Phenomena aka Creepers (1985)
Back of the box...
“Someone is picking on Jennifer. A deformed, deranged killer has been stalking her through the grounds of her boarding school. And slaughtering her friends.
But it’s not very nice to pick on Jennifer Corvino.
For she has an extraordinary power. She can communicate telepathically with any species of insect. She can command them to obey her will. She can command them to kill. And together with her allegiant minions, she will find the killer. And he’ll be sorry. For her vast, formidable army will pick on him!
On his flesh. And on his bones!”
Director: Dario Argento
Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Donald Pleasence, Daria Nicolodi
Watch the Trailer
Our favorite auteur of horror, Dario Argento, sprinkles a dash of crazy into his supernatural giallo Phenomena with a final girl who telepathically communicates with bugs! After a brief detour from the supernatural with 1982’s Tenebre, Argento returns to the weird in full form and delivers a horror film with more maggots than a NOVA special about the life cycle of the common house fly.
Another victim of the Transatlantic Name Change, Phenomena emerged on America’s eastern shore with a new title, Creepers! Sadly, not all of the film survived the treacherous voyage—almost 30 minutes were lost at sea. Now that the Italian version (run time 116 minutes) and the American edit (run time 83 minutes) are both widely available the titles seem to be used more interchangeably. Just remember to keep your eye on those runtimes.
Phenomena stars a 15 year old, relatively unknown, Jennifer Connelly which contributes to the film’s surreal, Labyrinth-like, fairytale quality. The film also stars horror veteran and Michael Myers’ psychiatrist, Donald Pleasence, as well as Argento’s one-time girlfriend and favorite woman to brutally murder on screen, Daria Nicolodi.
Jennifer Corvino (Connelly), daughter of movie star Paul Corvino, is sent to a snooty Swiss boarding school where there’s a killer on the loose and, aside from Jennifer’s new roommate Sophie, nobody seems particularly concerned. On her first night at the school while sleepwalking and telepathically communicating with bugs, Jennifer witnesses a murder and fears for her life. After sleepwalking a seemingly long distance from the school, she meets Professor McGregor (Pleasence), a wheelchair bound etymologist who, with the help of his chimpanzee nurse, is assisting the police in finding the murderer. With his knowledge of insect behavior and her ability to communicate with them, they team up to put an end to the killings.
The setup isn’t dissimilar from Argento’s 1977 film, Suspiria. American girl. Fancy European school. People dying bloody deaths. Also, similarly to Suspiria, Phenomena is a gorgeous film to look at. Argento’s undeniable style is apparent from the film’s opening scene, which happens to feature his daughter, Fiore. (Side note: Fiore also appeared in the Argento produced Demons that year along with another Phenomena actor, Michele Soavi, who later went on to direct Cemetery Man and The Church). When the dialogue verges on painful or a scene feels unnecessarily long, Argento’s style is always there to fall back on. This is why we believe his movies always feel slightly elevated over his contemporaries. When an American slasher drags, it DRRRAAAAAGGSSS! When an Argento giallo drags, you notice how beautifully composed the shot is.
Like last week’s film, Zombie Nightmare, we have yet another killer soundtrack featuring Motorhead! Phenomena also features Iron Maiden and, of course, Goblin, but the big story is the appearance of Sex Gang Children frontman, Andi Sex Gang. While on a break from recording, Andi bought a ticket to Bologna to do some sightseeing but missed the train. Shortly after the train left Rome, a bomb planted on it exploded, killing 63 passengers. The authorities checked to see if anyone had purchased a ticket but didn’t board the train only to find one name, Andi Sex Gang. He was arrested and interrogated as a suspect in the bombing.
Bashed by critics while said to be Argento’s personal favorite of his work, we went into Phenomena with somewhat confused expectations. As with many of his films, the visuals and atmosphere are enough on their own but Phenomena is more than just style. It offers a surreal reality that drifts into Jennifer’s own dreamworld, creating a unique, modern fairytale take on the familiar slasher story.