Dario Argento’s ‘Phenomena’ Turns 32

Earlier this month, Dario Argento’s Phenomena, the underrated gem that helped launch Jennifer Connelly’s (Labyrinth, Requiem for a Dream) career at a young age, turned 32. Released on August 2, 1985, the film still holds up today, featuring a story filled with mystery and a Silence of the Lambs-esque horror undertone. However, in this film, it is not Clarice Starling who sets out to solve a series of murders, but a young girl named Jennifer Corvino (Jennifer Connelly) who has a unique gift.

This Italian horror film opens with an attention gripping scene of a young girl missing her bus in the countryside of the Swiss Alps. Seeking refuge in a nearby house, someone or something breaks free of chain restraints and pursues the frightened girl through a forest. The killer, who remains off camera, catches up to her and repeatedly stabs her before decapitating the poor thing, allowing her head to fall down a waterfall.

Cutting to Jennifer being driven to the Richard Wagner School, a bumblebee throws Mrs. Bruckner (Daria Nicolodi: Delirium, Opera) into a hysterical panic. However, Jennifer calmly captures the frightened insect, causing it to become strangely at ease. Settling into the all girl school, it isn’t long before Jennifer begins to sleepwalk, leading her to a couple of nearby sites where other girls have gone missing. These episodes also lead to Jennifer meeting John McGregor (Donald Pleasence: Halloween), Professor of Entomology. While the headmistress (Dalila Di Lazzaro) and the other adults in charge of the Richard Wagner School for Girls question Jennifer’s mental stability, McGregor is convinced that Jennifer has a unique psychological ability to communicate with insects. Under some guidance from McGregor, Jennifer uses her ability to begin investigating the recent disappearances.

Though some critics found this feature to be one of the weakest of Argento’s films, complaining about disjointed scenes lacking a certain flow, the clashing frames seem to be meant to convey a sense of disorientation. While this element does accomplish its abstract purpose, it may be a bit overdone. Other critical complaints seem to be of the feature’s acting. While there are no Oscar winning performances in this film, they certainly are not bad by any means. This conception could have been attributed to film’s dubbing effects. While this does seem to be odd, it is common in early Italian horror films, as well as in Argento’s other features from the ’70s and ’80s. Regardless of some critical scrutiny and some fair criticism, Phenomena rightfully received a 76% on Rotten tomatoes and 6.9/10 on IMDb.

Despite some slow plot development, Phenomena suddenly becomes a juggernaut as it nears an unexpected climactic ending. Several twists, a few gruesome scenes and a finale featuring a decapitation that old school horror fans might find familiar, drive this feature home. Paired with outstanding performances by Connelly and Pleasence as well as Argento’s unique, dream-like imagery backed by an ’80s soundtrack, this gem is a memorable noteworthy feature horror fans with an artistic mind can appreciate.

About Brandon

Check Also

‘X-Files’ Turns 30 This Month And Twice, Was My Salvation

I’ve been getting away from more standard retro-reviews lately. And this The X-Files retro will be …