One of the latter day Dario Argento movies is a mind melding, bizarre series of inexplicable plot points that amount to one twisted slasher film. “Phenomena” is Argento at his wildest, directing a script that feels concocted by someone on an acid bender. “Phenomena” is one part “Carrie,” one part giallo slasher, one part revenge thriller, and a whole lot plot elements that make zero sense. Everything that unfolds is so inexplicable and out of left field that I was absolutely baffled most times. And it speaks a lot to the reputation of Dario Argento because a movie like this would have prompted me to shut it down mid-way. But the movie begs the audience to keep going, even though we’re never quite sure what other nonsensical plot point is going to be tossed in at the last second.
Jennifer Corwin, teenage daughter of a famous actor, arrives at an expensive Switzerland boarding school, and is a sleepwalker who can also communicate telepathically with insects. While sleepwalking, she meets and befriends a Scottish entomologist, Prof. John McGregor, and his chimpanzee Tonga. Jennifer decides to help Dr. McGregor’s investigation of a serial killer who is murdering young girls in the area. When her friend Sophie disappears, the scared Jennifer decides to return to Los Angeles. She is invited to stay in the house of Frau Brückner while she waits for her flight, but the serial killer is already after her.
Everything feels so made up on the fly, and it’s baffling, funny, and just surreal. Even Jennifer Connelly looks perplexed throughout most of the movie. Connelly is absolutely stunning in one of her earliest roles in her career, but she’s never able to really salvage such a bipolar, unfocused horror film. In many ways I hated it, but I also kind of appreciated it. I was just dumbfounded through most of it, as it starts off respectively enough but then sinks in to sheer incoherency. Why does a wheelchair bound doctor need a chimpanzee assistant? Why does a doctor keep a rotting head in a case for experimentation? The narrative is so incoherent that at one instance a narrator pops up to explain the setting of one scene and set exposition for the audience for a few minute.
Then they disappear and they never show up again. And was Jennifer Corwin super powered or was she some kind of resurrected deity? Why can Jennifer astro travel? How and why did it enable her to see the murders but not the killer? Why were the bugs aiding her in learning the identity of the masked killer? Were the bugs working with Jennifer, or bending to her will? And to what ends? For all intents and purposes, the movie is well shot, and I was shockingly invested in the sub-plot with Inga the chimpanzee. There’s also a great soundtrack from Goblin, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and so many more. I’m convinced Argento wrote this movie on a serious Acid bender. It’s so bat shit insane, but damn, it goes down so good.
“Phenomena” arrives as a re-release via 4K a la Synapse Films with a 2-Disc set. This is the standard version from the Collector’s Edition that was released last year in 2022. There are three different versions of the film included. First, there’s the Italian Version which is referred to as the Integral Cut runs at 116 minutes. The International Cut runs at 110 minutes, and finally, there’s the Creepers Cut which runs at a small 83 minutes.
There is no insert or booklet as this is a standard set, but there is the wonderful artwork with gorgeous star Jennifer Connolly. There are no new extras with this particular release, but all the bonus features from the previous release have been carried over. Disc One includes an Audio Commentary with Film historian Troy Howarth who discusses the movie, director Argento, the actors, and how this movie got made, along with its place in popular culture. “Of Flies and Maggots” is a two hour 2017 exhaustive documentary that tackles the making of the film with interviews with everyone, save for Pleasance and Connolly.
“Jennifer” is a music video from the music composer for Jennifer’s song. There are a few pages from the authentic Japanese Press Book for the film, as well as five minutes of Trailers for the film. Disc Two includes a second audio commentary track from film buffs David Del Valle and Derek Botelho both of whom discuss the movie, its production, the cast and crew, and more. “The Three Sarcophagi” is a thirty minutes video essay by Michael MacKenzie who talks about the movie and all the differences between the three alternate versions of the film included in this release. Finally, there are three minutes worth of vintage Radio and TV Spots for “Phenomena.”