Before I talk about Phenomena and the genius dreamscapes of Dario Argento, I should give Arrow Video a pat on the back. The company is responsible for some of the best produced discs around, made even better by the fact that its catalogue contains the essence of what ‘cult films’ means, classics, grindhouse, Asian horror, dark horror, ‘video nasties’, each given the same love that only the best classics normally recieve. Their edition of Phantom Of The Paradise was fantastic and Phenomena follows the tradition, if you are an Argento fan then get ready to dive in to one of his later classics, although you will see things that remind you of earlier films, especially Suspiria, with another young girl in alien surroundings, this time played by Jennifer Connelly. Her character has the power to converse with insects (a typically strange Argento power) who help her solve mysteries and deal with the bitches in her school. The film also features Donald Pleasence as an insect doctor (what are the odds?) who having been crippled in a road accident is looked after by a monkey.
That is probably as much as you should know going in to Phenomena, as the story does not play out the way you may see it happening in your mind, remember this is Argento and so when you expect him to go left, he takes a huge surge to the right. There are surprises and horrors galore. When I watched it, I didn’t think it was that scary, aside from the usual feeling of freakiness that seems etched into the film whenever Argento is around, but the night I watched it I had HUGE nightmares, where I was in certain situations played out in the film. It is very rare that a film touches me in this way, I can only think of The Exorcist and Phantom Of The Paradise that have caused nightmares, ironic when you know I can devour the films of Eli Roth and Tom Six for breakfast, lunch and dinner without any ill effects. 🙂
Extras? We got ’em! A feature on the music is very interesting, hearing from Argento’s ‘house band’ Goblin, who tell of the success of the soundtrack record – 2- 300,000 in Italy alone! There is also a number of Q and A sessions from various conventions with the special effects artist, who first cut his teeth with Phenomena. Then the big one, a 50 minute documentary about the film, featuring the stars (all except Connelly/Pleasence) and Dario Argento who is always a gas during this sort of thing. Talking about the themes of the film, he states that he is aware that Freud would have had a lot to say, not only about the youth of the heroine but also the fact that one of the early characters killed is played by one of Argento’s daughters, years before Asia Argento became the Argento in the spotlight. As with every other thing I have seen with him, Argento comes across as a very interesting character and it is just a shame that he did not have the chance to do a commentary for this, but you cannot really complain when you are getting a great package with excellent extras, a super clean picture and new subtitles direct from the Italian original dialogue. Or you can watch it dubbed into English if that is how you roll.
Phenomena is not the masterpiece that Suspiria was, but it is a very intelligent, spooky and surprising horror that flies by faster than the insects featured throughout. Just watch out for Donald’s strange accent – when that is the only negative, you know that one of the kings of horror has done his job again.