Derek Warren

CULT CORNER: Argento’s ‘Phenomena’ is a crazy classic for Italian horror fans

CULT CORNER: Argento’s ‘Phenomena’ is a crazy classic for Italian horror fans
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The term “master of horror” is not one that should be thrown around lightly. There are many icons in the horror genre, along with legendary directors, but true masters of horror are not nearly as abundant. Dario Argento, though, is truly a master.

He is a director that has not only created some of the most legendary horror films, but has also forever changed the genre in the process. While many complain that his more recent output is lacking, his early output will forever be classics in the genre.

One of his mid-career films, “Phenomena,” treads the line between classic and pure insanity. If you are an Argento fan, there is no doubt that this falls more into the classic area. However, for those unfamiliar with the Italian director’s work it may leave you scratching your head.

Released in 1985, “Phenomena” stars a young Jennifer Connelly, along with Donald Pleasence, better known to many as Dr. Loomis from the “Halloween” franchise. Jennifer Corvino (Connelly) has developed the ability to communicate with insects on a level never before seen. She is studied by Professor John McGregor (Pleasence), who sees her ability firsthand but also knows of her troubles with constant sleepwalking. Meanwhile, a serial killer is on the loose and is killing nearby students. Could Jennifer’s telepathic abilities help find the killer and stop them before it’s too late?

Sure, this may sound like a plot dreamed up by a madman, but Italian horror is not for those looking for a straight-ahead simple plot. “Phenomena” finds Argento firing on all cylinders, with a strong hand on his craft and beautifully horrific imagery. The soundtrack also features some familiar sounds from Goblin as well as other bands like Iron Maiden.

There are plenty of brutal slayings throughout, something expected in great Italian horror. “Phenomena,” in fact, starts with a savage beheading of a girl immediately following the opening credits. The creepy imagery and use of insects will certainly gross out the faint of heart.

If you are a true fan of this film or Argento in general, the newly released Blu-ray version by Synapse Films is an absolute must purchase. It features three different cuts of this film, one being the original United States release under the title “Creepers.” It also features an informative documentary on Argento that highlights much of his earlier career.

Is it worth seeing? Absolutely. “Phenomena” is an absolute must-see for any true Italian horror fan. While the Italian horror subgenre may be off-putting to some who are confused by its stream of conscious dialogue and meandering plotlines, it is still a genre with a lot of heart and beauty. Many directors in this subgenre, such as Argento, put forth a lot of thought into framing shots and making art instead of just another horror film. While films such as “Phenomena” may be confusing to some, they are picturesque creations to others.

Also, no spoilers, but you may never look at monkeys the same way again after viewing this film!

Each week, Cult Corner shines a light on strange and obscure cult films you’ve never heard of but need to see for yourself… with the lights off and the doors and windows locked.