Phenomenononon

OMG you guys, seriously: this movie is the cinematic equivalent of taking so much LSD you technically die and come back before your corpse has a chance to cool.

Phenomena
Directed by Dario Argento
Starring Jennifer Connelly and Donald Pleasance
The pitch: A young insect-whisperer employs her crawly minions to solve a series of grisly girl-murders at a Swiss boarding school.

The dish: I’ve heard a lot about Dario Argento: father of Ahhhsia, definitive maestro of Italian psycho-sexual horror (i.e., lots of latent anxiety about pubescent girls in groups, lady parts, and sticky fluids), inspirado to everyone from Wes Craven to Kevin Williamson (and yes, I am aware that’s actually a rather narrow field). His Suspiria is supposed to be one of the trippiest pieces of horror head-trip ever. Color me interested, and by ‘interested,’ I mean: color me apprehensive but desperately intrigued, so I decide to check out a ‘lesser Argento,’ you know, just to get my feet wet.

Getting your feet wet in an Argento means falling into a cesspit of rotting human bodies. With your mouth open. Also, there’s a deformed child trying to kill you. But wait: you’re going to be saved by a horde of winged insects you control with your mysterious feminine wiles! And a chimpanzee!

You’ll like Phenomena if you’ve ever wanted to see Jennifer Connelly stare dead-eyed at a camera for interminable periods of time while Donald Pleasance waxes poetic about how she “excites” his bugs. I won’t lie: I cheered out loud several times during this movie, so apparently I’m a sicker bastard than previously assumed. (When the chimp shows up? He has a straight razor and it’s AMAZING.) There’s an irrepressible gonzo sensibility to the whole mess, but it is a mess–a hot, sticky mess of bugs and viscous substances.

But Jennifer’s hair is the prettiest hair I’ve ever seen in my entire life. No wonder the bugs are excited.

Fun fact! This film may or may not be tangentially responsible for one of the crackassier nightmares I’ve ever had: a trailer for a horror film about Jennifer Connelly infiltrating a coven of dark witches, where people are eaten by beige wall-to-wall carpet, titled Lancet Eyes. Feel free to be less disturbed by the concept of ‘lancet eyes’ than by the fact that I dream in trailers.

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3 Responses to “Phenomenononon”

  1. Adam Says:

    I just saw his Inferno and it’s well-regarded, but made next to zero sense. Check out his episode of “Masters of Horror.” It’s called Jennifer and is written and starring by (no joke) Steven Weber, from Wings. It’s very disturbing, asking the question, can a man fall in obsessive love with a woman with a great body but a face that looks near mutiliated, a mouth that uncontrollably drools, and a stomach for human innards? It’s online but if you can’t find it, I’ll send it.

  2. Kate Racculia Says:

    eeeee I’ve heard about the MoH Jennifer, and the promo pics from Showtime? Wig me right the hell out, man! I always knew Steven Weber had a dark side, see: The Shining miniseries that was on ABC (?) in the mid/late-90s. Yes, I did watch it at the time, and aside from thinking that Kubrick’s is both far superior from a filmmaking standpoint and far, far more disturbing, Mr. Weber looks like he’s enjoying himself a leeetle too much whacking Rebecca DeMornay around with a Denver croquet mallet.

  3. Adam Says:

    Just saw it and it was great and your review was dead-on. I don’t know another movie that made more of wind and hair–scary and erotic from the start. And it was full of diverse elements (“phenomena”?)–including a vengeful chimpanzee on the hood of a car and chase music by, I think, Iron Maiden–that heighten your surpise when you know the interior logic of the usual horror movie scares. By the end, there are 4 potential helpers on the loose: the Detective (who won my admiration when he clobbered his thumb to get out of his shackles), the chimpanzee, a Hollywood agent (!) with what looks like a 357 magnum, and of course spectral curtains of bugs. And Jennifer handles it with more aplomb than Nancy Drew or Red Riding Hood. She’s meant to be and succeeds as a magical heroine. This is a fairy tale constructed out of a horror movie, pushing out past each each genre cliche, with what is ultimately a story of the lone young person against all the monsters of the dark, armed with her faith in herself, in her “specialness,” in her own magic. The final moment of the two mammals surrounded by flecks of protective insects was a tranquil picture of nature I never expected to see at the end of this movie, which began with the wind and the trees seemingly in conspiracy with a murderer.

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