Phenomena (1985)
By: Paul Ryan on April 26, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Umbrella Entertainment (Australia). All Regions, PAL. 1.66:1 (Non-anamorphic). English DD 2.0. 110 minutes
The Movie
Director: Dario Argento
Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Donald Pleasance, Patrick Bauchau, Daria Nicolodi
Screenplay: Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini
Music: Claudio Simonetti
Tagline: Evil Is Alive and Killing.
Country: Italy
AKA: Creepers
Jennifer Connelly, you've come a long way baby.

Having already made her film debut for Sergio Leone in a small, but important part in Once Upon A Time In America, Connelly - aged just 13 at time - landed her first lead role in what is surely one of horror legend Dario Argento's oddest films. A maelstrom of bugs, blood, body parts and razor-wielding primates, Phenomena should be laughable, but strangely isn't, thanks to committed leads and Argento's typically imaginative direction.

Connelly plays Jennifer Corvino, a new student at the Richard Wagner Girls Academy (!), a boarding school located in the "Swiss Transylvania". Already facing the expected problems of fitting in, Jennifer also has a tendency to sleepwalk, not to mention a unique telpathic bond with insects. Isolated from the other students and repeatedly victimised by the school's venal headmistress (Dalia Di Lazaro), Jennifer also has to contend with a killer stalking the girls of the school. Befriending a wheelchair-bound entomologist (Donald Pleasance), Jennifer uses her abilities to try and track down the killer. But as always with an Argento film, there are a few surprises in store.…

Dream-like and just plain surreal from the word go, Phenomena is a wild, crazy, and quite entertaining ride. Richly atmospheric, from the Swiss locations to Romano Albani's cinematography, and set to a frenetic, well-chosen soundtrack from the likes of Bill Wyman, Motorhead and Goblin, the film features some of Argento's most memorable set pieces.

As with many of the director's works, the plotting doesn't bear much scrutiny, especially in an utterly insane climax, but if you're willing to go along with it, Phenomena is quite an enjoyable guilty pleasure.
Another NTSC-to-PAL conversion from our mates at Umbrella, this is even fuzzier than their release of Argento's Deep Red, often resembling an 80's TV show in picture quality. The lack of anamorphic enhancement is also a letdown, but on the upside the print is quite clean and the original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 has been preserved.
A good, if unspectacular 2.0 English Dolby track is provided here. You can tell which actors have been dubbed pretty easily - a fault of the original audio recording- but otherwise audio sync is fine.
Extra Features
Audio Commentary: Moderated by journalist Louis Curci, this includes Argento, Simonetti and effects artist Sergio Stivalletti. The English of all four participants is a bit shaky at times, but this is an engrossing listen all the same. Argento also gets to let rip at the film's original American distributor (New Line), who drastically cut the film and retitled it Creepers. The participants speak affectionately about the cast (particularly Connelly and the late Pleasance) and crew, though aren't afraid to be critical of the film either.

Dario Argento - An Eye for Horror (4x3ws 56.48m): An excellent, thoughtful examination of the maestro's career, though it really is puzzling as to why Umbrella put it on every one of their Argento discs.

Behind the Scenes Featurettes (4x3ff): Two back-to-back segments looking at the making of the film. The first (7.41m) seems to be taken from an original Italian making-of special, though it is dubbed into English. The second (4.40m) is a mostly-dubbed, occasionally subtitled interview with effects artist (and occasional director) Luigi Cozzi, exploring the variety of bug-related effects in the film. It is also somewhat interesting to see snippets of the film in dubbed Italian.

Dario Argento Interview (4x3ff, 1.23m): A short piece where a dubbed Dario speaks of the "sinister" qualities inherent in the Swiss landscape. Interesting, but too brief.

Claudio Simonetti Interview (4x3ff, 56sec): The ex-Goblin member (flanked by a skeleton) discusses his work with Argento. As much one can in the space of 56 seconds, anyway.

Music Videos: Videos for the tracks "Valley" by Bill Wyman and "Phenomena" by Claudio Simonetti. The former (4x3ws 4.01m) is directed by future giallo merchant Michele Soavi (Stagefright), whilst the latter (4x3ws 4.02m) is helmed by Argento himself. Both are pretty good tunes, though the clips themselves are somewhat lackluster, with Soavi's mostly composed of behind the scenes footage intercut with Wyman's perfomance. Argento's features Connelly in a new sequence unrelated to the events of the film. Sound is fine, but the vision is very, very fuzzy.

Trailer (4x3ws, 2.36m): An eerie little trailer, which effectively sets the mood for the film and is set to Simonetti's theme music.

Argento Trailers: The usual assortment of trailers for other Argento flicks also available from Madman/Umbrella: The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (4x3ws, 3.02m), The Cat O'Nine Tails (4x3ws, 1.44m), Deep Red (16x9ws, 2.43m) and Tenebrae (4x3ws, 3.14m).
The Verdict
One of Argento's most florid and imaginative - not to mention, downright deranged - works, Phenomena has come to DVD in yet another well-stocked package from Umbrella. Whilst the transfer is a bit of a letdown, the print is uncut and the extras are quite extensive. For those with time and inclination to compare, the cut version is also available locally on DVD (from MRA), released under the American title Creepers. But seriously, why would you bother? Umbrella's release is very likely the best presentation of this film you will ever find short of an overseas import.
Movie Score
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