Phenomena (1985) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

Phenomena (1985) Review

by Yo Adrian on January 31st, 2020 | Movie Review | Killer, Thriller, Police, Maniac

Phenomena was directed by Dario Argento (who also directed The Sandman and Dracula 3D) and stars Jennifer Connelly (from Dark Water and Dark City), Donald Pleasence (from HalloweenThe House of Usher and Prince of Darkness) and Daria Nicolodi (from Opera and Tenebre). It's about a sleepwalking girl who can talk to insects, solve murders and take maggot baths without puking.

When Insects Attack!

8 years before Phenomena there was Suspiria, Dario Argento's big hit.

In Suspiria, a young American girl traveled to Germany to enroll in an exclusive girls school while super intense music by Goblin got stuck in your head. This wasn't a bad thing, Suspiria had one of the best intros of any horror movie I've seen and the Goblin soundtrack was bad ass and really helped create some serious tension. Anyway, she has a rough first night. She's running all over the place while another student of her school gets killed.

In Phenomena, a young American girl travels to Switzerland (for those who failed geography, Switzerland is basically Germany) to enroll in an exclusive girls school while super intense music by Goblin plays. This time the Goblin soundtrack was catchy, just not as catchy as Suspiria. Anyway, she has a rough first night. She's running all over the place while another student of her school gets killed.

Phenomena has plenty of other similarities to Suspiria including the dreamlike atmosphere, evil matriarchs, hidden rooms and maggots. Lots of maggots.

So yeah, Argento used what he knew would work when he needed another hit movie, but who can blame him. And I personally loved the style of Suspiria so it was fun to get another taste of it in Phenomena.

Moving on.

The phenomenon in this movie (for those who failed grammar, Phenomena is just the plural of Phenomenon, which is weird because this movie only had one) is a girl named Jennifer who's an insect whisperer. Insects love her and she loves them. Loomis from Halloween plays Professor John McGregor, an entomologist (guy who loves insects) who calls on Jennifer to help him solve a murder with the help of his friendly insects.

Loomis, err... Professor McGregor, also likes monkeys. His nurse is a monkey who fetches things for him and also helps him fight crime. There's literally a scene where the monkey jumps on the roof of a moving car while trying to stop a killer from getting away. The monkey is also instrumental near the end, but explaining that gem could venture into spoiler territory.

The last bizarre detail I'd like to mention is the music. Not the score, the score is performed by Goblin. But there is also music, actual full-length songs by Iron Maiden and Motorhead, heavy metal bands from the 80's. Very unexpected and honestly distracting, especially considering they played over slow uneventful scenes.

Suspiria Part 2 and the many bizarre details aside (did I mention the crime fighting monkey?), Phenomena is a freakishly phenomenal horror movie. I actually loved it from start to finish (I've watched this one 3-4 times over the years). Argento's style simply can't be beat. One minute he's using the score to create tension, the next he's using wind to create even more, and the next he's using sickening gore to create nausea. It's awesome.

Worth Watching? 

Absolutely. Phenomena is an Argento classic that holds up surprisingly well over time. The bizarre details and familiar scenarios grab your attention from the start and Argento's ability to really pull you into a story keeps your attention through to the end. And speaking of the end, let me just tell you it's bad shit crazy cool.

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