Phenomena (Italy 1984)

Rating: **
Review Date: 11/18/13
Alternate Title: Creepers (US Release)
Written, Directed, And Produced By: Dario Argento
Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Donald Pleasence

Fourteen year old Jennifer Connelly is the best reason to watch this bizarre Italian horror film from Dario Argento, and she is utterly delightful. For reasons unknown, an American girl named Jennifer Corvino (Jennifer Connelly) is sent to a private school for girls in Switzerland, which happens to be a popular hunting spot for a local serial killer. Her first night at the school is a doozy, as she stumbles onto a murder scene while sleepwalking, gets hit by a car, thrown down a hillside, and rescued by an entomologist's pet chimpanzee. It turns out that Jennifer has a telepathic connection with insects, and they assist her in tracking down the murderer.

Like many European horror films, everything about it is odd and a bit off kilter. Apart from Dr. McGregor (wheelchair bound Donald Pleasence), everyone is a bit strange and mysterious, and the wind from the Alps is rumored to cause madness. Young girls disappear at an alarming rate, but no one seems to take notice or care. Jennifer Connelly is stunning and totally adorable, and handles her role with a good blend of youthful conviction and innocent vulnerability. It's a good looking low budget horror film that recalls John Carpenter's early work, and the gore and makeup effects are impressively shocking. The plot makes little to no sense and there's a severe lack of cohesion in the narrative. It spatially doesn't make much sense, either, and it's hard to tell where things are happening and how they're connected. For instance, there's a creepy old mansion next to the school, with a hole in the floor that leads to a dungeon, which is adjacent to what appears to be the basement of the local mental hospital. The climax is completely outrageous, with the chimpanzee, a mutant child, and a swarm of insects playing pivotal roles.

The music score is pretty good and builds tension nicely, but the baffling inclusion of several heavy metal songs is jarring and spoils the mood. In particular, whenever Jennifer is in her dream state, Iron Maiden's "Flash Of The Blade" starts playing, which is laughably odd and wildly inappropriate. Hearing it multiple times during the film just makes it even more bizarre.

While it may seem like standard horror fare with the usual B-movie trappings, Argento does some clever things with the material and gives you just enough hints and leads to keep you engaged and guessing. He succeeds in making everyone suspicious, which makes it difficult to predict where the film is going to go. The film was released in the US as "Creepers" and had 28 minutes cut from it, so if you're interested in seeing it, definitely try to track down the original European version.