Phenomena (1985)

I actually came close to watching this a few weeks ago when TVS showed Creepers, the much-cut US version, until I told myself not to be so damn stupid, watch the proper version. Interested to learn that Argento actually shot this in English, thus preventing me from pissing and moaning about being unable to watch the film in its “native” language cos there’s no subtitles… He retreads himself a bit here (that underwater bit near the end clearly being a knock-off of his own Inferno), insofar as our protagonist is a young American girl (Jennifer Connolly; I was astonished to discover she was only 13 when this was shot) being sent to a school overseas where Bad Things are taking place. The school is a relative red herring, though, presumably intended to make us think “ah, it’s like Suspiria all over again”, but the first Bad Thing we see in the film actually takes place elsewhere and we eventually work out the school really has bugger all to do with events… the supernatural element in the film coming not from the school but from Jennifer and her, shall we say, interesting connection to the insect world; otherwise we’re basically in regular giallo territory (in  darkest Switzerland), where a killer is on the loose and terrorising people, the police seem to be of minimal use, and only Jennifer, assisted by entomologist Donald Pleasance’s not entirely plausible Scottish accent and Inga his chimpanzee assistant, can get to the bottom of the mystery. Needless to say the bottom of the mystery doesn’t make an awful lot of sense (was an explanation for the killings even remotely vouchsafed?), and there’s some dubious psychiatry on show, but Argento actually conjures up some decent atmosphere—the set-piece where Jennifer summons millions of flies is quite something—and the whole thing is entertaining enough that its admitted problems can be overlooked.


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