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Phenomena (DVD)

Phenomena DVD Review (click for larger image)Reviewed by Kryten Syxx

Starring Jennifer Connelly, Daria Nicolodi, Donald Pleasence

Directed by Dario Argento

Distributed by Anchor Bay Home Entertainment


Something has gotten loose in the Swiss Alps, and young women across the land are no longer safe!

Dario Argento’s Phenomena, or Creepers if you prefer, is probably the movie most of us remember seeing Jennifer Connelly in for the first time. It was clear she was going to go places, and what a strange way to start off a successful career. Jennifer plays, well, Jennifer, the daughter of a famous actor. While her dad films movies around the globe, she is sent to different schools, this time a boarding school for girls in Switzerland.

Jennifer, being a sleepwalker and capable of telepathically communicating with insects, is quickly ridiculed not only by fellow students but also by the religious staff of the school. Her only solace is a friendship she starts with an entomologist named John McGregor. Jennifer also befriends his trained chimp, and her powers are further cultured thanks to John’s help.

There’s little time for happiness, though, as a killer is on the loose. Young girls seem to be the main victims of the mystery killer, but few clues are left to make a positive ID. McGregor hopes to use the maggots found on some of the remaining body parts to trace the time of death, but unless they find more evidence, the crime spree may continue for a long time.

Phenomena (click for larger image)The entomologist decides to take a chance on “the two greatest detectives the world has ever known, or should I say, unknown.” Yes, Jennifer’s ability to communicate with insects could indeed help in locating dead bodies. John sets her up with a flesh-feeding fly, and off she goes on a bus. Too bad she never discovers anything concrete … it’s also too bad that the killer gets to John, leaving his chimp a widow!

Jennifer is quick to try to escape the country, but she is talked into staying a few days at one of the boarding school employees’ (Frau Brückner) homes while her father’s agent flies in to claim Jennifer. She notices at this house a number of maggots everywhere. The suspicions are solidified when Frau tries to poison Jennifer and she falls into a pit full of rotting corpses. A narrow escape later, she finds Frau’s son … and he is one ugly little bastard!

Chased and cornered on a boat, Jennifer unleashes her power to make an army of flies devour the kid, but what of mommy dearest? She shows up in time to decapitate Jen’s dad’s agent. Good thing that chimp was hanging around with a straight razor to save the day!

As expected, Jennifer Connelly gives an adult performance at the age of 14, but what if she had made this movie today at the same age? After all the Hanna Montana “naked back” craziness, the celeb obsessed media would have had a field day with some of the stuff young Jennifer was wearing, or not wearing. Boy … we’ve really turned into a sick gossipy society of scandal hounds. Where the hell did we go wrong?! Fucking TMZ.

Donald Pleasence also hands strong scenes as the wise, old entomologist John McGregor. Sadly, he is a tad underused and could have been fleshed out a bit more to make his death have a bigger emotional impact. McGregor has plenty of character to develop thanks to the disappearance of his friend and his handicap. This is where Phenomena’s biggest problem is: wasted potential.

There are a handful of scenes that add little to the movie or just don’t make sense whatsoever. Jennifer’s examination by a doctor explains nothing and has no further impact on the film, along with some conversations that re-explain what we already know. Removaling these and lengthening the important areas would have gained this flick a 5, but there’s really no use crying over spilled blood.

Regardless of the film’s faults, the DVD is amazing. Anchor Bay crammed in a number of special features that were well worth the wait, especially after multiple releases through the years. This version now comes with a new widescreen transfer, commentary, two featurettes, a television interview with Dario, and two music videos.

Phenomena (click for larger image)The music videos, including one by Goblin, are a great bit of nostalgia as is “The Joe Franklin Show” interview with Dario Argento. It isn’t often we get to see English interviews with the maestro, so this is a treat. However, these are nothing in comparison to the two featurettes that come on the disc.

A Dark Fairy Tale tells us all about the casting of Phenomena and the relationship formed between Connelly and a familiar face from previous Argento movies, Daria Nicolodi. Other members of the cast voice their experiences on the set and the dangers of sugar glass. Sadly, Jennifer is never part of the interviews, and she is needed. Her being the star of the show and missing from both featurettes really hurts. Then again, we do get to see lots of cool insect and special effects shots that sort of make up for it. Almost.

The Luigi Cozzi & The Art of Macrophotography featurette takes us behind the scenes of all the hard work that went into getting insects to do what the script asks of them. Macrophotography is responsible for capturing all of the insect close-ups, of which there are many. Wrangling these creepy crawlies also required a great amount of work that the surrounding area felt when the crew let thousands of flies loose after a night of filming. Guess that’s one of the good things about CGI nowadays.

The commentary with Dario Argento, special makeup effects artist Sergio Stivaletti, music composer Claudio Simonetti, and journalist Loris Curci has some serious ups and downs. The downside is the audio itself. The levels for each commentator differ, leaving Dario nearly muted for the most part. By turning the volume all the way up, you can hear what he has to say, in English, but there’s also a lot of dead silence. Loris Curci does his best to try to move the conversation along with various intriguing questions, but the other parties just don’t sound interesting in talking.

Regardless of these problems, this is your chance to see Phenomena uncut and with a beautiful transfer. So click below and buy it, or choose the new box set that Anchor Bay has put out (which also includes Do You Like Hitchcock?, Card Player, Trauma, and Tenebre) for more bang for your buck.

Special Features

  • Brand-new remastered widescreen (1.66:1) transfer, enhanced for 16×9 televisions
  • Audio Commentary with writer/director Dario Argento, special makeup effects artist Sergio Stivaletti, music composer Claudio Simonetti and journalist Loris Curci
  • A Dark Fairy Tale featurette
  • Luigi Cozzi & The Art of Macrophotography featurette
  • Dario Argento on “The Joe Franklin Show”
  • Claudio Simonetti music Video (“Jennifer”)
  • Bill Wyman music video (“Valley”)
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Dario Argento biography

    Film
    “>“>“>“>“>
    4 1/2 out of 5

    Special Features
    “>“>“>“>
    4 out of 5

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