Tuesday, November 20, 2018

PHENOMENA (1985) Blu-ray review

Phenomena (1985) d. Dario Argento (Italy) (116 min)

Perhaps the only “insect detective” movie out there on the shelves, featuring a very young Jennifer Connelly (released one year before Labyrinth) as the daughter of a famous American movie star sent away to study at an exclusive Swiss girl’s academy, whose students just happen to be falling victim to a homicidal killer. But as this is an Argento movie, things are hardly what they seem.

The film opens at a full gallop, with a moody, haunting sequence of a young Danish tourist (Fiore Argento) in peril, then slows down to introduce Connelly’s character and her uncanny relationship with insects. Those familiar with Donald Pleasance primarily for his increasingly loony portrayals of Dr. Loomis in the Halloween series should check out his fine, subdued work here as a wheelchair-bound entomologist with a wavering Scottish accent, while Deep Red’s Daria Nicolodi adds another winning portrayal to her CV as the troubled Frau Bruckner.

Usually one with a fine ear for musical accents, Argento elects for a song score comprised of outside recording artists (including Bill Wyman, Motorhead, and Goblin), and while much of it works, it often calls attention to itself rather than complementing the onscreen action (particularly with Iron Maiden’s offerings).

The strong opening half hour is followed by a middle section riddled with kinetic fits and starts, with a bizarre, gory ending that has “kitchen sink” writ large upon it. (All eyes on the monkey.) Potentially a bit much for the uninitiated, but those accustomed to Argento’s lack of narrative logic and flair for the unexpected will enjoy the ride. Originally released in the US as Creepers in a criminally edited 83-min version, rendering an already challenging film nearly incoherent.

That problematic US cut is included as part of Synapse’s two-disc Blu-ray special edition, as well as the 110-minute “International” cut and the original 116-minute version, which sports a thoroughly entertaining and informative commentary track shared by Argento scholar Derek Bohtelo (The Argento Syndrome) and film historian and frequent commentary contributor David Del Valle.

Other extras include Michele Soavi’s feature-length documentary Dario Argento’s World of Horror, which examines the director’s career up to and including Phenomena (we see him on set shooting with Connelly and Pleasance); considering I am one of those who believes the director’s best efforts concluded with Opera (1987) (with a brief return to form for 2000’s Sleepless), this may be the only Argento retrospective you ever need.

There is also a brief four-minute interview with Andi Sex Gang (whose “The Naked and the Dead” appears on the Phenomena soundtrack), as well as theatrical trailers for both versions of the film.

Phenomena is available now on Blu-ray from Synapse and can be ordered HERE:



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