31 May 2015

May Monster Madness 2015: Dario Argento's "PHENOMENA"

Just like last year and the year before, Annie Walls, Emma [Little Gothic Horrors] and Ked [Something wicKED This Way Comes] once again host the mad-tastic "MAY MONSTER MADNESS" Blogfest.


This year's theme is brought to you by... erm, moi! And this time, it's all about insects, monster insects, insect plagues, insect infestations and what not.

As always, lazy me remains oh-so-uncreative and delivers just another review *yawn* but hey: it's a superlong review about a damn great flick by Italian Horror-Maestro Dario Argento, and it's a movie that is packed to the brim with shitloads of insects. It will crawl under your skin, I promise :-) Enjoy!

PHENOMENA

Alternate Titles:
Creepers / Dario Argento's Phenomena

Italy, 1985
Director: Dario Argento

9/10








Although Italian horror-legend Dario Argento has written and/or directed more than 40 feature films in his 45-year-career, the age-old discussion about what is his greatest movie always revolves around the same two movies: "Suspiria" and "Profondo Rosso". They're unarguably landmark masterpieces and obviously two of the greatest European horror films ever made, but I always thought the discussion lacked at least one more movie which may not be better than the above-mentioned ones, but which is obviously Argento's wackiest, most inventive, most bizarre and definitely his most surprising work to date: "Phenomena", a stunning slasher-fairytale-hybrid following young girl Jennifer, who has is able to telepathically communicate with insects, getting sent to an exclusive boarding school in a part of Switzerland that is often referred to as the "Swiss Transylvania", where she involuntarily teams up with a wheelchair-bound entomologist and helps solving a string of brutal murders...


Admit: it sounds fun, right? And, well, it actually is fun! Instead of creating yet another mere Giallo film, Argento mixed up well-trodden Giallo trademarks (maniac killer, whodunit plot, close-ups of murder weapons...) with his life-long love for animals ("I love all of them. Cats, dogs, fishes and insects. Every single species."), Fulci-esque gore, supernatural fantasy, telepathy and coming-of-age, outsiderdom, ending up with a movie that feels more like a fairytale than your average 70s/80s Italo-horror, and possesses a unique tone that surprisingly feels a tad childish, but in a good way. As in most of Argento's films, logic is sparse and the storyline is abstruse, but apart from that, "Phenomena" is so original and creative, it stands out of his filmography AND of European horror per se. No wonder that Argento frequently cites this as his favorite among all of his works.

From the breathtaking opening in the Swiss alps (which is definitely one of the most suspesneful scenes Argento has ever done) to uncanny dream sequences with rooms full of mirrors, a "Poltergeist"-like pool filled with dead bodies and body parts, and a fucking crazy ending including deformed childs, knife-wielding monkeys, swarms of flies, fire, water and blood, "Phenomena" is one helluva wild ride that has to be seen to be believed. As crazy and weird as it all may be, there's no doubt that this was made by a gifted and talented filmmaker at the height of his creativity. It's fantastically directed and paced, some scenes are super-fast, some are rather slow, but it all fits together perfectly, and at no time it's boring or tedious, even with a runtime of 100 minutes!


Next to the above-mentioned highlights, there are other remarkable scenes and things, like rotten, maggot-infested heads and bodies, a laser-pointer-controlled Chimpanzee, a firefly leading the main character to the killer's glove, seeing the world though the eyes of a bug (bug-o-vision), as well as countless close-ups of all kinds of insects (see below!) and lots of actually pretty interesting knowledge about the Great Sarcophagus fly (a.k.a flesh fly) and its larvae.

In terms of technical aspects, there is also nothing to argue with. Gobsmackingly beautiful cinematograhy and absolutely excellent steadicam work by Romano Albani ("Troll", "TerrorVision"), top-notch editing by regular Argento-collaborator Franco Fraticelli ("Profondo Rosso", "Suspiria", "Tenebrae"...), gorgeous production & costume design, ace art direction, and as always, a near-perfect musical score by Claudio Simonetti and his Goblins + some weird, yet highly effective usage of heavy metal music by Iron Maiden ("Flash of the Blades")
or Motörhead ("Locomotive").


Jennifer Connelly (Oscar for "A Beautiful Mind" in 2002) delivers a fabulous performance in one of her very first roles (at the age of 15!) as immensely strong female character, probably the strongest one in all of Argento's movies. Similarly awesome is the great Donald Pleasance in, what I'd call, the best 'Italian Job' in his entire career (before he wasted his talent on crap like "Paganini Horror" or "Nosferatu in Venice"). More great acting by Daria Nicolodi (ex-wife of Argento), Federica Mastroianni (niece of Marcello Mastroianni) or Dalila Di Lazzaro, as well as a mini-performance by Michele Soavi who later became one of the most impressive Italian genre-directors of all time with his 4 masterpieces "Stage Fright", "The Church", "The Sect" and "Dellamorte Dellamore"
(a.k.a "Cemetery Man").


"Phenomena" is a true phenomenon of a horror film, an original, spectacular and visually stunning piece of Italo-Horror-art, not to be missed!

Wiki ~ Imdb

20 comments:

  1. I always find a new movie to watch here. ;)

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  2. Don't forget Argento 'killing off' another of his kids in the Opening Kill Scene.

    This one is one of my favorites- thanks, Anchor Bay- but also one of his most Freudian Films ever. :-)

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    1. Oh gawd yeah, I almost forgot about that!

      Same here. "Phenomena" is definitely one of my favorite Argento flicks, and yes, it is Freudian as fuck ;)

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  3. I have such a hard time with Argento films and I'm not sure why. I want to check this out just for Jennifer Connelly tho.

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    1. This one is a bit different from other Argentos, so you might like "Phenomena" better than others.

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  4. Maggot infestation and creepy crawlers? What's not to love!

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  5. I am so going to find that movie!!! Sounds right up my street(hubby will just have to hide behind the sofa) :D XXX

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    1. It's pretty easy to find. Just make sure you don't buy the version entitled "Creepers" which is heavily cut.

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  6. I didn't realize Jennifer Connelly started acting that young!

    Thanks for coming up with this year's theme. It's amazing how much creepy-crawly, insect-y material was actually out there when you start thinking about it.

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    1. Yup, she did, thanks to Mr. Argento ;)

      My pleasure! I knew that y'all could come up with lots of creepy-crawly material :)

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  7. I can't believe I haven't seen this! Dario Argento at the height of his powers, 15 year old Jennifer Connelly, Goblin, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, bugs and gore - what's not to love?! Thanks for the awesome review as always, Maynard!

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    1. Ha, I can't believe it either! ;) Yes, it's a near-perfect combination of super-awesome things, highly recommended!

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  8. The perfect entry for MMM! Love this film, it needs a re-watch :)

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  9. I can't believe how underrated this film is! I really believe the 80s was Argento's best year (save for Inferno. Inferno's good but not as good as Suspiria!) and this is one of his more original and stable works! It kinda went downhill once The Card Player was introduced...

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    1. Yes, it's really, really underrated which is a shame. Argento was at the height of his creativity in the 80s. This, Inferno, Tenebre, the insane Opera, screenplays for Demons and the outstanding The Church - pure fucking awesomeness!

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  10. Well, thank you for this. I have to admit, I'm interested in seeing it just for the close-ups of the crawlies! I loved the music for Suspiria, so I'm interested to see how it's used here

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    Replies
    1. You just have to see it! It's no Suspiria, it's totally different, but nevertheless thoroughly thrilling and entertaining. Enjoy!

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