Phenomena (1985)

Italy, 1984
79m 31s (UK – video); 82m (USA – video); 83m (UK – theatrical; USA – theatrical; West Germany – video); 103m (France – theatrical); 109m 47s (USA – DVD); 105m (Belgium – theatrical; Germany – theatrical); 110m (Italy – theatrical; video); 111m (UK – DVD); 115m (Japan – DVD); 116m (Japan – theatrical)
35mm film, Panavision, Technicolour, 1.66:1
Dolby Stereo, Italian

An Italian horror film directed by Dario Argento.

Plot Summary

Jennifer Corvino arrives in Switzerland to enrol at an exclusive finishing school. She suffers from sleepwalking and is able to communicate telepathically with insects. When a serial killer begins picking off fellow students, Jennifer joins forces with a paraplegic entomologist, a vengeful, razor wielding chimpanzee and a psychic fly to track down the maniac.

Credits

* = uncredited

Crew
Directed by: Dario Argento
© MCMLXXXIV [1984]
A Dacfilm production
Produced by: Dario Argento
Producer: Angelo Jacono
Written by: Dario Argento
Screenplay and Story: Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini
Director of Photography: Romano Albani
Editor: Franco Fraticelli
Music by: Goblin
Special Guest: Bill Wyman, Claudio Simonetti, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Andi Sex Gang, Simon Boswell, Fabio Pignatelli
Sound Mixer: Giancarlo Laurenzi
Costume Designed by: Giorgio Armani
Key Make-up: Pierantonio Mecacci
Key Hairdresser: Patrizia Corridori
Special Make-up Effects Created by: Sergio Stivaletti
Special Stage Effects: Tonino Corridori
Special Optical Effects: Luigi Cozzi [uncredited on Italian prints]
Art Directors: Maurizio Garrone, Nello Giorgetti, Luciano Spadoni, Umberto Turco
Locations: Schwägalp-Pass, Kanton Appenzell, Switzerland *; waterfall at Thurfälle in Unterwasser, Kanton St Gallen, Switzerland *; Zürich, Kanton Zürich, Switzerland *
Studio: De Paolis IN.CI.R. Rome

Cast
Jennifer Connelly [Jennifer Corvino]
Daria Nicolodi [Frau Brückner]
Fiore Argento [Vera Brandt]
Federica Mastroianni [Sophie]
Fiorenza Tessari [Gisela Sulzer]
Dalila di Lazzaro [the directress]
Patrick Bachau [Inspector Rudolf Geiger]
Donald Pleasence as John McGregor
Alberto Cracco [UBS bank teller]
Gaspare Capparoni [Karl]
Mario Donatone [Morris Shapiro]
Antonio Maimone [Dr Grubach]
Davide Marotta [Patau]
Fulvio Mingozzi [Mr Sulzer]
Francesca Ottaviani [Grubach’s nurse]
Michele Soavi [Kurt]
Franco Trevisi [real estate agent]
Fausta Avelli, Franca Berdini, Marta Biuso, Marisa Simonetti, Geraldine Thomas (schoolgirls)
Sophie Bourchier, Paola Gropper, Ninke Hielkema, Mitzy Orsini [schoolgirls] *
Claudio Spadaro *
Tanga [Inge] *

Alternative Titles

Creepers – UK, USA
Nasty Creepers
Rampaging Insects

Extracts included in
Dal set di Phenomena (1985)
Jennifer’s Theme (1985)
Il mondo dell’orrore di Dario Argento (1985)
The Valley (1985)

Press

1985

Variety 13 February 1985 pp.19, 22
[Phenomena] avoids some of helmer’s worst excesses and turns to more inward horror in a story crafted around the ghostly delicateness of young star Jennifer Connelly, known from Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time In America.” Script is more logical and satisfying than usual. […] Characters are haphazardly mixed with plot ends that never get completely unraveled, but Argento and his special effects team come up with some four-star images. Sleepwalking dream sequences (one of his fortes) run off into the waking nightmares of the horror genre, where insect vigilante squads vie for audience sympathy with child cannibals and slasher monkeys. Absurd as it is, this is one Argento pic that avoids self-parody and keeps story interest going to the end. Fans will find the helmer’s trademark of an ear-shattering Dolbyized rock track shamelessly amping up the terror with a flick of the sound engineer’s wrist; in other respects, pic is relatively subdued. Flights of psychic weirdness take precedence over bodily torture and mutilation, seemingly out of respect for the ethereal heroine. […] Top quality technical work gives a pro look. – from a review by Yung

Starburst no.83 (vol.7 no.11, July 1985) p.18
All truly great directors have their failures – and this is Dario Argento’s moment. […] It nearly breaks my heart to [say] that this misfiring project is the worst film he has ever been involved with. Only the most audacious – some would say ridiculous – climax to grace any film for many a year saves Phenomena from being a complete write-off. Otherwise Phenomena shows Argento out of control in a way I though [sic] would never be possible as he tries to combine elements from his past successes Four Flies on Grey Velvet and Suspiria with other more routine influences from Homicidal and Friday the 13th. And the result is an incoherent mess. […] Argento’s sloppy concoction is held together in part by crystal clear – almost black and white – photography and some great music by the usual team of Claudio Simonetti and Goblin. Other contributions by Hawkwind [sic], Iron Maiden and Andi Sex Gang are intrusive and deflate any suspense Argento is trying to build. […] Illogicality has always been one of Argento’s more endearing mainstays in the past. Here though, it has a depressing and shallow ring as if he is clutching at straws in an effort to make the nonsensical seem profound. and when the killer is revealed to be a deformed child not even in his teens, it trivialises the whole affair. How could he possibly pose any threat to all the adolescent girls who scream and cower, when all they really need to do is kick him in the face! – from an illustrated review by Alan Jones.

Positif no.293/294 (July/August 1985) p.121
Sur le canevas classique du sadique qui assassine les jeunes vierges, Argento brode de belles arabesques : la monstruosité du thème est renforcée par la sérénité des lieux. Amateur de bestiaire fantastique, le cinéaste donne un grand rôle aux insectes à la fois par le pouvoir mystérieux dont dispose l’héroïne et par la très habile idée de l’enquête menée avec l’aide d’une mouche « sarcophagus », une mouche qu’attirent les cadavres en décomposition et qu’il suffit de suivre pour retrouver la cachette de l’assassin. Ainsi, n’étaient quelques excès dans le finale aux rebondissements par trop systématiques, Phenomena confirme l’originalité d’un talent qui s’exprime avec une étonnante continuité. Grand plasticien capable de réussir des effets saisissants avec une grande économie de moyens – par exemple la séquence nocturne sur le lac avec l’eau enflammée par l’essence – Argento poursuit la tradition inaugurée par Mario Bava et dont il est aujourd’hui le meilleur représentant. – from a review by J.A.G. [Jean A. Gili]

1986
Time Out no.817 (16 April 1986) pp.40, 41
The plot is every bit as mad as the murderer: an excuse for a lot of stalk ‘n’ slash with panache, maggots-a-go-go and some outrageous over-acting by Donald Pleasence […] At the centre of Creepers is an excellent performance by Jennifer Connelly […] who fondles bees, communicates with ladybirds and develops a meaningful relationship with a great sarcophagus fly […] It is not nearly as stylishly bonkers as Suspiria or Inferno, but it’ll do until the director gets round to completing his trilogy of supernatural Mothers. – from an illustrated review by Anne Billson

City Limits no.237 (17 April 1986) p.23
The problem seems to be that some psycho took a chainsaw to the original film in the editing suite and 20 minutes of explanatory and/or atmospheric detail have dropped away, and, with them, much of the sense. This lopped version has, many awkward jumps. Still, things do hot up towards the end; there are pleasing close-ups of flies, and Inge the chimp ends up as avenging heroine, which increases the suspicion that the animal itself wrote large chunks of the script. It certainly wrote the music. – from a review by Nigel Matheson

Screen International no.545 (26 April 1986) p.22
The ever exuberant and multi-talented Dario Argento is at it again – and then some – combining an extravagance of sick horrors with a stylish command of his visual and aural and electronic music effects that transforms the explicitly loathsome into the hallucinatory terrors of a nightmare in which such mundane considerations as logic and plausibility have no relevance […] Argento being Argento I suspect a mischievous humour at play to encourage the laughter which makes the gore and creepy crawlies more comic than horrific. – from an illustrated review by Marjorie Bilbow

Monthly Film Bulletin vol.53 no.628 (May 1986) p.152
Non-stop dialogue howlers like “You know there’s a murderer around here, a crazy man who kidnaps girls our age and kills them”, or “It’s perfectly normal for insects to be slightly telepathic”, might […] be charitably attributed to a language problem. This radically abbreviated version, however, omits the film’s most unintentionally hilarious moment as a victim’s boyfriend takes his leave of her with, “I must rejoin my regiment at dawn”. Argento’s scripts have, in the past, juggled their contrivances and absurdities with a sure hand; here, every plot point is fumbled, and the heroine’s ability to communicate with insects remains an irrelevance (not to mention the basis of some ropy swirling tealeaf effects out of The Deadly Bees). […] Usually, Argento’s films have their stylishness to fall back on, but here he is experimenting with a washed-out blue look influenced by Possession that works in short scenes but becomes wearying after a few minutes. But the saddest aspect of this farrago is the way that, even in this toned down version, Argento goes for sickness after the manner of Lucio Fulci – opening with the decapitation of the director’s own fourteen-year-old daughter and closing with the razor-slashing of his wife, and managing in between to cram in a protracted vomiting scene, a sewerful of mangled bodies, plenty of maggot-infested human remains, the burning alive of a deformed child, and Bauchau breaking his own thumb in order to escape a manacle. Furthermore, the soundtrack is cluttered with inapt and unpleasant heavy-metal excerpts. – from a review by Kim Newman

Production Notes

Pre-production
Peter Ustinov was Argento’s first choice for the role eventually played by Donald Pleasence.

References

Periodicals

  • Cahiers du Cinéma no.374 (July/August 1985) p.64 (France) – illustrated credits, review (by V.O. [Vincent Ostria])
  • Cinefantastique vol.15 no.3 (July 1985) p.21 – illustrated production notes (by Giuseppe Salza)
  • Cinema d’Oggi vol.19 no.2 (30 January 1985) p.15 – review
  • City Limits no.237 (17 April 1986) p.23 – review (by Nigel Matheson)
  • Écran Fantastique no.47 (July/August 1984) p.71 – note
  • Écran Fantastique no.49 (October 1984) p.52-57 – article
  • Écran Fantastique no.51 (December 1984) p.36 – note
  • Écran Fantastique no.57 (June 1985) pp.7; 33-38, 47-52 – review; interviews with Dario Argento, Sergio Stivaletti, Jennifer Connely and Patrick Bauchau
  • Écran Fantastique no.58 (July 1985) p.10-11 – review
  • Fangoria vol.7 no.66 (August 1987) pp.14-17, 65 – illustrated article (The Butchering of Argento by Tim Lucas)
  • Fangoria no.274 (June 2008) p.66 – illustrated DVD review (DVD Dungeon by Michael Gingold)
  • Film Score Monthly vol.10 no.5 (September/October 2005) pp.22-27 – illustrated article (Meet The Proglodytes: A Goblin Buyer’s Guide by Mark Richard Hasan)
  • Filmcritica no.353 (March 1985) p.187-190 – review
  • Foreign Sales, Italian Movie Trade vol.10 no.7/8 (July/August 1984) p.2 (Italy) – note
  • Foreign Sales, Italian Movie Trade vol.11 no.3 (March 1985) p.6 (Italy) – credits, synopsis
  • Girl about Town 28 April 1986 p.16 – review (by CV)
  • The Hollywood Reporter vol.283 no.2 (31 July 1984) p.20 – credits
  • Is It Uncut? no.5 p.23 – illustrated note
  • Monthly Film Bulletin vol.53 no.628 (May 1986) p.152 – credits, review (by Kim Newman)
  • Positif no.293/294 (July/August 1985) p.121 – review (by J.A.G. [Jean A. Gili])
  • Premiere June 1985 p.22 – review (by Guy Delcourt)
  • Screen International no.459 (18 August 1984) p.23 – credits
  • Screen International no.545 (26 April 1986) p.22 – illustrated review (by Marjorie Bilbow)
  • Segnocinema vol.5 no.17 (March 1985) p.66 – review
  • Starburst no.83 (vol.7 no.11, July 1985) p.18 – illustrated review (by Alan Jones)
  • Time Out no.817 (16 April 1986) pp.40, 41 – illustrated review (by Anne Billson)
  • Variety 13 February 1985 pp.19, 22 – credits, review (by Yung)
  • The Voice 26 April 1986 p.23 – illustrated review (by JB)
  • What’s On 24 April 1986 p.51 – review (author not credited)

Newspapers

  • The Daily Mail 18 April 1986 p.26 – review (by Shaun Usher)
  • The Daily Mirror 18 April 1986 p.A6 – review (by Pauline McLeod)
  • The Evening Standard 17 April 1986 pp.30-31 – review (by Milton Shulman)
  • The Financial Times 18 April 1986 p.23 – illustrated review (by Nigel Andrews)
  • The Guardian 17 April 1986 p.13 – review (by Derek Malcolm)
  • New York Times 31 August 1985 p.10 – review (by John Pareles)
  • The Observer 20 April 1986 p.21 – review (by Philip French)
  • The Scotsman (Weekend) 19 April 1986 p.5 – review (William Parente)
  • The Sunday Telegraph 20 April 1986 p.16 – review (by David Castell)
  • The Sunday Times 20 April 1986 p.45 – review (by Andrew Hislop)
  • The Times 18 April 1986 p.19 – review (by Geoff Brown)
  • Village Voice 17 October 1985 p.60 – review (by David Edelstein)

Books

  • Art of Darkness pp.280; 298 – illustrated review; credits; video data
  • The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror by Phil Hardy (ed.) p.400
  • Dario Argento by Maurizio Baroni and Marco D’Ubaldo pp.76-81 – illustrations, credits
  • Euro Gothic: Classics of Continental Horror Cinema by Jonathan Rigby p.403
  • Horror and Science Fiction Films IV by Donald C. Willis p.96
  • Horror Films by Subgenre: A Viewer’s Guide by Chris Vander Kaay and Kathleen Fernandez-Vander Kaay p.137
  • Horror Films of the 1980s by John Kenneth Muir pp.431-432 – credits, synopsis, review
  • Italian Horror 1979-1994 by Jim Harper pp.164-165 – illustrated credits, review
  • Terror Tracks: Music, Sound and Horror Cinema by Philip Hayward (ed) pp.97, 191

Other Sources

  • press book – credits