Josh Keown’s review:
"You're in a position to do extraordinary things, with that gift of yours."
-Professor John McGregor (Donald Pleasence)
Phenomena is another masterpiece from Italian horror maestro Dario Argento, though it’s one likely to appeal exclusively to fans of his previous works. Its undoubtedly his most underappreciated and overlooked film at the very least. I will now try, to the best of my ability, to disassemble the manic and mangled plot, to give an idea what it’s all about.
The film follows Jennifer Corvino (an absolutely marvellous Jennifer Connolly), whom is sent to an elite girl's boarding school in Switzerland. She’s a bit unusual, as she sleepwalks and has the ability to telepathically communicate with insects (Yes, bear with it). Furthermore, the area is being terrorized by a serial killer of girls, whose victims are always heinously dismembered. An Inspector (Patrick Bauchau) is investigating the brutal murders, whilst Jennifer befriends a wheelchair-bound entomologist, Professor McGregor (Donald Pleasence), who helps the police with their investigations.
That’s perhaps the most simplified description of the plot possible. It’s typically strange, in Argento’s traditional, almost dreamlike style. Only this one is even more detached from reality. He truly allows his creative juices to flow in this one, crafting a surreal, imaginative and lyrically beautiful slice of magic. I would say it’s almost Lynchian in its odd ambiance (Although Argento came before, so perhaps Lynch is Argentoan? You get what I mean; it’s the same pure, insane style.).
The acting is actually rather brilliant, especially for an Italian horror film (Which, let’s face it, are notorious for poor acting.). At just 15 years old, Jennifer Connolly’s performance is outstanding throughout the entire film. Donald Pleasence is reliable, and more importantly memorable, in his role, as is to be expected really.
Like all of Argento’s films, the cinematography is absolutely breath-taking. Like his previous films before it, he uses colour to great effect too, especially red. The soundtrack is intense manic rock, which doesn’t always seem to fit (Not as much as it does in Opera two years later.), but definitely ramps up the intensity. Once again, I find myself rattling on; I could go on for an eternity. To summarise, Phenomena is truly an Argento film; whacky, weird but ultimately wonderful.
VERDICT; Part classic giallo slasher, part supernatural horror, all loopy and all so magnificent. It’s not as widely appreciated as his previous films, but I would regard it as his third best, just beside Deep Red (1975) and Suspiria (1977). I suppose in a word, Phenomena is phenomenal.
4/5 or 8/10
(P.S. Try at all costs to see the uncut 110 minute version, not the completely butchered approx. 85 minute American release titled Creepers.)