When it comes to the films of Dario Argento most will cite either Deep Red or Suspiria as his best film and every so often Tenebre will be listed, but there are quite a few very much in the minority that rate Phenomena from 1985 as his best film and while I can’t agree on this being his best film it is however an excellent film and despite the cult status I also find it a little underrated. Phenomena is Argento’s strangest film as it’s part dark fairy tale, part supernatural and part Giallo and the mixture of these elements should really sink the film, but instead it enhances the movie and makes it one of the if not the most original horror film of the 80s.
At the time of the release of Phenomena Dario Argento was going through his metal phase that sort of replaced the scores in his films. While he still worked with Claudio Simonetti, the soundtrack was also made up of metal music, which Argento would again use in Demons released the same year as Phenomena, which he produced and was directed by Lamberto Bava and in 1987 Argento would direct Opera and produce Demons 2 again directed by Bava and both films would have plenty of metal music. I think the music in Argento’s flicks have played a big part of their success and at first I really disliked the metal music at least in Phenomena and Opera, but I’ve actually warmed up to it a bit and while I prefer the score by Simonetti and metal does make for an interesting mix and with Phenomena it actually adds to the weirdness of the film and works in a strange way even if some of the suspense is lost.
To say the plot for Phenomena is weird is a major under statement; Jennifer Corvino (Connelly) is the daughter of a famous actor and while her father is busy she’s sent to a Swiss boarding school, which is the site for a slew of unsolved murders; Jennifer has a strange connection with insects and with the help of insects, Jennifer sets out to solve the vicious unsolved murders.
The screenplay by Dario Argento & Franco Ferrini is quite interesting and while the script does suffer at times the overall weirdness of the script however keeps it interesting; the characters are pretty much the typical featured in Argento’s movies; they lack depth and don’t really impact the story. Jennifer however is one of Argento’s more interesting characters. While she isn’t the most developed character we’ve ever come across she is interesting and likeable and one of Argento’s more sympathetic characters. Some of the dialogue for the other teen characters comes across as a bit odd, Argento & Ferrini fair a lot better with Jennifer.
Phenomena is well plotted and mostly coherent; Argento & Ferrini take the basic Giallo elements and mix in the supernatural and twisted fairy tale and the final act seems to owe a little bit to Friday the 13th and this might sound like a disaster waiting to happen, but Argento & Ferrini actually make these ideas work mostly well. The script does feature a few of the flaws I personally find with some of Argento’s scripts, but in general the script works due to the totally off beat nature.
As director Dario Argento delivers a mostly well-paced movie, but at 110-mintues Phenomena can run a little overly long, but the strangeness of the movie helps keep things moving a solid pace. The isolated setting helps Argento create an eerie feel and while this isn’t Argento’s most suspenseful flick it still works due to the setting. Like I brought up earlier with the use of metal music can slightly hinder the suspense at times, but the music also keeps in with the total offbeat nature of the movie. Dario Argento may not hit the highs of some of his past movies, but he’s able to hit all the right notes with Phenomena and crafts one of the most original horror movies of the 80s and this movie just further cements Argento’s great legacy in the horror genre.
This is one of Jennifer Connelly’s first films and apparently she’s made some negative comments about the movie, which is a shame. Phenomena may not be an Oscar worthy movie, but it’s still an excellent movie and too bad Connelly doesn’t feel the same as many of the fans of the movie. Donald Pleasence also appears in the film and gives a solid and fun performance.
Phenomena truly is a fascinating movie and while I wouldn’t rate this in my top 5 Argento movies it’s really an entertaining and fun flick that is just off the wall on the weirdness factor. A lot of the plot points can easily sink a movie, but Argento being the great craftsman he is totally makes this work.
-Dave Kaye (Last Road Reviews)
To order from Amazon: Phenomena (Special Edition)