to progressive rock band that he likes to utilize in his films is Goblin and their music and especially the main theme here is quite fantastic. However, the theme is played at the oddest moments. The music will be fast and quick paced and yet it’s played during a scene where Jennifer sleepwalks slowly as a lightning bug guides her to a clue that the killer left behind. Another strange move on Argento’s part is having heavy metal bands Iron Maiden and Motorhead play at various times in the movie, mostly during inappropriate times. I am all for hearing Maiden’s Flash of the Blade (played twice too) but does it need to be played while Jennifer slowly looks for a way out of a house that she’s trapped in? 

Synapse’s new blu ray release is available in a limited steel-book collector’s edition or a more stripped down and less expensive two disc release. The limited steel book comes with a booklet and the film’s soundtrack, that’s about the only difference between the two editions. The two disc release has not one, not two, but THREE versions of Phenomena, all looking and sounding absolutely pristine and gorgeous in HD. There is the 82 minute U.S. butchered cut, renamed Creepers. This version makes barely any sense at all although it does cut down on some of the slow pacing. There is the 110 international cut that many have grown to love over the years and finally, an even longer 116 minute cut that was once released on a Japanese laserdisc that is long out of print. Further supplements include a commentary with Argento scholar Derek Botelho and journalist/historian David Del Valle (this track provides a lot of interesting stories regarding Argento and the making of the film although at times it can be a bit dry) an interview with Andi Sex Gang, trailers and radio spots, and finally Dario Argento’s World of Horror, a 76-minute documentary from 1985 that was directed by Michele Soavi, chronicling the director’s resume up until that point in his career. Previously released as a standalone documentary by Synapse years ago, this special feature may be worth the purchase alone. Synapse has been very good to Argento fans. 

Phenomena is not going to win over non-Argento fans however this surreal, visually gorgeous nightmare is a nice edition to any horror fans collection. While the plot is threadbare and the performances a bit lackluster, there is still plenty of creepy and gross moments that I found worth while accompanied with some striking visuals that seem to have fallen by the wayside in the director’s later works. 

Movie Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Blu Ray Rating: ★★★★½ 

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