"I love you. I love you all. I love all of you."
Jennifer Corvino (Academy Award winner Jennifer Connelley) is an American teenager at a Swiss boarding school who can communicate telepathically with insects and suffers from episodes of sleepwalking. The school just happens to be a funicular rail ride away from the home of Professor John McGreggor (Donald Pleasence), a famous insect scientist who is confined to a wheelchair and is assisted by a helper monkey. For nearly a year, the village has been terrorized by a killer who preys on young girls, but the police are baffled. The students at the Academy are only casually concerned. Can Jennifer find the killer with the help of her insect friends? Will Jennifer's horndog French roommate Sophie (Frederica Mastroianni) live to see the end of the movie? And what dark secrets does the school hold?
Err. Mah. Gerd. I love this movie, you guys. Seriously. It is, hands down, my favorite Dario Argento film. If you're looking for a crazy, weird flick and you're sick of Troll 2, give Phenomena a spin because absolutely nothing makes any sense in this movie. It's like the script was written in Italian, translated into Martian, and then translated into English because no human beings talk or behave like the characters in Phenomena. It is totes cray-cray, but I'll get into specifics a little later. By the mid-80's, Argento moved away from giallo and into the realm of supernatural horror, but Phenomena seems to be an effort to marry the two genres. The movie is very atmospheric and there are some good horror effects, but things really ramp up in the last 15 minutes with rotting corpses, a fight scene on a boat, fire, a decapitation that comes out of nowhere, and, of course, a monkey with an old-fashioned strop razor. That she found lying in a trash bin.
- Among the many music credits are Goblin (of course), Iron Maiden, and Mötorhead.
- The costumes were done by Georgio Armani.
- The use of a knife-wielding monkey was clearly inspired by Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue."
- Jennifer uses an orange phone when she's talking to her dad's agent from the bank, not a red phone. So close.
- I listed the body count as 8+ because we're never told how many victims there were before the movie started. There was the Dutch tourist at the beginning (played by Argento's daughter, Fiore) and McGregor's assistant, Rita, but there's an indeterminate number in between.
- Phenomena is my favorite Dario Argento film because it has every single one of his signature moves: a spear through the mouth, women smashing head-first through a window, slowly exploring a creepy old house, hidden rooms, scaling the outside of a building, Daria Nicolodi in the cast, creepy dolls, creepy doctors, psychic powers, swimming while fully-clothed, fire, women being poisoned, macro lens shots, maggots, a plot point lifted from a Poe story, a guy in a wheelchair, partially-decomposed human remains, and the main character is a foreigner living abroad.
- In the September 28, 2012 issue of Entertainment Weekly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon names Ingrid the chimp as one of his "five favorite horror characters."
What The Hell am I Watching?
Go back and read that synopsis again. Seriously. She talks to bugs. Helper monkeys. Donald Pleasence with a Scottish accent. I could go on for days about all the crazy in this movie, but here are just a few highlights:
There are at least four moments when the monkey just appears out of nowhere. BAM! MONKEY!
There's one line of voice-over in the entire movie and it's completely superfluous.
Speaking of superfluous, the script is packed with completely inconsequential details that never pay off later. Jennifer is a vegetarian. Her father is a famous movie star working in the Philippines. The baby food that Sophie's parents left behind after their recent visit tastes bad. It's Passover. And we're treated to a rambling story about the time Jennifer's parents got divorced. The movie could have been about 20 minutes shorter with more judicious editing.
The name of the bank Jennifer visits is "Swiss Bank."
Jennifer gets fully dressed before sleepwalking. Falling from a building doesn't wake her up. Getting hit by a car doesn't wake her up. And when the two guys who hit her try to help her, she struggles against them, mumbling "I'm sleepwalking!"
Falling into a pit of maggots and rotting human remains? Well done, sir. *slow clap*
Jennifer is usually dressed in crisp, all-white outfits (the better to show all the dirt and blood that accumulates by the end of the film) but what really stands out is her sharp school uniform, complete with leather-banded beret. Nice job, Georgio Armani.
Is this a uniform, though? It looks like one, but in the classroom scene the girls are all wearing casual clothes - jeans and Bee Gees T-shirts.