04/30/2019 07:29

Film: Phenomena

Year: 1985

Director: Dario Argento

Writer: Dario Argento and Franco Ferrini

Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Donald Pleasence and Daria Nicolodi



Now for this film, I had sought it out as I am a fan of Dario Argento and decided to see all his works. Something that intrigued me to see this one was that it starred a young Jennifer Connelly as well as Halloween’s Donald Pleasence. The concept also was something that hooked me, with this being a supernatural giallo. I’ve now seen this for a second time in 4K at the Wexner Center for the Arts.

Synopsis: a young girl, with an amazing ability to communicate with insects, is transferred to an exclusive Swiss boarding school, where her unusual capability might help solve a string of murders.

This starts with a young lady missing her bus. Instead of waiting for the next one, she goes to a nearby house. It is with another watch that I realized she is cold. Her name is Vera Brandt (Fiore Argento). She goes inside when no one answers and we see something chained to the wall. It gets free and chases her. She goes up to a point where it overlooks a waterfall. She is killed and see her head fall into the water.

We then shift to Jennifer Corvino (Connelly) arriving in Switzerland. She is the daughter of a famous actor and she has been accepted to a prestigious boarding school. On the way there, we see that she likes insects, which freaks out Frau Brückner (Daria Nicolodi) who is riding with her.

They arrive at the school and the headmistress is Dalila Di Lazzaro. We see that she doesn’t take to Jennifer. She is rooming with Sophie (Federica Mastroianni), who is in awe of who Jennifer’s father is. The headmistress comes in and confiscates a poster of her father that she was going to put up. Sophie also hides her cigarette.

We then shift to Professor John McGregor (Donald Pleasence). He is an expert on insects, especially ones that eat into dead flesh. He is visited by Inspector Rudolf Geiger (Patrick Bauchau) who is the lead investigator on the murders that are happening in the area. He’s joined by Kurt (Michele Soavi). Vera’s head was found and Professor McGregor can figure out how long ago the murder happened due to the insects that were found on it. He is also wheelchair bound and has a chimpanzee that helps him, Inga (Tanga).

Jennifer has an episode that night, where she is sees things and sleep walks. She goes out onto a balcony where she sees a woman get murdered. Jennifer falls from there and continues into the night. She ends up getting picked by the two men that touch her. She jumps out and ends up at Professor McGregor’s house. The two of them hit it off before she returns to the school.

She doesn’t want to stay there though. They run tests on her and think that there is something very wrong with her. It is here that her roommate gets murdered. She was supposed to be watching Jennifer to ensure she wasn’t sleepwalking, but snuck out to meet her boyfriend. Jennifer learns she can talk with insects and finds a glove of the killer. Professor McGregor enlists her aid, since he knows how about insects and has her take a fly with her to find where the first girl was murdered. The killer is on to them and it is a race to survive.

That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I’ll then go is saying that this does interesting things. I’ll bring up again that we get a supernatural giallo film, which Argento was one of the best with. I like the concept of this being a murder mystery, but a young woman who can talk with insects and an entomologist are doing their own investigation. After my first viewing, I had a gripe that Jennifer’s ability was not being fleshed out. I disagree this time around. It could also be a different print than I have on DVD as well.

Sticking with things that were an issue with my first watch and no longer is the reveal of the killer. This is one that I remembered the reveal. What I like is that this person is someone we know. It isn’t a cheat. Elements of Inspector Rudolf Geiger reveal deeper information that I didn’t catch originally. I like that and the reasons the killer is doing what they are. The subplot with Inga still feels like a gimmick, but it is fun. It also makes sense to the ending as well.

There is also this element of the wind. It is featured in almost every scene. The opening one with Vera, she seems cold. Prof. McGregor comments about how warm it is. I almost get the idea that it could be driving people mad. Another recurring idea deals with this area called the Swiss Transylvania. This doesn’t go anywhere, but it seemed important.

That should be enough for the story so over to the acting. It was fun to see a young Connelly here. I thought did a good job. This is one of her earlier films, even before Labyrinth and I liked to see her. She was cute back then. Nicolodi was also good. If anything, I want her to have more screen time as this is one of her better performances. I understand why. Pleasence doesn’t get a lot in this film either. He is a solid actor. What is interesting is that he plays this more subdued which is a change. Not his best performance but it works in the framework of his character. I’d say that Di Lazzaro, Bauchau, Fiore Argento, Fiorenza Tessari, Soavi and the rest of the cast rounded this out for what they needed.

I’ll then go to filmmaking. Something else I originally had an issue with was the pacing. I didn’t feel it this time. It moves through things at a good clip and it makes sense for the steps that are taken for our two characters’ investigation. The effects were also good. This is something I expected though from an Argento film. The murder weapon that was used was interesting. It is a variation on a knife but has a handle like a spear. We got interesting kills that looked real to me, so I liked it. There are even some cool scenes of focusing in on the eyes of characters, which I’m also a fan of. We also get a maggot pool that is gross. The only negative effects are pre-CGI computer stuff. There is charm there.

I’m giving the soundtrack its own paragraph as well. The Goblin did a good portion of it and I’m a big fan of them. Not the best soundtrack for an Argento film. That’s not to say I don’t listen to what they did here on a playlist. Claudio Simonetti was involved along with Iron Maiden, Motörhead, Simon Boswell, Bill Wyman and even Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Flash of the Blade is used great in our opening sequence for sure.

In conclusion, this one I enjoyed even more this time around. The concept of this supernatural giallo is good. How everything comes together is superb. There is a good cast here with the likes of a young Connelly, Pleasence and Nicolodi. The rest are good in support. This is well-made from the effects to the soundtrack. I’m glad that I’ve rewatched this having more of a knowledge base. This surpassed what I originally thought and now flirts with my top 5 Argento’s.


My Rating: 8 out of 10