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PHENOMENA
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Reviewed by: JimmyO

Directed by: Dario Argento

Starring:
Jennifer Connelly
Daria Nicolodi
Donald Pleasence

Movie:  
star star star star
Extras:  
star star star star
Overall:  
star star star star
What's it about
When a young girl arrives at a Swiss boarding school, a vicious murderer begins killing off young girls in the area. Not only does the new girl seem to have a psychic link to the killer, she also has a bizarre connection to insects which her fellow students and the faculty seem to find a bit disturbing.
Is it good movie?
Dario Argento’s Phenomena is one of those movies that have many Argento fans split. In fact, I had heard from a friend of mine in regards to it who didn’t have as much love for it as I do. For me, it is a twisted and creepy fairy tale that sort of reminds me of Pan’s Labyrinth in a strange way. I I wouldn’t be surprised if somehow this inspired that film in some slight way. This tale of a girl who has a telekinetic relationship with bugs and a vicious killer attacking young women is reality based, but still offers up a magical world. It even has a hero chimp who plays a major part in the film. This is a dark and morbid tale that happens to have some beautifully staged deaths. Whether it be a young girl whose head is cut off and falls into a waterfall or a long knife thrust into another young woman’s head and it comes out of her screaming mouth, this was inventive stuff. Dario presents some very creative deaths that add to the mystic of psychic power and psycho killers.

When Jennifer (Jennifer Connelly) arrives at a boarding school in Sweden, she is faced with a nasty head mistress, and her schoolmates shallow behavior. Jennifer’s father happens to a famous actor with little time for his daughter, so she has little control over where she is sent. But we soon find that the young girl has a connection with insects. And not just the fact that she likes them, it seems she can speak to them telekinetically. While all of this is going on a vicious killer is on the loose killing young girls and taking their bodies with him. And once Jennifer arrives, it seems she may have some connection to the killer, and of course the local insects. Whenever he kills, she begins to sleepwalk which almost puts her right at the murderers mercy. After a particularly dangerous bout of sleepwalking (something she does when the murders are happening), she ends up in the safely of a local doctors home. The good doctor, played by Donald Pleasence, takes her in and he discovers her gift with the insects. And thus, a partner in crime fighting is found. By the way, the doctor has a chimp for a nurse. Is this sounding bizarre to you?

Now if you are not a fan of Argento, or if you know nothing about his work, I actually recommend starting with Phenomena. Yes, it is incredibly bizarre but in many ways I feel that it is more accessible than many of his other films. It is as stylish as you would expect but it also seems a bit more attainable for a non-fan to enjoy. The fascinating use of lighting and colors is all very beautiful here. Especially when it is night, or it is a dark place, the flashes of light are a bit exaggerated, but it works wonders as this is basically a fairy tale for grown-ups. It is haunting and sublime, especially when Jennifer begins to hunt down the killer. I really love what Argento presents us with here. The constant wind that moans throughout the picture, the viciously creative murders and what is easily one of the best performances from an actress in an Argento film with Jennifer Connelly. While some may disagree, this sinister fairy tale of terrors is one of the masters best.
Video / Audio
Video: Since Argento creates such fascinating visuals, it is nice to see this Anamorphic Widescreen Presentation 1.66:1 is treated as well as it is. A very nice transfer.

Audio: Also quite good for the creepy whistling wind is the Dolby Surround 5.1 and Dolby Surround 2.0.
The Extras
I love Anchor Bay. It is so very nice to see these classic films treated as well as they are, especially when they pile on the extras. Sadly, this particular DVD is not a double disc which I think some were expecting. But it is quiet the treasure for those of us who really enjoy this film.

First up is a Commentary with Dario Argento, Special Make-Up Effects Artist Sergio Stivaletti, Music Composer Claudio Simonetti and Journalist Loris Curci. As much as I love Argento, commentary is not one of his strong points. Not that this isn’t worth listening to, but each person seems to be separate, talking about their specific work. And oftentimes, there are quiet moments with some incredibly interesting shots happening. Basically, a so-so commentary with a few morsels of interesting information.

Next up is A Dark Fairy Tale (17:16) which is more interesting than the commentary. Dario and a few others are interviewed about the film. They talk about the disease that inspired the monster and a few other things of interest like a chimp and Jennifer Connelly’s finger. This is very much worth watching.

In Luigi Cozzi and the Art of Macrophotography (4:31) we are offered a brief look at coffee grounds looking like flies. Actually, it is the filming the screen with bugs and using them as actors. I think I would have liked to of seen more than just four minutes of this. Pretty interesting stuff.

Dario Argento on the Joe Franklin Show (8:58) is a chance to see some guy named Joe Franklin who knows NOTHING about horror films or Dario Argento, interview him. This is fascinating stuff and I love the stunt man that keeps interjecting into the conversation… ‘I’m sure you might need a stuntman at some point…’ or something like that Wow is all I have to say about this “interview”.

Finally, we get a couple of music videos including Claudio Simonetti and “Jennifer” and Bill Wyman with “Valley”. I liked the video for Jennifer much better, even though it is as campy as you could possibly get.

Finally, there is the Trailer that gives way too much away. Still fun though, if you’ve seen the movie. And also, if you want to do a bit of reading, you can check out the Dario Argento Bio to scroll and read through.
Last Call
While many did not find the magic of Phenomena as much as I did, I feel it is a classic fairy tale that is as macabre as anything Argento has ever done. The murders are vicious and fascinating and Jennifer Connelly is wonderful as Jennifer. I loved how bizarre this strange tale gets, including use of a evil fighting chimp. This is a brilliant look at what Argento claims to be his most “personal” work. It is also a good place to start if you are not familiar with his other films. And it is presented here in all its remastered and uncut glory.
ARROW IN THE HEAD'S RATING SYSTEM
star star star star I'D BUTCHER MY FAMILY TO SEE THIS AGAIN
star star star HANG ME BUT I DUG IT A LOT
star star AN OK WAY TO KILL TWO HOURS
star JUST SLING AN ARROW IN MY HEAD AND LET ME DIE IN PEACE

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