UTG’s 31 Days Of Halloween: ‘Phenomena’

phenomena feature 3

Of all the holidays celebrated worldwide, no single day is loved by the UTG staff more than Halloween. With October’s arrival, the time has finally come to begin rolling out a slew of features and special announcements we have prepared in celebration of our favorite day.

Now in its fourth year, 31 Days Of Halloween is a recurring feature that will run throughout the month of October. The goal of this column is to supply every UTG reader with a daily horror (or Halloween-themed) movie recommendation that is guaranteed to amplify your All Hallows’ Eve festivities. We’ll be watching every film the day it’s featured, and we hope you’ll follow along at home.

This year, the entire 31 Days series is dedicated to the memory of our friend, Justin Proper. We wouldn’t have a film department without him, and he specifically helped pioneer our involvement in the horror genre. Rest in peace, JP.

Phenomena poster

Day 15: Phenomena (1985)

Before I talk about Phenomena, I must say that this is the first time I’ve watched a Dario Argento film. From what I understand – and from what others tell me – Argento is one of the masters of horror, but also one of the most playful. When talking to a close friend of mine about his work, he said that Phenomena may be his most playful. Playful meaning not giving way to dark subject matter but washing it down easy with a dose of dark humor. Nothing could have prepared me for this though, and I’m incredibly glad with having gone in not knowing much about the film before I saw it.

Some quick notes about what Phenomena is about first. Jennifer Corvino (Jennifer Connelly), the daughter of a famous actor, is shipped off to boarding school in the Swiss alps. Her bouts with sleepwalking take an ugly turn when she witnesses a murder, is almost raped and stumbles upon an etymologist’s home. Professor John McGregor (Donald Pleasance), the etymologist, notices something strange about Jennifer when his insects take a particular liking to her. Short story short, Jennifer’s insect telepathy comes in handy when more and more girls are brutally murdered. Soon enough, she is in harm’s way with the mysterious killer coming after her.

To put into perspective how violent Phenomena gets, you should probably know that the original cut that was released in the US got an X rating. To get an X rating in 1985, your movie has to be a little more than a bit taboo. The first scene involves a graphic decapitation of a tourist, and the punches never stop after that. But rather than drag down the premise about a telepathic girl who loves insects with more and more shocking sequences, Argento wants to make completely sure that you are entertained above all else. That’s why in one of the earlier killing sequences, he scores the whole thing to Iron Maiden’s “Flash of the Blade,” which recurs another time later on in the film. Motorhead’s “Locomotive” even pops up perfectly in a scene that would be used for mournful reflection in any other film.

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What struck me on first viewing as an incredible aesthetic choice is how Argento fills the void between scenes by showcasing trees blowing in the breeze and insects feeding off of the foliage. He makes the perfect case that the human race are completely unknowing of the power that nature holds, how ignorant we are to think that we’re the most powerful beings who occupy this planet. So what happens when someone is given a gift to manipulate that power? That’s what he asks in Jennifer’s journey to find out the truth behind these killings.

And who better to carry out such a plot than young Jennifer Connelly, who was just coming off of a star turn in Sergio Leone’s masterpiece Once Upon a Time in America. She’s the perfect actress to emulate Jennifer’s surface-level innocence and dark current of underlying power behind her eyes. Pleasance is fantastic too, as per usual.

If my recommendation isn’t ringing highly enough already, Phenomena is a breeze to sit through despite almost clocking in at two hours. It steeps you in ugliness that ramps up to one of the most gonzo finales ever put on celluloid. So, this October, sit down with one of the masters of horror and let the thrills rush over you. Phenomena is like Brian De Palma’s Carrie, but with more flesh-eating insects and unrelenting tremors of excitement.

Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen is that guy you can't have a conversation with without bringing up Michael Mann. He is also incapable of separating himself from his teenage angst (looking at you, Yellowcard). Read on as he tries to formulate words about movies!
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