Saturday, May 21, 2022

#2,757. Phenomena (1985) - Dario Argento 4-Pack


Dario Argento’s Phenomena gets off to a fast start: distracted while taking pictures of the gorgeous landscape, a 14-year-old Danish tourist (played by Argento’s daughter, Fiore) misses the bus back to town. To escape the cold, she makes her way to an abandoned house. There, she is attacked by a scissors-wielding maniac, who chases her into the woods before cornering the poor girl in a cavern and finishing her off.

The surroundings are undoubtedly beautiful (portions of the movie were shot on-location in Switzerland), yet this initial sequence stays with you because it is simultaneously tense and violent (Argento utilizes a bit of slow-motion that is especially vicious), with Goblin’s incredible musical score setting the perfect tone.

It is a great opening, and as we’ll soon discover it’s just one of many such memorable scenes scattered throughout this superb horror film.

Several months after the above events, teenager Jennifer Corvino (Jennifer Connolly), the daughter of a famous American actor, travels to Switzerland to attend the prestigious Richard Wagner Academy for Girls. She befriends her roommate Sophie (Federica Mastroianni), but Jennifer quickly finds herself at odds with the school’s Headmistress (Dalila Di Lazzarro), and her unique ability to “communicate” with insects makes the new arrival an outcast among her classmates.

When Sophie is murdered by a killer targeting teen girls (the very same who attacked the tourist in the opening scene), Jennifer joins forces with Professor John McGregor (Donald Pleasance), a local Entomologist who is convinced her unique connection to the insect world may hold the key to tracking down this psychopath.

Argento’s flair for visuals is evident throughout Phenomena. Aside from the masterfully-shot opening, there’s an amazing sequence involving thousands of flies (which come to Jennifer’s aid as her classmates tease her), and a late underwater sequence is especially breathtaking. As a sharp contrast to its stunning imagery, Phenomena tells a brutal story of murder and mutilation (the killer likes to collect body parts), and the last half hour of the movie (by which point the killer’s identity has been revealed) will have you one the edge of your seat.

The performances are a mixed bag; Pleasance is quite good (right down to his Scottish accent), as is Daria Nicolodi (who was married to Argento but divorced him around the time this movie was made) who plays Frau Bruckner, the Headmistress’s assistant. The rest of the cast, however - including Jennifer Connolly - is only so-so (though I quite liked Professor MacGregor’s chimpanzee, Inga, which becomes an important part of the story).

In addition to the lackluster performances, the narrative gets a bit confusing at times (Jennifer’s sleepwalking incident is jarring, to say the least), but in the end, Phenomena’s strengths far outweigh its weaknesses, and the finale is so bizarre that it’s sure to linger in your mind well after the movie is over.
Rating: 8 out of 10

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