Thursday, November 26

Some quick thoughts on Phenomena (1985)

This is my favorite of Argento's films outside of his gialli. Take the base of Suspiria and run it headlong into a girl with psychic connectivity with insects, Swiss Alp wind, chimps with razors, deformed children, motherly vendettas, soupy dead body pits, a crippled Donald Pleasence, and Motörhead tuneage. Sound a bit of a trainwreck? No need to worry; master Dario is behind the enormous camera jib and dolly. Shades of Argento's wishy-washy future poke through Phenomena's veneer and on paper this honestly doesn't scream something of any quality on celluloid. Yet, Argento clearly still had his rich stylistic touch at such full power that this hodgepodge is tamed and ultimately conquered.

This beautifully photographed Italian horror film featuring Jennifer Connelly's first leading role might also be the first time director Argento expands the troubled waters of Inferno's and Suspiria's conclusions across an entire feature. I can't see how anyone wouldn't be disappointed by these two otherwise fantastic films' goofy Halloween mask witch blowouts after their measured deliveries. With Phenomena, Argento spreads this brand of overt lunacy with a broad butter knife evenly over the runtime. This gives all of the zesty spice in this pot of bloody mashed potatoes a sweet note instead of a bitter aftertaste. You can probably tell from already hungry for Thanksgiving dinner today!

The film starts benign enough but gradually breaks loose into a cavalcade of crimson splashes and maggoty gross-outs the way only Argento can (or perhaps sadly could) film. Misogynistic slow motion of feminine cranial violence, wind swept pans of lush locales, long shots of doomed damsels stumble-running whist screaming to their long bladed deaths, shadows always perfectly set in the deepest recesses of the frame, and loving close-ups of all the pertinent grue. Connelly shows amiable skill, but it's best to let Phenomena awash over your eyes while not commanding your brain to focus too much on the nutty inlets the story flows into. This is the closet Argento ever came to a work resembling the welcoming excessive "horror" norms of his Italian genre "prime era" brethren but naturally he still manages to succeed like no other.

If I had a complaint, the heavy metal from the aforementioned Motörhead, Iron Maiden, and others is blatantly shoehorned in to appeal to the youth of the day. With such fantastic orchestral work by Bill Wyman, Goblin (well, sorta), and Simon Boswell; the generic metal tracks placed over inappropriate sequences are a sore misjudgment. Especially Motörhead, who breaks free with their warty crunch as an important just dead supporting character is being wheeled out for the meat truck. I'm not against this practice, das metal in Demons gives it additional rip-roaring charm, but here it's like someone turning on the stereo in the room you're watching this in.


Drunketh said...

I'm gonna go ahead and say that Phenomena is my favorite Argento film. It's really f'n hard to top Tenebrae... as it is sheer perfection. But as far as film that really sucks me in and hypnotizes, it's this one.

When I first saw the cut version Creepers on, I believe, an old Media VHS, I was about seventeen years old and had just smoked some of the whackiest tobbaciest Caliweed known to man with my girlfriend and her girlfriend. When Valley hit and Vera misses her bus... she wipes away a tear and her hair is blowing in the wind before she cradles herself and walks to the nearest house. It's simply mesmerizing. And then the chains! The scissors! She runs screaming for about two and a half minutes, in an absolutely beautiful and exciting sequence, and then the Glass! And just when you're about to raise up your jaw, she loses her head in the waterfall. *Sigh*

Personally I think it blows Suspiria's intro outta the water.

Franco Macabro said...

I love this movies visuals...but its pace can sometimes really try your patience. Still, not a bad film, just not Argentos best. you dare tread upon the staircase?

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