Friday, October 17, 2008

#96: Phenomena


Written and Directed by Dario Argento
Released August 2, 1985

The opening of Dario Argento's Phenomena is like a Greatest Hits tape of all of the director's trademarks: someone enters a room or house they were not supposed to enter, they get strangled, they get stabbed with scissors, and for some reason they go crashing through a window.

From there, it only gets better, with the introduction of Halloween's Donald Pleasance, thousands of insects and even a highly intelligent monkey wielding a straight razor. Did I mention that it also features the gorgeous young Jennifer Connelly, and the music of Goblin, Motorhead and Iron Maiden?

Did I just hear you say, "Fuckin' A?" Damn right.

Similar to Suspiria, Phenomena (which was released in the U.S. in a heavily edited version called Creepers) is about a girl who comes to a private school and immediately starts to interrupt the normal swing of things. In this case, Connelly is Jennifer Corvino, the daughter of a famous actor who has the strange ability to communicate with insects. As these insects start leading her to clues about the identity of a serial murderer, Professor John McGregor (Donald Pleasance), an entomologist who uses his knowledge of insects to help the police solve crimes, tries to tap into her powers to find the killer before he/she finds Jennifer.

As Jennifer discovers the depths of her own powers, she is ostracized by her schoolmates and from the school itself. She immediately seeks help from McGregor, who (I'll skip the somewhat convoluted narrative here) pairs her with one of his insects, a fly that he believes will lead her to the missing victims' bodies and the killer. It, of course, does. Thanks for that bit of irresponsible decision making, Professor!

Once Phenomena gets to this point, with Corvino trapped in the killer's house, things get good and nasty (like that giant bowl of human soup that awaits our heroine). There's even a fantastic finale with not one but TWO murders you couldn't possibly see coming.

While a lot of 80s horror movies were busy making rehashes of Halloween like the Friday the 13th franchise, Dario Argento was still making skewed, original and creepy horror movies, some better than others, sure, but most of them seem to have elements of a real story and a real passion for the art of filmmaking. Bugs, blood and brilliant monkeys? Phenomena is scary fun.

For more on Phenomena:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia.
- Buy the DVD. While it is out of print and expensive to buy as "New," Amazon has several used copies for sale.

The Phenomena trailer:

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