I have no idea how to rate this movie.

Phenomena (R)
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review sites: Bloody Disgusting; Dread Central (DVD) (Blu-ray); PopHorror

This came out in 1985 (when I was 9 years old). I first saw it in 2020, on Amazon (just because it was included for free on Prime Video). It was written and directed by Italian filmmaker Dario Argento, a name I've been vaguely familiar with for some time, though I'm not really familiar with his work. (At some point in the past, I tried watching "Suspiria," which is highly regarded among horror enthusiasts, I guess. But I didn't get very far into it before I stopped watching, as it was boring me to death. Maybe someday I'll give it another chance, though.) There are three cuts of "Phenomena": the original is 116 minutes, the international release is 110 minutes, and the U.S. release was 83 minutes (and retitled "Creepers"). But the version I saw on Amazon was the 116 minute version, and it was called "Phenomena." Oddly, while most of the film is in English, there are several scenes where the characters suddenly start speaking Italian (or something), and there are no subtitles, which confused and annoyed me. Anyway... it's a horror movie, but I couldn't really decide what subgenre to call it. (Technically it's giallo, but I don't know enough about that to have it as one of my categories of film reviews.) It's mainly a slasher, I'd say, but there's also some psychological horror, some supernatural (or more accurately, paranormal) elements, and I'd say it's even a bit Gothic. But mostly I just think of it as "weird," so that's where I'm putting my review.

It begins with a teenage girl missing her bus in the Swiss countryside, so she goes to a nearby house to ask for help. Someone (or possibly some thing) we can't see is chained to a wall, and eventually succeeds in breaking free. We see the girl being chased, though we don't see her pursuer, and she's soon killed and beheaded.

Eight months or so later, police inspector Rudolf Geiger (Patrick Bauchau) and his partner are consulting with a wheelchair-bound entomologist named Professor John McGregor (Donald Pleasence), whose knowledge of insects helps them place the time of death of the girl whose head had recently been discovered. She was the first teenage girl to be killed, but other girls have since been killed or gone missing, one of whom was an acquaintance of the professor. Oh, also I have to mention that McGregor has a chimpanzee named Inga, who acts as his assistant.

Meanwhile, an American girl named Jennifer Corvino (Jennifer Connelly) comes to study at a Swiss boarding school, in the area where girls have been disappearing. She soon learns about that from her roommate, Sophie. Then Jennifer has a nightmare, and she sleepwalks out of their room, and... all over the place, really. It's rather reminiscent of cartoons, how close she keeps coming to danger without realizing it, before she finally wakes up. Actually... it's kind of hard for me to be sure exactly when she does wake up. There were several points at which I thought she had, and I think I was wrong for most of them. At one point she was hit by some teenage boys who were out driving, and they check to see if she's alright, and put her in their car. She starts screaming and struggling with them, and honestly I couldn't tell if they wanted to do something unpleasant to her or just take her to a hospital or something. But anyway, she eventually escapes from the car and they leave her. She's then found by Inga, who leads her to Professor McGregor's house. It had already been established earlier in the film that Jennifer has an unusual attachment to insects... not just that she likes them, but that they like her, too. So anyway, she's happy to meet an entomologist, and he's happy to meet someone who's interested in insects. She also reminds him of his friend who had disappeared, and is presumed dead.

Well, lots of other stuff happens, such as all the girls at school tormenting Jennifer after learning of her love of insects. And even before that, she had tried to get in touch with her father or his agent, Morris Shapiro, to arrange for her to return home, because she hates it at the school, besides being afraid of the killer in the area. And there are some powerful demonstrations of just how much control she has over insects, and stuff. Eventually McGregor lends her a certain species of fly that he believes can lead her to wherever all the dead bodies are being kept. That doesn't go quite as planned, but she does eventually find the bodies, but not before being found by the killer. Or one of the killers... or maybe just someone who enables the killer, I dunno. But there is a very creepy kid involved. I don't want to spoil how it all ends, but it's pretty fucked up.

Anyway, it's all very strange, I'm not sure any of it makes sense. (Though possibly there are some things I'd understand better if there had been any bloody subtitles.) In any event, I don't think I could possibly call it a "good" movie, but it was... interesting, mostly because of how weird it was. Really, there are only a few reasons I could imagine anyone wanting to watch the movie: If, like me, you're a fan of Jennifer Connelly, and want to see some of her earliest work. Or if you're a fan of Dario Argento's work. Or if you're just a fan of bizarre, fucked up movies in general. (Though I also wanted to mention that there's one scene anyone with emetophobia should definitely avoid. Though for the rest of us, there are even more disturbing scenes and visuals than that one.) And I don't know what else to say.


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