Argento’s “Phenomena” is a Dreamy and Addictively Unconventional Delight

Much too many people’s dismay at my opinion on Nolan’s Dark Knight Opuses, I decided to choose this as one of my favorite Dario Argento flicks just so I could relate to all these fanatics who don’t “get” that I find those Dark Knight movies bloated and overlong with not a shred of excitement while watching it. Many times in the past I’ve read that the main flaw of “Phenomena” is that it’s boring, too long, and filled with plot inconsistencies. I always have trouble understanding that and now at least I know where these Dark Knight fans are coming from [only I don’t feel the need for hostile name calling and hate filled retaliation on message boards] as I don’t understand who could find this boring. It’s filled to the brim with imagination, gore, surprises, and great passion. This isn’t my favorite Argento exactly, I think Suspiria and Inferno are superior, but this is one of the greats.

The plot of Phenomena is sort of similar to Suspiria, only if that it involves an American student Jennifer Corvino [a young and able Jennifer Connelly] attending a private school abroad [the mesmerizing Switzerland] only to get involved with some sinister happenings involving a serial killer with a penchant for beheading school girls, most whom have proven to be utter nasty bitches to Jennifer. The twist this time around is that our heroine has a telepathic connection with insects, instructing them to do her will and to help her find and stop the psychopathic killer, especially after killing the only girl who was kind to her. She gets the help with local entomologist John Mcgregor [effortlessly played by Donald Pleasance] and his faithful and helpful Chimpanzee, who has a liking for sharp stabbing objects.

A back story for this is that I discovered Argento and checked out all of his work [this was in 2003] and saw everything he made up until that point except for this. I finally found a horrible copy of “Creepers” the 82 minute version that excludes about 25 minutes. I thought the movie suffered by the extensive cuts and was disappointed. One random day at CD plus sometime in 2006 I saw the title PHENOMENA and grabbed and bought it no questions asked and have had this great love affair ever since. At one point it was one of my favorite movies to show my friends after a night of raving/partying. The maestro would usually lead them on from scene to the next, occasionally shocking and disgusting them in great zeal. Ah those were the days.

This film is all in the details and has ATMOSPHERE to spare. Dario Argento and his hard working huge wind fans create a hypnotic fairy tale brought to life. Every Argento lover will see all the usual trademarks in the house. Black Gloved Killer, Goblin soundtrack, kinetic camera moves, children, insects, animals, and all the gore and heads crashing through windows you can take. It’s his, perhaps, most self-indulgent opus yet and it’s defiantly made and will be appreciated by those who are true aficionados of his work. All though not as colorful and luxurious as Suspiria or Inferno, it still has a purple hue that is very appealing, especially at night time. The dream sequences are nothing short of amazing, with the washed out whites and tracking shot in the hallway of doors inducing a rush from your truly. The quick cut of the full moon with clouds passing it with the Goblin score blasting away? WOW. Inspiring. Like a grim, morbid beautiful fairy tale brought to life. Just look at the artwork! Right out of a fairy tale and which, by the way, is my fav Argento artwork. The camera work and visuals are nothing but high style, and for me it’s a visual feast on the eyes.

The opening with the lost Dutch girl [Argentos daughter Fiore, who proves that nepotism is always a bad idea] finding the killers house in the wind filled mountain side while “The Valley” played was mesmerizing and haunting and it sets the tone for the rest of the movie. This could be a travelogue for Switzerland as thanks to this movie I now know where I want to vacation sometime soon. The use of insects in all the scenes were masterful and well shot and the pool of maggots in the end are truly horrifying. I love the beautiful and touching scene where a Fire-fly leads Jennifer to a clue, so cute and well done!

The last 20 minutes are insane and shocking. One surprise after another and it’s all blood drenched to the core. Breaking off your own thumb to escape hand cuffs or a pissed off chimp going ape-shit on a face with a razor are just some of the delicious details. One surprise with sheet-metal is one for the bloody memorable kill list!

The soundtrack is dreamy and addictive. Suits the images to a T, especially the opening and the dream sequences. Even Iron Maiden was used effectively, in my opinion. For those label whores out there [myself included] Giorgio Armani is the costume designer and Michele Soavi, director of Stagefright and The Church, has a cameo as a useless detective.

The movie is very unconventional, doing its own thing at all times never trying to explain or make sense of the bizarre narrative. For those who love mood pieces with high style. You just have to go with it, but trust me, it leads you down a path worth straying. It is in my top 20 of greatest films ever made!

–Vince Fontaine