Phenomena Blu-ray & DVD

Monday, 07 March 2011 06:09

In “Phenomena”, Dario Argento mixes swarms of flesh-eating flies, a chimpanzee nurse, a mutant child, a serial killer and a teenage girl who can commune with insects. Ironically, the movie also feels like one of Argento’s most mainstream movies, albeit one that has a tendency to go heroically off-piste at times. Set in the very scenic Swiss Alps, most of the action takes place in and around a girls’ boarding school.

Jennifer (Jennifer Connelly – “Dark City”, “Labyrinth”) is sent to the school by her famous actor father; her mother left for another man many years ago. On arriving, Jennifer learns that a serial killer is loose in the area and has been preying on young girls. Before she has settled in, our heroine starts suffering from horrific nightmares and dangerous sleepwalking episodes, much to the amusement of the other boarders.

Phenomena comes to a Blu-ray and DVD releaseOne night she encounters a chimp in the woods, and is led by it back to its disabled owner, Professor McGregor - a local entomologist played by Donald Pleasence (“Halloween”, “The Great Escape”). McGregor happens to have already been helping the police with their enquiries into the serial killer, not least by estimating the date of death of victims based on the infestations of maggots in their body parts.

As Jennifer’s night traumas get worse and the body count mounts, she part-voluntarily gets sucked deeper and deeper into the mystery. Naturally it will not be long before the attention of the killer turns to her!

“Phenomena” features some very strong performances by its central cast, particularly Connelly as the very headstrong and independent Jennifer and Pleasence as the warm and friendly professor. Over the years I have become accustomed to the latter playing either sinister or rather wet characters, so this role was a bit of a revelation. To some extent Connelly is the same girl she went on to play in “Labyrinth” a year later, though the fantasy aspect of this film is treated much more seriously. My mind occasionally turned to Sam Worthington’s affinity with creatures in “Avatar”, as Jennifer inspires similar reactions in insects here.

The plot and characterisation keep the gore in the background for much of the film, though as you would expect from Argento, when it makes an appearance it is bloody and brutal. The balance tilts dramatically in gore’s favour in the final fifteen minutes, with a rapid succession of shocks and hyper-tension that ensure the film does not peter out at its most critical point.

The music is a little disappointing in comparison with previous Argento movies released by Arrow Video. As musician Claudio Simonetti remarks in one of the special features, Argento opted for a mixture of stock songs and specially commissioned music this time around, and the rock numbers do not feel subtle enough for the setting and ambience of the movie. Fortunately, the work by Simonetti and his band Goblin helps to partially address the balance.

As usual with Arrow’s Blu-rays, the picture quality is incredibly sharp and detailed (the Swiss landscape genuinely looks amazing!), and the extras are very comprehensive. They include the following goodies:

  • Four panel reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork;
  • Two sided fold out poster with new art work;
  • Exclusive collector’s booklet featuring brand new writing on Phenomena by Alan Jones, author of Profondo Argento;
  • English and Italian stereo audio;
  • Brand new subtitle translation of the Italian and optional English subtitles of the English audio;
  • “Dario's Monkey Business: The Making of Phenomena” – a 50-minute long documentary featuring interviews with key talent behind the film including director Dario Argento, star Daria Nicolodi, underwater photographer Gianlorenzo Battaglia and more;
  • “Music for Maggots” – an Interview with composer with Claudio Simonetti; and
  • “Creepers for Creatures” – Sergio Stivaletti lives Q&A sessions from Dublin and Edinburgh.

One choice anecdote from the extras is that in the final scene, after kissing Connelly, the chimpanzee went a bit mental and bit off part of her finger, which then had to frantically be sewn back on!

“Phenomena” (1985) is out now, courtesy of Arrow Video. The main feature has a running time of 116 minutes approx, carries an ‘18’ certificate and retails for £24.99 on Blu-ray, £17.99 on DVD, or less from www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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