Phenomena (1985)

MAY 17, 2008


Ah, Phenomena. My introduction to Italian cinema! Of course, by that I mean I saw Creepers, the severely edited US version of Argento’s film. I believe my mom rented it when I was about 6, because it had the girl from Labyrinth in it (occasionally known as Jennifer Connelly), and assumed I would enjoy it (not as much as I would when I hit the age of 11 or so and realized that Connelly was in fact one of the hottest women in the world). As a kid I remember being completely confused by the film, and thus “hated” it. I watched it again when I was about 17, this time the correct 108 minute version, and liked it a lot, and decided to start watching more Italian horror, which is how I came to see Demons and Zombie (and thus got introduced to Lamberto Bava and Lucio Fulci). So now, once again 11 years later, I watch it again as a sort of seasoned veteran of the output of one Dario Argento.

And it still holds up. The kill scenes are grand (if a bit jarringly edited at times, such as the beheading at the beginning), the plot is a nice blend of the usual black gloved killer stuff with the rather odd “Insect ESP” angle, and Donald Pleasence is, as always, a delight. I also quite much liked the monkey (why couldn’t she have gotten into the house in time!?!?!? :(), and the killer is one of Argento’s most memorable nuts.

The opening scene is a particular delight. In addition to being set in a location that looks a lot like the one in the climax of Opera (still my favorite Argento film), the credits reveal that none other than Giorgio Armani was the costume designer. You always hear about big actors who have horror movies in the early parts of their filmographies, it’s amusing to know that the same goes for fashion designers. His costumes for Connelly are much appreciated (she spends most of the film in a nightie. Fine by me.).

Ironically, I think it would be even better if it was edited down a bit. New Line (who distributed the film in the States) had the right idea, they just went overboard. For example, there’s a scene in an asylum that is among the most useless scenes in film history. All it does is foreshadow (rather clumsily to boot) the backstory that the killer is about to reveal herself anyway. An extra line in her exposition could have removed the ‘need’ for the scene entirely (I say ‘need’ because, as far as I’m concerned, we don’t need to know how the killer came to have a son anyway). This sequence comes after the film’s most annoying scene, where a body is wheeled out of a house, set to an Iron Maiden song. It is completely inappropriate to the scene, which is followed by a scene of Connelly running around (also useless). Without this entire chunk of the film, not only would it be shorter, but simply less “huh?” worthy.

There’s also a completely odd moment early on where the film suddenly has a narrator. He never says another thing in the film, and in fact his one line is pretty useless anyway, since he’s narrating action that wasn’t hard to follow anyway (he essentially says “And so Jennifer arrives at school”, over a shot of Jennifer arriving at school.). The movie has a knife wielding monkey, an insect trying to arouse Jennifer Connelly, etc... but nothing really made less sense than the use of a narrator here.

Another puzzling moment occurs about an hour in or so. Connelly is on a bus, using a fly to determine where the killer lives. When she gets off the bus, we see a guy sitting in the front row suddenly stand up, walk to the back of the bus, and shut the window next to the seat Connelly just vacated. Huh? Even for Argento, these things are a bit baffling.

(I just checked the IMDb, I guess there’s a scene where a woman asks her to shut the window that was cut, but why cut the setup and leave the punchline? And it looks like a dude shutting the window anyway. And even if not, she’s on the other end of the goddamn bus!)

Still, a damn good film, and one of the better introductions to Argento one could offer. It’s not as strange as Suspiria or even Opera, nor is it as completely accessible as Trauma or some of his newer films, which might give someone the idea that an Argento film is of complete and sound logic. A nice sort of hybrid, with the bonus of an incredibly cute and yet then-underage Connelly, which makes you as the viewer feel as creepy as you are creeped out.

The DVD is pretty packed compared to some of the other Argento films in the set. In addition to a commentary that’s worth listening to (since Argento is on it, plus Claudio Simonetti!), there are two music videos, which are interesting as both are instrumental songs. There is also the traditional interview with Argento where he discusses the film (he says it’s his favorite), and another making of piece that is, for some reason, half dubbed, half subtitled. I would have liked a bit about the alternate, 82 minute version, but oh well.

On a side note – did anyone besides me think that the girl who first taunts Connelly in the film’s big Carrie ‘homage’ was Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni?

What say you?


  1. Who could hate a film with a monkey wielding a straight razor found in a trashcan?

    Definitely not me.

  2. my fave argento movie. HURRAY!

  3. I think it's Motorhead playing when they wheel the body out.

    This and Suspiria are the Argento movies that I enjoy the most.

  4. I love this movie. The ending is fantastically tense, and the pools of human remains just brilliant. There's a even a homage to this in Mother of Tears.

    I think the narrator you mention is Argento himself (in the Italian original at any rate) - and perhaps the line here is a nod to Suspiria which has something similar if memory serves.

    The killer's hands are also nearly always Argento himself and no change here.

    I wish he'd make something else this good again!


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