Cult Movie: Dario Argento's Phenomena

Jennifer Connolly and Donald Pleasance in Dario Argento's Phenomena


A CLASSIC Dario Argento film has several key ingredients: In keeping with the great Italian Giallo tradition there's invariably a simple detective mystery at the film's core. There's usually an obsession with the supernatural that expresses itself in many ways but somehow entails humans having some odd ability to communicate with either animals or insects. There are buckets of gore on hand to sate the appetite of the watching horror hounds and, last but certainly not least, there's generally an eardrum bursting soundtrack from his favoured musical collaborators Goblin, or whichever Euro noise merchants he was able to rustle up at the time.

Phenomena (1985) ticks all those boxes and more, adding a wild sense of slightly crazed abandon that makes it stand out as one of the Italian director's finest fantasy offerings.

There are razor wielding chimps, maggots galore, an evil monster child and there's even an appearance from the great Donald Pleasence. Add to that musical contributions from Iron Maiden and Motorhead and you can see why it's perfect fodder for the cult closet.

Odd then that it rarely, if ever, gets the acclaim it so richly deserves. While Phenomena doesn't have the game changing power of the director's earlier Suspiria or even Deep Red it's still a fascinating slice of maverick movie making from a true master of the genre.

Hopefully the new extras-enhanced Blu-ray release from Arrow Video will help to change all that.

The fairytale vibe is there from the start as we meet Jennifer (Jennifer Connelly) an unhappy pupil at an exclusive Swiss all girl boarding school. Girls have been murdered and brutally dismembered by a mysterious serial killer and when it's discovered that Jennifer can communicate with insects her telepathic powers are called into service as she works alongside a strange professor (Pleasence) and his chimpanzee assistant to find out who is behind the wave of bloody mayhem.

If that sounds utterly mad that's because it is, but there's a lot of fun to had in this woozy dream world and Argento knows just how to milk the scenario for all it's thrilling worth.

The film was hacked down from its original 110 minute running time to a miserable 84 minutes for American consumption in 1985 (where it was also re-titled Creepers, just to add insult to injury), but Arrow have wisely restored Phenomena to its original visual and audio glory for this new release.

Romano Albani's beautiful cinematography and that pounding score from Goblin and assorted noise merchants make this an essential purchase for anyone interested in wildly unhinged Italian cinema.

While Phenomena may have arrived at the tail-end of Argento's reign as the undisputed king of Italian shock cinema and it lacks some of the coherent punch of his earlier classics, it's still got a weird, almost hypnotic quality all of its very own.

Savage, gory and at times pretty tasteless it's not for the faint hearted admittedly – but it's a hugely entertaining and madly over the top thrill ride all the same.

Extras on offer from this Arrow release include an excellent audio commentary from Troy Howarth that places the film firmly in the context of the classic Italian Giallo thriller tradition, a splendid making of documentary and a brace of trailers. There's even a Japanese press book insert to entice collectors to part with their cash.

Beautifully presented and lovingly packaged, this release allows Phenomena to take its place at the top table of mad supernatural thrillers.

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