plot of Dario Argento’s 1985 thriller Phenomena
has long been the subject of ridicule and derision by critics and fans alike
since its initial release. The inevitable complaints about the film range from
the bad dubbing and stiff performances to the ludicrous notion that insects can
be employed as detectives in a homicide investigation (this is true and has
actually been done, providing the inspiration for the film). If the film does
not sound familiar, that could be attributed to the fact that Phenomena was severely cut by 33 minutes
and retitled Creepers when it opened
in the States on Friday, August 30, 1985.
Corvino (Jennifer Connelly) is a fourteen year-old student attending an
all-girls school in Switzerland while her movie star father is away for the
better part of a year shooting a film. Her mother, who left the family when
Jennifer was a child, is merely mentioned but never seen. Unfortunately, her
roommate Sophie (Federica
Mastroianni) has just informed her that the school is
beset by a killer who stalks girls their age and kills them. Well, that’s unfortunate! You would think that
someone would order the school closed and the girls sent away. As you can
imagine, this doesn’t sit too well with Jennifer who suffers from a bad case of
sleepwalking and manages to find herself embroiled in the very murders she was
hoping to avoid. She meets entomologist John McGregor (Donald Pleasence), a
wheelchair-bound Scot who lacks a Scottish accent but possesses an avuncular
disposition that endears Jennifer to him and his chimpanzee Inga who doubles as
his nurse. Fortunately for Jennifer, he is aiding the police in their
investigation into the murder of a Danish tourist (Fiore Argento, the
director’s eldest daughter) and the disappearance of McGregor’s former aid.
Together with the help of McGregor, Inga (yes, the chimp!) and a very large
fly, Jennifer sets off to locate the murderer. When she does, she nearly
Connelly was chosen by Mr. Argento to play the lead as he had seen her in
Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in
America (1984). His decision to set the film in the Swiss Alps is
unorthodox but provides the perfect backdrop to the story as the scenery is
utterly breathtaking. He also makes terrific use of the Steadi-cam and it never
Phenomena has been released on home video more times than I can
count, but the new Blu-ray from Synapse Films is gorgeous and has completely
different extras than the 2011 Arrow Video release which had the more
well-known 110-minute cut and an array of then-newly-produced extras. Phenomena has more detractors than
admirers if you believe what you read, and even staunch proponents of Mr.
Argento’s vision (Maitland McDonagh and Alan Jones) have written off the film
as silly. However, the amount of love and dedication that has been lavished
upon this film restoring it to its former glory on Blu-ray says volumes about
those who cherish it. This set is absolutely beautiful and definitely worth the
price of an upgrade as it sports the following:
set comes with two Blu-rays which consist of three (3) different cuts of the
film, all available in high-definition for the first time ever in one
collector's edition package:
the 83-minute United States Creepers cut in HD
the 110-minute International Phenomena cut in HD
the 116-minute English/Italian hybrid
audio Phenomena cut in HD
There is a brand new audio commentary track on Phenomena (the 110-minute cut) moderated by film historian, journalist and radio/television commentator David Del Valle who speaks exclusively with Argento scholar and author, Derek Botelho, author of the excellent book The Argento Syndrome. The discussion is both spirited and informative as Mr. Botelho clearly knows his stuff. I love listening to commentaries that tell me anecdotes that I either forgot about or never knew before, and there is plenty of interesting info here.
There are also two completely different sound mix options on Phenomena (110-Version), including the original 2.0 stereo mix, along with a rare alternate mix containing different sound effects and music cues.
There is an English/Italian hybrid audio and complete Italian audio options for Phenomena on the 116-minute cut.
Dario Argento’s World of Horror (1985) – This is a wonderful extra that was originally released on VHS in 1987, on laserdisc in 1989 and 1999, and on DVD by Synapse in 1998 and has been largely out of print ever since. The best documentary made about Mr. Argento thus far, it was deemed “lost” as the original 16mm elements could not be located (how does this happen??). The film’s presentation here is therefore in standard definition and appears to be derived from the video master that was used to create the releases all those years ago. This is a look at the director’s previous films, including his early years with his stunning directorial debut The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, his mediocre The Cat O’Nine Tails, Four Flies on Grey Velvet (easily the worst film he made in the 1970’s), his best film Deep Red, the amazing Suspiria (which can be pre-ordered here from Synapse following a four-year restoration of the film in 4K), the stunning Inferno, the spectacular Tenebre, the phenomenal (couldn’t resist) Phenomena, and the two films he produced, Dawn of the Dead and the highly entertaining Demons. World of Horror contains behind-the-scenes footage on the set of Phenomena (as well as his previous films such as Suspiria and Tenebre) that doesn’t appear anywhere on Arrow Video’s 2011 Blu-ray. Even though the picture quality is not up to high definition standards, it’s a treasure trove and I would love to see more on-set footage like this. Amazingly, there is on-set footage of a sequence that has Jennifer floating above her mean schoolmates that was scrapped from the final film. Excellent.
There is an interview with Andi Sex Gang, a composer I never heard of outside of his brief relation to this film. His inclusion is puzzling as out of the three tracks of his that appear on the soundtrack CD (“The Quick and the Dead”, “You Don’t Know Me”, and “The Naked and the Dead”), only one of those songs, “You Don’t Know Me”, even appears in the film.
Phenomena’s international theatrical trailer is included, as are the U.S. theatrical trailer & radio spots for Creepers.
Optional English subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing on the 110-minute cut of Phenomena and on Creepers.
Multiple optional subtitle selections on the 116-minute cut of Phenomena, including one for just the foreign English language segments of the hybrid version, complete English subtitles for the entire feature, and complete English subtitles for the Italian version of the film.
Watching Phenomena again makes me realize just how much I miss Daria Nicolodi, Argento's long-time girlfriend who appeared in seven films for him. She brought so much to his films, and her absence is deeply felt more than ever now. In Deep Red, she played the wonderfully sweet journalist, redubbed by Carolyn de Fonseca; in Suspiria she emerges from an airport with no dialog; in Inferno she’s the strange Elise Stallone Van Adler who keeps finding paint on her foot; in Tenebre she’s Peter Neal’s secretary Anne, redubbed by Theresa Russel of all people; here in Phenomena she’s the sinister Frau Bruckner, again redubbed by Carolyn de Fonseca; in Opera she is Mira, and this was the first time that her actual voice was used; and La Terza Madre she is Elisa Mandy (again with her own voice).
Donald Pleasance is also quite good as the entomologist. Some have complained about his performance, but I’ve never seen him give anything less than 100% in his roles, however off-beat. His presence in a horror film is always welcome. Check him out in Gary Sherman’s Death Line (1972), he’s brilliant.
Phenomena is not Mr. Argento’s best. IMHO, Deep Red holds that title. It is, however, a terrifically entertaining murder mystery with some great set pieces and a driving score by some members of Goblin among others.