2 / 5 stars
For the past 40 years, Dario Argento has become a filmmaking icon for all horror fans with his uniquely original, gore-filled creations, with Argento movies like Opera and Suspiria familiar to just about every worshipper of the genre. This month, The Queue takes a look at one of Argento’s less talked-about endeavors, the mid-1980s’ Phenomena. With Phenomena (aka Creepers), Argento successfully exhibits the elements of style that have made him a household name in fright-fest circles, but the film is also representative of some of his frequent faults, namely the slow-moving plot. (Click on the movie poster for a closer look.)
Young Jennifer Corvino (Jennifer Connelly, a year before Labyrinth) is the daughter of an international film star, constantly swept from one foreign locale to another as her father is off shooting movies. This time, she is left at an all-girls school in Switzerland — no worries though, everyone there speaks and learns in English. The downside? There is a serial killer on the loose who delights in murdering teenage girls.
To make matters worse, Jennifer suffers from sleepwalking. As if that’s not enough to make her a point of ostracism among her classmates, she also has a keen love for, and telepathic connection with, all insects. Soon Jennifer finds solace in a local, wheelchair-bound entomologist, Professor John McGregor (Donald Pleasance). He is convinced of Jennifer’s powers and, together, they seek to use the clues that insects provide in order to find the killer and stop his murderous romp.
Argento’s knack for finding and developing keen, original story-lines is well documented in all of his works, and Phenomena seems a bit ahead of its time as it deals in the secret telepathic abilities of insects, as well as their prevalent use in crime scene investigations. This is years before CSI or Bones, of course. However, Argento’s penchant for plodding plot and vague mystery make most of Phenomena barely watchable, as the clues and mysterious events are hardly enough to hold our interest. The director speeds up the pace in the film’s final third, making the movie worth spending time on, but it takes almost an hour to get to there. The Italian master has accomplished ratcheting up the tension and suspense much more effectively in earlier achievements such as The Bird With the Crystal Plumage and The Cat O’ Nine Tails.
There is enough to Phenomena to engage every horror fan — look for Argento’s trademark style points such as a few twists and a nicely gory, freak-show of a climax. Throw in the obligatory synth-rock score by Goblin and a soundtrack featuring Iron Maiden, Motorhead, and Bill Wyman, and you may just be able to watch Phenomena to its end.
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