March 5, 2023

PHENOMENA: Dario Argento Gets Buggy in 4K

1985 / 116/110/83 min (3 cuts of the film)
Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

On this side of the pond, Dario Argento was difficult to appreciate in the ‘80s because a lot of his films were severely edited for American release. Over 20 minutes were shaved from the original version of Deep Red, while Argento’s biggest international success, Suspiria, lost nearly ten. Neither edited cut was terrible, but they certainly diluted Argento’s unique style by disrupting the fluid pace, tone and, of course, some masterfully disturbing death scenes. As a result, what most of us saw was unremarkable home video fodder.

1985’s Phenomena suffered the most from such wholesale butchery, released here as Creepers and chopped to a measly 83 minutes. Which was too bad, because if not Argento’s best film of the ‘80s, the Italian version is certainly his most outlandish (in a good way). But none of us Americans got a chance to see that movie. As with some of Argento’s best-known classics, it would be years before we were able to appreciate how good the original Phenomena really is. Perhaps just a notch or two below Deep Red and Suspiria, I'd argue it’s the last great film he ever directed. 

The setting is similar to Suspiria’s, with American student Jennifer (a very young Jennifer Connelly) studying abroad at a private school in Switzerland. Because of her penchant for sleepwalking and a strange relationship with insects - Jennifer has a telepathic connection with them - she quickly becomes a pariah among the students and staff. Meanwhile, young local girls are being brutally murdered, including some of the students. Assisting in the investigation is Professor McGregor (Donald Pleasance), a wheelchair-ridden entomologist who uses insect behavior to determine times of death, and even where bodies are located. He believes Jennifer’s ability to communicate with bugs could possibly lead them to the killer.

Probably time to change those filters.
While Argento’s striking imagery and jarring violence are here in abundance, he also throws in truly unusual elements, such as seemingly out-of-place heavy metal music (as opposed to relying exclusively on Goblin) during comparatively mundane scenes, and a batshit climax involving a mutant boy, maggots, a straight razor and an angry chimpanzee. Also throughout the film are bugs by the thousands - both nasty and docile - obeying Jennifer’s commands, “flirting” with her and, of course, doing a little killing themselves. Some of the story elements border on ridiculous, but are presented with such audacity and panache that we roll along with it.

Because of his attention to aesthetics over everything else, Argento’s catalogue has probably benefited more from the 4K UHD format than any other horror director and Phenomena is no exception. The film looks and sounds outstanding, no matter which version you’re watching. Speaking of which, this set offers three versions of Phenomena, including the Creepers cut. Also included are a bevy of bonus features, the best of which is a fascinating 2-hour documentary. Be aware, however, that this 4K release and its bonus content are virtually identical to the one Synapse Films put out just last year. Other than a new cover, there are no other discernible differences.

But if you’ve never seen Phenomena - or the old Creepers cut still leaves a bad taste in your mouth - this set is definitely worth checking out. It nicely showcases one of Dario Argento’s last great films…the way it should’ve been seen all along.


3 VERSIONS OF THE FILM - Disc 1: Original Italian version (116 min); Disc 2: International version (110 min); Creepers version (83 min).

“OF FLIES AND MAGGOTS” - A comprehensive 2-hour documentary about every aspect of Phenomena’s production and release. Features dozens of interviews, mostly those involved behind the camera, including Argento.

“THE THREE SARCOPHAGI" - An interesting side-by-side comparison of all three versions by Arrow producer Michael Mackenzie.

2 AUDIO COMMENTARIES - 1) By Dario Argento biographer Troy Howarth (Italian version); 2) By author Derek Botello and historian David Del Valle (International version).

“JENNIFER” MUSIC VIDEO - Goblin’s haunting theme.

TRAILERS - For all three versions.



REVERSIBLE COVER - Featuring new and vintage artwork.

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