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Phenomena, by Italian director Dario Argento, originally played in the United States in a shortened form as Creepers. It has finally been released in America, by Anchor Bay on DVD and VHS. Presented widescreen and full-length, we can finally judge it as its author intended. Creepers was filled with plot holes and logic gaps that left its audience scratching its head. With the all the missing footage restored, Phenomena will leave its audience utterly bewildered.
Phenomena plays like a collection of scenes Argento couldn't squeeze into other films. It combines elements of popular American horror films with Argento trademarks like graphic, candy-colored violence and heavy, rocking soundtracks. (Phenomena even includes heavy metal retirees Iron Maiden with 'Flash of the Blade').
The plot: a young lady (Jennifer Connelly) is sent away to a girl's school (like Suspiria). She is taunted by the other kids, but has strange psychic powers (like Carrie). Because this isn't enough for one film, it also contains violent murders committed by an unseen assailant (like Friday the 13th part ???) against nubile young ladies (like Tenebre). Luckily, hot on the trail of the killer is Donald Pleasence (like Halloween).
Along the way, we bear witness to a string of sights, much of it shocking and repulsive. Some of it stunning. Argento stops the frenetic action and thundering music to take his audience on trips through surreal dreamscapes. Our heroine also is prone to sleepwalking (don't ask), and Argento treats us to some evocative, painterly images. Spread out on its 70 mil canvas, he creates almost Technicolor richness. His use of smoke and colored lights owes a debt to Mario Bava, but Argento uses them to create a pallet that is strictly his own.
Because this is horror, and hysterical horror at that, the audience gets its money's worth in grue and grotesque. Argento gives us: Beheadings and stabbings. Swarms of insects. "Corpse Beetles". Gloves full of maggots. Skulls full of maggots. Even whole pits filled with maggots. We get Daria Nicolodi in a wonderfully over-the-top-and-down-the-other-side performance. And the way that cop Michele Soavi escapes from a tight predicament will induce squirming, for those inclined. There is also an important chimpanzee.
Phenomena is surreal, illogical, shockingly violent, and utterly implausible. Its plot is filled with gaping holes, forgotten tangents, and needless devices. Lapses in logic are bludgeoned over with gruesome images and screaming heavy metal music. It piles one outrageous development on top of another, and in the end not one damn thing makes any sense. It's one of Argento's best films.