Phenomena (also known as Creepers) is set in the so-called “Swiss Transylvania” and follows young high schooler Jennifer Carvino (played by Jennifer Connolly) in a boarding school murder-mystery like no other. There’s a killer on the loose and with Jennifer’s newly discovered powers to communicate with flies, Professor John McGregor (played by Donald Pleasence) and his chimpanzee accomplice Tonga, there’s nothing stopping them from finding justice in their small Swiss village. Only the Italian Giallo-film master, Dario Argento, could make a plot as bonkers as this be so entertaining and effective to watch on the screen. Known most notably for directing cult horrors such as Suspiria and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, I feel his 1985 feature, Phenomena, is often over-looked and deserves a second viewing 32 years on from its US release.
The film opens with a foreign student girl whose found lost in the wide-open fields of the Swiss country and stumbles across an abandoned house in the middle of a wood. She enters the house in the hope of finding someone who can set her back on her way. However, she’s instead sent back out running after the killer emerges from inside the house, stabs her hand with a large pair of scissors, and eventually beheads her- her head sent flying over a cliff into the river below. This is only one of Phenomena’s utterly thrilling sequences of horror and it manages to maintain this level of anxiety for the spectator throughout. And set against a blood-pumping neon soundtrack created by Goblin (who also scored Suspiria), Phenomena makes for one hell of a film experience.
However, the film does have some problems that are worth noting if you plan on watching it. The most prominent of which being the laughably wooden acting. I truly believe that Jennifer Connolly and the rest of the cast did their best in Phenomena with the outlandish script they were handed but at times it does come off slightly like a two-hour-long special of Charmed or something of a similarily cheesy nature. Also, despite all the uncomfortably close-up shots of maggots and other insects that Jennifer has a psychic link with, the film is ultimately not very scary. But, does a horror film have to be scary? With Phenomena, I don’t think it does because Argento is a director who focuses more on his film’s style over substance but that’s just my opinion. I feel that Argento’s predecessor Suspiria is certainly stronger than Phenomena but I’ll be damned if it’s not a fun watch, especially the third act. I would recommend this film to people who enjoy watching older horror films and don’t necessarily think they should be scary to be entertaining.
Phenomena is being re-released on a glorious Blu Ray with a new HD restoration by Arrow Video on the 8th May 2017. The Limited-Edition version of this Blu Ray comes with all the standard supplementary special features as well as a rare Japanese vintage press book, 60-page booklet, remastered soundtrack CD and includes all three versions (International cut, Italian cut and the censored Creepers cut). Don’t miss it! However, if you do, the film is also available to watch for free on Amazon Prime.