• Phenomena

    Released by: Synapse Films
    Released on: August 15th, 2017.
    Director: Dario Argento
    Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Donald Pleasance, Daria Nicoladi, Federica Mastroianni¸ Fiore Argento
    Year: 1985
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:

    Originally released in North America as Creepers, this fan favorite is unique even amongst Argento's unusual filmography. Shot right after Tenebre this film follows a teenage girl named Jennifer Corvino (Jennifer Connelly), the daughter of a movie star who heads to Switzerland to attend a private girl's school in the mountains. The school's headmistress, Frau Brückner (Daria Nicolodi), bunks Jennifer with Sophie (Federica Mastroianni), and the pair hit it off. What Jennifer doesn't know is that recently a tourist woman, Vera Grandt (Fiore Argento), was murdered in the area. Inspector Rudolf Geiger (Patrick Bauchau) found the victim's head. He and his assistant, Kurt (Michele Soavi), brought it to the local entomologist, Dr. John McGregor (Donald Pleasance), who is able to tell how long ago she was killed by examining the maggots that have decided to eat poor Vera's flesh. McGregor is bound to a wheelchair but has a chimpanzee assistant named Inga to help him around the house.

    One night Jennifer sleep walks and inadvertently witnesses the murder of a fellow student. She wanders into the woods where Dr. McGregor's chimp finds her and takes her back to her master. McGregor believes that Jennifer may be telepathic. Her memories of the murder she saw are clouded by sleep but she winds up undergoing a series of tests courtesy of the school's doctor. When Sophie winds up the next victim of the killer, a firefly leads Jennifer to a clue that could pinpoint the murderer's identity, but the ridicule she is subjected to at the hands of her fellow students is starting to take its toll on her increasingly fragile psyche. Things come to a boil as Jennifer and McGregor try to uncover the killer's identity and stop him or her from murdering again, but as things progress, Jennifer calls upon her insect friends to help her in a few unorthodox and rather frightening ways.

    Likely the most effects intensive film that Argento has ever shot, Phenomena is a genuinely weird film. A strange hybrid of giallo conventions and paranormal insect telepathy, it's truly a picture unlike any other. Connelly is well cast in the lead as she plays her part with a very effective sense of distance and one gets the sense that her character is, in more than one way, very detached from the rest of her fellow students. She's a loner and she's very alienated amongst her peers so it makes sense that this girl who relates so well to insects would get along with an expert in the field. Pleasance is great as McGregor, and while he hams it up in a few scenes he never goes too over the top or even comes close to ruining things. The supporting performances are uniformly strong and well balanced.

    Like many of Argento's gialli, the highlights of this film are the murder scenes. A few grisly slashings (created by effects man Sergio Stivaletti) are seen in gory detail but here a couple are given some interesting twists that, to detail, would spoil the film for those yet to see it. The scenes in which Jennifer controls the insects (courtesy of Luigi Cozzi) are also rather remarkable; particularly when you consider that no CGI was used in their creation. The odd soundtrack - composed of tracks from Iron Maiden, Motorhead and Frankie Goes To Hollywood - seems at odds with the score from Simon Boswell and Goblin but it's hard not to think of this film every time you hear Flash Of The Blade.

    Not a film for everyone, Phenomena plays better the second or third time around than it does on its initial viewing. Logic dictates that you'll probably spend much of the first go around scratching your head wondering how this all came to be. Once you get over that, it's much easier to appreciate this quirky picture on its own merits and enjoy it for the bizarre ride that it really is.


    Synapse presents Phenomena on two 50GB Blu-ray discs framed at 1.66.1 widescreen and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. On the first disc we get the 116 minute long integral cut of the film sporting the Phenomena title card and the much shorter 83 minute long U.S. theatrical cut that uses the Creepers title card. The Integral version of the movie was derived from the older master that was created for Arrow’s older Blu-ray release. Synapse stated that they were denied the chance to do their own scan, so they worked with what was made available to them – it’s not perfect. There’s some DNR evident here and some softness in the image, but the bit rate is decent and things do look better than the older Arrow Blu-ray release (the new Arrow Blu-ray release, derived from a new 4k scan, is not available to RSP for review at the time of this writing).

    Disc two includes the 100 minute long International cut of the film, again using the Phenomena title card. It looks considerably better and appears to be taken from a different source than the content included on disc one. There’s a lot less DNR here and detail is strong. Both discs are well authored outside of that, presenting the three different cuts of the film with decent bit rates, strong black levels and nice color reproduction. Aside from a few shots here and there, this version was what was used to reconstruct the Creepers cut of the movie included on disc one.

    The Integral cut of the film gets both English and Italian language DTS-HD 2.0 tracks (with optional subtitles translating the Italian track, subtitles for the English track and subtitle that only translate the Italian language inserts that occur in certain scenes), the Creepers cut gets an English language DTS-HD 2.0 track (with optional English subtitles). Both options sound quite good, offering nicely balanced levels, solid bass response more obvious when the soundtrack and effects kick in than the quieter moments, and clean dialogue. There are no issues with any hiss or distortion to note – the audio is really solid. The levels on the Italian track seem a bit stronger here, there’s a little more power behind some of the music and foley work.

    The International cut gets two English language DTS-HD 2.0 tracks (with optional English subtitles), one of which features some interesting alternate audio. The standard tracks is the better of the two as the ever important sound effects are dialed down in the alternate mix, but it’s interesting to have both here as there are different music cues and effects used in them.

    Extras are found on disc two, starting with an audio commentary over the International version from Argento biographer Derek Botelho (author of The Argento Syndrome) and film historian David Del Valle that covers quite a bit of ground. This is a solid mix of behind the scenes details and trivia as well as critical insight. The two men talk up the performances in the film, the stylish murder set pieces, the score and the soundtrack selections, some of the locations used in the picture, the cinematography as well as some of the themes that are explored in this and other Argento pictures.

    Also included on disc two is the hour long documentary Dario Argento's World Of Horror, directed by none other than Michael Soavi in 1985, which gives us some insight into the making of some of the director’s earlier works such as Suspiria and Inferno, his work as a producer on titles like Demons and Dawn Of The Dead, Inferno, his early giallo films and of course, Phenomena too. For those who haven’t seen it (Synapse released it as a standalone DVD years back) there’s a lot of great material here including interviews with the director himself, as well as interviews and appearances from Mimsy Farmer, Jennifer Connelly, Keith Emerson, Ken Foree, Fiore Argento, Jessica Harper, David Hemmings, Karl Malden, Irene Miracle, Donald Pleasence, Tony Musante, Tom Savani and Soavi too. There’s also a load of behind the scenes footage and photos.

    Synapse has also included a quick four minute interview with Andi Sex Gang in which he talks about his work on the picture. Rounding out the extras are a Phenomena international theatrical trailer, a Creepers U.S. theatrical trailer, a minute’s worth of Creepers Radio Spots, menus and chapter selection. We also get some cool reversible cover art with the Phenomena art on one side and the Creepers artwork on the reverse.

    Note that last year Synapse Films released Phenomena in a limited edition steelbook package that also included a soundtrack CD and a liner note insert. The CD and liner notes are not included in this standard edition but the content of the two Blu-ray discs that were in that set appears to be identical to this release.

    The Final Word:

    Phenomena is an odd film, even by Argento standards, but it’s one that seems to grow on you over time. Synapse’s two disc Blu-ray release is a good one, offering up three different cuts of the movie with all available audio options included, decent video quality and a nice smattering of extras as well.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps from the Integral Cut!

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps from the International Cut!