The horror film that stays in my mind and heart the most is one that melds something I’m passionate about with gore. Dario Argento’s Phenomena does both. I’ve always loved bugs and have studied them as one of my hobbies. I also love horror. This film was my introduction to not only Giallo, but to the master filmmaker, Dario Argento. The innovative filmmaker apparently got the idea for the movie from a story he heard where insects where used by police to help them with their investigations. This idea would transform into Phenomena, released 35 years ago on August 2, 1985.
Focuses on a girl at a remote Swiss boarding school who discovers she has psychic powers that allow her to communicate with insects and uses them to pursue a serial killer who is butchering young women at and around the school.
Jennifer Connelly (Labyrinth 1986), fresh off of her first role in Once Upon a Time in America (1984), was cast as Jennifer Corvino, the young girl with psychic powers. She is ably helped by wheelchair bound Professor John McGregor (Donald Pleasence: Halloween franchise), an entomologist who helps her develop her talents to catch a killer. Daria Nicolodi rounds out the cast as Jennifer’s less than trustworthy guardian, Frau Brückner.
Jennifer’s relationship with the insects is the most interesting part of this film, and certainly something that initially drew me to it. There is a crazy scene of her following the cues given by a fly to find a human body that seems outrageous, but I just adore it to this day. Only a director like Argento can make this seem plausible. As Jennifer’s powers grow, the adults at her school grow more suspicious of her, threatening to lock her up. She is an outsider of the most unique type, but one many (including myself) can still identify with.
Like many Argento films, Phenomena doesn’t have an entirely coherent plot, but it hardly matters when it has such stunning visuals and incredible scenes of gorgeous gore. The kills are gratuitous and creative—typical Argento!—and you can practically smell the rotting corpses through the screen. Jennifer Connelly provides a striking contrast to the dark decay around her, clad all in white and ethereal in appearance. Not to be outdone by the insects, Phenomena also includes a wicked razor wielding chimpanzee who is hell bent on revenge.
This film is so much fun! This is a great time to take a look back at this unique Dario Argento classic, which has aged beautifully.
Read another PopHorror writer’s reflections on Phenomena here.