Monday, 20 May 2013

Review - Phenomena (1985 - Dir. Dario Argento)

The Luc Besson Season was a bit of a disaster with an average rating of only two. Low quality. Let's see how Mr Argento fares. In our first instalment, Dario tries his hand at fusing giallo and fantasy elements with Phenomena. With mixed results. Does anyone actually care who the killer is in gialli? All I'm bothered about are the quality of the murdering gloves they wear and the death scenes. 

So how do the murders stand up? Stylish but pretty tame. Only two deaths stick in the mind: one involving two of Dario's trademarks, head through glass and extreme slow-motion, the other while brief, comes as a shock on first viewing. It's a disappointment after the delights of Tenebrae and Suspiria.

But it has got more to offer in the fantasy department, despite being completely stupid. A young Jennifer Connelly plays Jennifer, a girl with the supernatural ability to make insects frisky. While insects can be used to solve crimes and determine the time of death it seems a bit of a stretch that an insect could lead you to the killer. Just let it fly in front of you, follow it, and there you go. Episodes of CSI would become suspiciously similar if this technique worked. As for there being a link between insects and the human soul...

The characters are all in stupid horror film mode. People wander blindly into murdering situations. The killer barely has to break into a sweat. Word of warning: if there's a murderer on the loose, and someone you know starts behaving psychotically, don't swallow a tablet that they've given you. Regardless of how much they shout at you. Just in case you were tempted.

Like the majority of Dario's early efforts, Phenomena looks great. Architecture is beautifully lit and shot, as you'd expect and there's a gorgeous shot of Connelly (Jennifer, not Brian) rising out of the water at night, a fire burning in the background.  It also does disgusting pretty well too. A 'swimming pool' scene is particularly full of grue, when the film takes a satisfying dark turn towards the end.

I sincerely hope that Phenomena isn't used as a training aid for professionals dealing with mental illness. Here are some things I learnt: sleepwalking = psychophrenia. Doccortex had a sleepwalk. Once. Lock him up. Something else that I found out is that mental asylums should have a number of levels. And as the levels are descended, the inmates should get increasingly monstrous. A bit like hell. So let me get this straight: posh middle class children should go to huge ornate private schools, whilst children with mental health issues should be locked in the fiery depths of Satan's buttcheeks. Sounds like part of the Tory manifesto.

Despite its numerous failings (a blatant piece of thieving from Don't Look Now, Donald Pleasance's comedy Scottish accent and some jarring rock tunes on the soundtrack) I cant help quite liking this film. It has an atmosphere that Opera lacked. Connelly's sleepwalking episodes add to the fairy tale quality. Not Connelly's best. Not Dario's best. But worth a watch for a razor wielding monkey alone. (The rental copy I watched on Blu-ray had an extra bonus feature: it kept randomly swapping languages. One minute it was in English, then Italian. The most surreal was when it went into German.)

If you like this you could also try:
Monkey Shines, Dark City, Suspiria, Tenebrae.


  1. I didn't mind the soundtrack, when I saw it last year. "Valley" by Bill Wyman and Terry Taylor is quite good.

    1. We'll get to it later, but the soundtrack to Suspiria has got to be up there in my top ten favourites. The Phenomena soundtrack wasn't that memorable to me, but each to his own...