Phenomena is a classic of not only Italian, but also the whole horror genre and many are swearing it to be Argento’s best work.
In honour of Dario Argento’s birthday today I decided to do a review on Phenomena because it is the Master’s favourite out of all of his movies, but most importantly is a film that I adored in my teens - close behind are Suspiria and Deep Red. Let’s be honest here, this is still amazing even 31 years after its release.
If you are a hardcore horror fan you must have seen Phenomena at some point in your life, if you were born in Italy in the 70s and 80s there’s a good chance that like me you grew up watching Argento’s movies, there was no getting away from them.
First of all I think it is a fun fact to know that Argento got the inspiration for Phenomena after discovering that insects were sometimes used during police investigations, but the fact the they are telepathic is made up, and is probably a good thing or we would be doomed – just picture a spider calling all its spider friends for help while you are trying to murder it with hairspray… hell no!
Anyways, here’s the plot: Jennifer, a rich American 15 year old daughter of a movie star, is sent to the Swiss Alps to an all girl school because we all know there’s no way to learn properly in a mixed school with boys flashing their penises all over your face constantly. Unfortunately for the young and gorgeous Yankee the town where she just moved in isn’t full of chocolate, cows and very precise clocks as we all imagine everywhere in Switzerland to be, is actually the playground of a gruesome killer that likes to butcher young pretty girls (the first victim we see is Fiore Argento, Dario's first child and Asia’s big sister).
To add fuel to the fire the poor child sleepwalks and as you can imagine this is a recipe for disaster. On the plus side Jennifer has some special powers: she can communicate with insects and make them horny too. For all of you Halloween (the movie, not the holiday) fans, this flick is a must watch to enjoy Donald Pleasence in another remarkable performance, remarkable not because he’s a terrific actor (he’s not that convincing when he’s dubbed), but is mostly worth see him having a conversation with Jennifer about how she is giving a beetle wood and telling her to smell its mating odour – supercringe!
Daria Nicolodi, (what kind of black magic makeup did they put on this woman to make her look ugly?), as the bat shit crazy Frau Brückner, who together with her straight from hell offspring (played by a man with dwarfism Davide Marotta), gave me nightmares for day as the young impressible child I once upon a time was.
Today I still enjoy Miss Nicolodi over the top triumphant portrait of the school teacher and the drooling mask on the young actor resembling the very real Patau Syndrome features, but didn’t give me any nightmares last night – YAY ME!
Finally Jennifer Connelly is just charming as a bug lovin’ flawless young woman; I know I sound like Captain Hindsight, but come on, you can tell she was destined to be a star. Only the way she kept a straight face when Prof McGregor told her that she was turning on the bug she was holding was worth an Oscar.
Also the way she sucked it up after the chimp bit her finger off while filming, instead of suing the whole production she just went to the hospital, got it stitched up and the next day was back to work. What a champ!
The score of the movie is the icing on the cake of an already bad ass movie. Goblin are giving their service as per usual but Argento also borrowed some classic rock tunes from Gods such as Motörhead and Iron Maiden. I need to get me a copy of this soundtrack.
Phenomena is a classic of not only Italian, but also the whole horror genre and many are swearing it to be Argento’s best work, there’s nothing to argue over that.
I just want to close with a little reminder for you, (but mostly for me), next time you happen to be in Rome, a visit is due to Profondo Rosso (Deep Red), a store owned by Argento himself for the Horror lovers but also a small Museum of film props from the Master’s movies.