Phenomena (1985)

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Grand in spectacle and skin crawling detail, this Italian horror also known as ‘Creepers’ strikes an oil well of out there imagery, serial killer plot and incredible music. It’s operatic in both its style and soundtrack and you feel like you’re experiencing some lucid ride as you watch this insect filled story progress.

Introducing the unseen killer by offing a tourist who misses the bus she was on gives us a glimpse of the quick and bloody manner they have and clearly the crazy nature they possess by showing them break free from chains. After this we see Jennifer Corvino (Jennifer Connelly) who attends a Swiss Academy for girls while her famous father is away. She finds out, though that in the nearby area is this brutal slayer who murders young girls. Through her sleepwalking, gift of insect friendship and help from scientist John McGregor (Donald Pleasence) she attempts to track and uncover the multiple murderer.

Director Dario Argento clearly has an eye for the lavish and demonstrates striking yet odd beauty in his work. The many uses of close ups in his film add further closer inspection to places and people and also stir up more unnerving feelings as we feel they could be something more than what they appear. This movie does a magnificent job of generating an aura and with the near constant wind Switzerland seems to have in this movie it somehow works in making you feel cold to the bone. It may not be overtly scary, apart from one part that made me jump out of my skin, but Argento’s theatrical style provide chills.

It’s the sprawling location of hills and the hideous fraction of the overly posh clinical Academy that contrast and make the film stand out further. Both sides still hold that worrying feeling, the freedom of nature gives the killer room to run and kill as seen in the fantastic stone tunnel chase opening and the girl school just feels locked down and too ordered that you get a gist of something going on you don’t like, this manifests into the bullying of Jennifer as the other snobs torment her pretending to be worshipping insects of hers.

The story is no doubt surreal and you cannot deny it’s original but there’s times you question it or wonder why on Earth this idea even came about, or how. The whole serial killer angle lands the film in horror land but it feels laboured just to get that bloody spree involved, though I guess never knowing who is behind the murders leaves you guessing and therefore watching. It’s just weird in many places but wonderfully so, even if the insect kingdom aiding Jennifer comes across as strange, you buy into it because the film feels theatrical.

There’s an awful lot going on, what with killers, forensic science, detective work, dream studying, Jennifer’s plight and insect talk in general that it could feel like too many cooks spoiling the broth but perhaps luckily it all boils together nicely like a six armed Gordon Ramsay perfecting every aspect of the preparation to bring out a top notch dish. The strongest feature of this film lies in the world of the shuddering nastiness. Maggots, body parts and flies come together to really make you squirm and see this landscape as insane and nightmarish.

A lot of names to follow but; Claudio Simonetti, Bill Wyman, Fabio Pignatelli and Simon Boswell mixed in with the likes of Motorhead and Iron Maiden must be credited massively for the music in this film. The loud sounds of operatic/progressive rock and heavy metal tunes really gets the non-diagetic side of things pulsating and many times it kicks in really breathing atmospheric tension into the film. It coincides with the remarkable visuals of Argento to create a truly energetic thrilling story.

There are problems like believabilty of such an unbelievable plot but bypass this or view the story as a grotesque fairy-tale then you may just enjoy this film…a lot, like I did. There are shoddy moments of insect effects that don’t work but you’ll end up fist punching the air thanks to an outstanding primate and both the music and film will excite and shock you.

It’s exceptional and succeeds as a horror film for worming into your mind and creeping you out. The out there aspect of it all is fine and rather cool to see, especially when blended in with heightened dream like imagery, pounding music and clever interesting direction.

8/10

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2 thoughts on “Phenomena (1985)

  1. Totally just scrolled down to see your score. I will read the whole thing soon enough. I have had the DVD on my tv stand for a week and plan on watching it over the weekend. Glad it was good!

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