Friday, July 4, 2014

Phenomena (1985)


(Italy 1984)

Aspect ratio: 1.66:1

Theatrical soundtrack: Dolby Stereo

Originally edited for US consumption and released under the title CREEPERS, the full-length version of Dario Argento's masterwork reveals the method in his madness. Whereas the edited version was a fast-moving collage of half-baked themes which evoked nothing of any significance, PHENOMENA reinstates the crazy-quilt pacing, whereby dream-like passages surrender abruptly to episodes of screaming hysteria, all of which is essential to any appreciation of the film's dark ambitions.

Romano Albani's sumptuous cinematography transforms the breathtaking Swiss locations into a fairy-tale landscape where monstrous eruptions of violence disturb the illusion of tranquility, and Jennifer Connelly drifts through the narrative in a state of near-hypnotic grace, allowing herself to become ensnared by the machinations of a deformed killer and his/her equally psychotic 'guardian'. True, the longer version is bogged down at times by lengthy dialogue scenes which hold up the plot, and the involvement of Donald Pleasence's chimp is no less misguided than before (its final act of retribution crosses the line into absurdity), but the set-pieces are magnificently realised, and the final 20 minutes are as hair-raising as anything in Argento's ouevre.

Dario Argento throws in all his trademarks in this horror/fantasy extravaganza.A plain crime story mixed with dream sequences, gore, state of the art camerawork, maggots, fireflies, broken glass, running water, beautiful young girls and a brilliant soundtrack. You name it, it`s all here !

Argento has made a lot of mediocre movies the recent years, but this 1984 movie is a true classic.

The film is presented in 1.66:1 with a DD 5.1 soundtrack. Both picture and sound is good, but nothing spesial.Anchor bay has also thrown in some extras, but nothing very interesting in my opinion. There is a dull commentary with Argento and three of his collaborators in very broken english, a trailer, two music videos,a lousy behind the scenes segment, and a ridiculous Argento interview from a Joe Franklin show. And don`t be fooled to believe that the 28 minutes that is restored in this UNCUT and UNCENSORED version is gore.It is simply the full european version, and all 28 minutes are plain story and character building.No doubt that this cut is much better than the "Creepers" cut, though.

It is the feature itself that makes this disc a must-have.They simply don`t make movies like this anymore ! (Neither does Argento, unfortunately !)

Now I can hardly wait for Anchor Bay to release "Opera" and " Suspiria."

Buy Phenomena (1985) Now

If you are reading this, you're already familiar with this classic masterpiece.

What I didn't know before I gambled and purchased the Blu-ray version of PHENOMENA (originally titled CREEPERS), I know now and would like to share with prospective buyers:

Yes, this is the extended version (110 minutes)

Yes, it plays on my Region 1 Blu-ray player

Yes, the picture is magnificent.

If you love this film, as I do, THIS is the copy to own.


Read Best Reviews of Phenomena (1985) Here

This was my second dip into the Argento pool. I had recently watched "Tenebre", one of Argento's best from what I can gather. I was worried about a let down because I enjoyed that film so much. So I prepared myself. I read some reviews and took some advice. The results of my preparation were a mixed bag; some good, some bad. So, I appropriately lowered my expectations but hoped for the best. What I learned about Argento from watching "Phenomena" was that perhaps his biggest weakness is his clumsy story telling. Let me get to the point, hopefully quicker than "Phenomena".


Argento has a knack for making everything look so important that you are glued to the imagery on the screen. "Phenomena" is full of long, stylish, detailed, seemingly important scenes. Every scene has a sort of leisurely pace to it. I began to assume that if I didn't pay attention, I would miss something. Eventually, this became a chore. After about 70 minutes, there had been 4 fairly unremarkable murders and yet we were no closer to knowing who the killer was. When it was finally over, I scratched my head and thought, "Did I miss something?" So I watched it all again. It turned out that I hadn't missed a thing. Most of the movie was not nearly as important to the plot as its treatment would have you believe. The result was an overly arduous, not particularly meaningful journey for a brief and crazy end.


Even though most of the movie was treated with overwrought and unwarranted importance, nothing that happened could be declared useless. But there were so many things that were given importance I wondered which thread of the story was the one that mattered most. How important was the generous time spent on the entomologist's theories? What role would the girl's talent with insects play? Why is the school so important? Does the hot but nasty teacher hold any significance? Was that time spent at the bank warranted? It turned out that all of the unique threads had very convoluted and somewhat ludicrous connection to how the film ended. I was forced to invest effort into all of the deceptive threads resulting in disappointment at their ultimate lack of importance. The worst part about it was that most of it wasn't particularly exciting or interesting.

-AT LEAST THE T-SHIRT IS OK. (Content could be interpreted as spoilers)

So I went through all this effort on stuff that varied in importance because I couldn't be sure what really mattered. My reward for all of this was an ending that bordered on cheating. It turns out the murders were committed by someone we never met directly or were never given cause to suspect until they are revealed. You could not possibly have deduced who it was because no meaningful clues were ever presented. Luckily, the ending has enough wacked-out moments and lively pacing that at least some satisfaction is achieved. However, that's only when compared to the rest of the films slogging pace.


Jennifer Connelly and Donald Pleasance are the big attraction here. Jennifer is very good at acting like Jennifer; a female Harrison Ford. Donald scrapped his usually wonderful British accent for a nearly undecipherable Scottish accent. There were other actors I won't mention though they were all capable for the most part. The chimp (Yes, the chimp) was actually an interesting figure whose function is clumsily jammed into place.


The music was wildly varied in style from scene to scene and just as wildly inappropriate in its placement. We often get scenes of someone walking slowly with some crazy guitar rock grinding away in the background. I can't say this had a big impact on me because I had bigger problems than the music to worry about. It didn't help though.


Some might be disappointed that there is no nudity and limited gore in this film. I don't mind those things but it wasn't a major sticking point with me in "Phenomena". I will say that a little more gore and nudity might have distracted me from the sluggish pace of the story. Yet, I think it would have had limited affect. Of course, the frenzied ending, which could be considered gratuitous, goes a long way to keep this from being a total loss.


As I stated before, Argento has a talent for giving drama to the most mundane event. Up to now, I really do like the overall feel of his films. They have a very inviting visual style. However, the enticing visuals could not enhance the plodding story enough to keep me interested or entertained throughout. He almost fooled me into believing that what I was seeing was always important.


The fly on the wall knows the truth. In all honestly, I didn't like the way this story was played out. It was almost as if Argento had an ending in mind and then back-loaded the story to provide him all the pieces to construct his grand finale. The grand finale was pretty compelling but the back-loaded story was clumsy and those pieces didn't always fit too well. Why Jennifer's talent with bugs is important, why the chimp matters, why we spend so much time at school or in the bank and everything else was not nearly as important as the attention it was given. No matter how visually compelling things were, the events taking place just weren't that big a deal most of the time. Though Argento's talent is evident, the decent acting and visual aspects of this film were not enough to fix the convoluted story.

Story.....2 stars

Acting...3.5 stars

Visuals...4 stars

Music....2.5 stars

Average..3 stars

Want Phenomena (1985) Discount?

I'm a big Dario Argento fan particularly of his output starting with "Bird with a Crystal Plumage" up through the ferocious 1987 film "Opera". While his films after "Opera" in my eyes saw a increasingly depressing drop in quality that unfortunately continues to this day, those films from BWTCP up through and including Opera are all great films that are just stunning to watch purely from a craft & filmmaking standpoint. "Phenomena" was released in 1985 to lukewarm reviews as the film was just so out there from a purely stylistic standpoint that many people didn't quite know to make of it. It also didn't help that in America almost an entire half hour was cut out of the film for its release under the alternate title "Creepers". You had a 13 year old Jennifer Connelly who could communicate with insects, Donald Pleasance with a pet monkey that was also his helper and a dwarf killer running around murdering young girls at an all girl school in Switzerland where the film is set to name a few of the delightful oddities that make this film so much fun. I can't neglect to mention the heavy metal soundtrack that plays along with most of the murder scenes too. The film is also puncuated with his trademark over-the-top graphic violence throughout. While I don't think it's Dario's best film, it is my personal favorite movie of his that I come back to the most.

Prior to this blu ray release, Anchor Bay had released the 110 minute Europeran cut of the film first in non-anamorphic widescreen DVD and then with a new anamorphic transfer that also preserved the film's original 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio. What some people didn't realize at the time was that there was still a longer Italian cut that was close to 116 minutes in length. For the film's blu ray release, Arrow Video decided to release the full 116 minute Italian cut. Since English dialogue hadn't been recorded for these additional scenes, the film occasionally switches back to the Italian language track with English subtitles similar to what Anchor Bay had to do with their DVD/blu-ray of Dario's classic film "Deep Red". It's not nearly as as jarring as it sounds.

A lot of people have taken Arrow Video to task for their transfers used on their blu-rays of Argento's amazing 1982 film "Tenebrae" and some of Lucio Fulci's great horror titles. There was also complaints about the transfer of Phenomena too. I find all of these complaints hogwash for the most part because even with the blu-ray's imperfections visually, it still blows the old DVD's away without even trying.

The complaint about Phenomena is that digital noise reduction was used to erase some of the film grain which gives the film a cleaner look than people would like. The DNR isn't overdone though and the cast never begin to have any waxy looks like when DNR is used egregiously like the ultimate hunter edition of Predator or Fox's initial blu-ray of Patton. Would I preferred for all of the film grain to have been left in, most certainly. But there is still a ton of detail that is a massive leap both over the older DVD's and the colors really pop in a way that it's truly like seeing the film again for the first time. The difference between this blu ray and the older Anchor Bay DVD is truly like night and day.

The sound is presented in two channel stereo which sounds fine. Cool extras include a 52 minute making of featurette, a little over 6 minute discsussion on the original music by Cladio Simonetti and an almost 19 minute Q&A with Sergio Stivaletti discussing the film's creature and gore effects. None of the extras from the Anchor Bay DVD have been carried over including the commentary track so completists will want to hang onto that old DVD.

The blu-ray is region free NTSC format including all of the extras so it plays perfectly in all US blu ray players. This is well worth picking up for fans of this criminally underrated film and a great upgrade that all fans should enjoy greatly.

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