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Italy 1985
Directed by
Dario Argento
111 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
David Michael Brown
3.5 stars


Synopsis: Jennifer Corvino (a young Jennifer Connelly) arrives at an exclusive girl’s school deep in the heart of the lush Swiss countryside. Prone to sleepwalking she witnesses a savage murder during one of her nocturnal strolls. Soon more young girls are dying and her only hope is a Scots entomologist (Donald Pleasence) who can help her understand her telekinetic power over insects. Following a fly that guides her to the rotting corpses of the killers’ previous victims she is soon up to her neck in body parts, psychotic chimpanzees and a killer dwarf. Bodies keep falling but will she be saved?

A guilty pleasure from beginning to end, Dario Argento’s Phenomena has to be one of the silliest horror films ever made; a young girl with a psychic link with insects, a razor-wielding vengeful monkey, schoolgirls being terrorised by a midget with a spear! Argento’s first film written in English, Phenomena retains the director’s penchant for non-linear plotting, vicious, over-the-top violence and loud pounding rock soundtracks but lacks something in the language department.

Argento also once again keeps it in the family. He always dispatches his ex-wife Daria Nicoldi in increasingly more bizarre ways and Phenomena is no exception. This time she stars as Frau Bruckner, an evil teacher whose face is slashed to bits by a rabid chimp. His eldest daughter, Fiore, features as the killer’s first victim, even stranger when you consider that it is Argento’s hands that stab all the victims!

The cast is the usual mix of international stars and Italian stalwarts. Donald Pleasence struggles with his Scots entomologist but Jennifer Connelly shines as the young Jennifer Corvino, even then showing the star quality that would eventually win her an Oscar. Dalilia Di Lazzaro and Patrick Bauchau lend a bit of European class but the dialogue that the entire cast is given is often laughable.

The soundtrack, always an important part of Argento’s work, dangerously veers between fantastic and awful, ex-Goblin member Claudio Simonetti and Rolling Stones bass player, Bill Wyman, provide a combination of driving techno and ambient music that really sets the mood but the inclusion of Iron Maiden and Motorhead is disastrous. The scene where the young student discovers that her only friend is dead is accompanied an awful piece of heavy metal that shatters what should have been an emotive scene.

The film’s visual style is more in line with Tenebrae than Argento’s technicolour nightmares such as Suspiria. Razor-sharp cinematography and clinical editing are combined with some excellent imagery for the sleepwalking moments. Long unavailable in its full uncut form; it was originally released as 'Creepers,' shorn of 28 minutes of its excessive violence and meandering dialogue but this is the version to see, thoroughly entertaining and outrageous in every way.




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