Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Phenomena (1985)

When I first saw Phenomena many years ago I didn't realise that I was watching my first Dario Argento movie. I didn't even realise that it was called Phenomena. You see, when I was about 16-17 years old, Phenomena was available here in the UK in an edited form entitled Creepers. When I picked up the videotape for £3 and took it home to give it a watch all I knew was that a) it had the lovely Jennifer Connelly in it, b) the soundtrack was a mental mix of random metal from someone I didn't know - Goblin - and bits of Iron Maiden and c) it was quite ridiculous but entertaining.

The years have passed and I am older, though not always wiser, and can view the film in a different way now. First of all, I can't really admire Jennifer Connelly as I used to because she's about 14 or 15 in this movie and I'm now far too old for her (though in real life I'll always have a tiny little dream that won't die about me being in with a chance to woo her if only she'd coincidentally bump into me here in Edinburgh). Second, the soundtrack is still a mental mix but I am now very familiar with the great work of Goblin. Third, the film is still ridiculous but just as entertaining in a slightly different way from when I first saw it.

The plot sees Jennifer Connelly as young Jennifer, starting her time in a remote school for girls. There have been a number of murders in the area so Jennifer may want to try and curb her pesky sleepwalking habit. The other girls in the school aren't very nice to her at all but Jennifer soon befriends an entomologist, Professor John McGregor (Donald Pleasence), who lives nearby and when the professor notices that Jennifer seems to have a way of somehow communicating with insects he starts to think that she could be the one to find out who is behind the murders.

Phenomena, like many of the later films from Argento, is not a wholly satisfying movie but it has moments of style and nastiness to make it well worth a viewing for horror fans. It also has a moment in which Jennifer Connelly calms down a bee and a moment in which she follows an insect to try and track down a killer.

The acting is a real mix. Connelly is quite good in her role, Pleasence is the best of the lot and Daria Nicolodi gets to act a bit over the top, as does Dalila Di Lazzaro. Patrick Bauchau is quite good and there's a smart chimpanzee (though not that smart as, apparently, it took a dislike to the lovely Miss Connelly and, apparently, tried to bite her finger off).

There are also, as you would expect, one or two excellent set-pieces to enjoy as the mystery killer goes about their business. A climax that is as sanity-shattering as it is truly horrific ensures that things at least end on a high note.

I'll always have a soft spot for this movie and it has its fans but it's not a film that I would unwaveringly recommend to any and every horror fan. If you ever have the time and opportunity then do give it a one-time watch and see what you think of it. Just don't blame me if you absolutely hate it.


Phenomena is available in this excellent Bluray which, be warned, changes to Italian audio every now and again to make use of the most complete print -

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