Written by: Michael Den Boer on March 3rd, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: Italy, 1985
Director: Dario Argento
Writers: Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini
Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Daria Nicolodi, Dalila Di Lazzaro, Patrick Bauchau, Donald Pleasence, Fiore Argento, Federica Mastroianni, Fiorenza Tessari, Mario Donatone, Francesca Ottaviani, Michele Soavi
BluRay released: March 7th, 2011
Approximate running times: 116 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo Italian, Dolby Digital Stereo English
BluRay Release: Arrow Video
Region Coding: Region Free
Retail Price: £24.99
Synopsis: The daughter of a world-famous actor is sent to an all-girl private school in Switzerland. Shortly after her arrival. She learns about a series of murders that all involved young women her age. Unable to fit in with the other girls. She finds companionship with an elderly entomologist and his pet monkey. She also forms a most unusual bond with insects. Which also allows her to communicate with them and unlock the identity of who the killer is?
The first thing that immediately grabbed. While revisiting Phenomena. Was how grounded the story was. Even though it is rooted in the world of the supernatural. One of the more common criticisms of Dario Argento’s films. Is how anemic his plots tend to be. And how the majority of the characters that populate these films. Are one dimensional. Even some of the secondary players in Phenomena are nothing more than window dressing. The film’s does feature what is arguably the most well rounded protagonist to ever appear in a Dario Argento film. Structure wise Phenomena does a superb job laying the groundwork for the film’s manic blood soaked finale. Also, the film finds a satisfying balance between its more carnage related moments and its more character driven moments.
For Phenomena Dario Argento re-teams with cinematographer Romano Albani. Visually Phenomena is in direct contrast to the style that they employed for their previous collaboration Inferno. They had previously worked together on Inferno. Another area in which this film stands out are its special effects. Which even by today’s standards. They hold up really well. A key collaborator on Phenomena was filmmaker Luigi Cozzi (Star Crash) who help with the film’s special effects. The one area this production stands out most from any other Dario Argento film is its soundtrack. Which included a wide variety of collaborators and styles. The soundtrack includes the following contributors, Goblin, Claudio Simonetti, Fabio Pignatelli, Simon Boswell (Andi Sex Gang), Franky Goes to Hollywood, Motorhead, Iron Maiden, Bill Wyman and Terry Taylor. The film’s most memorable musical motif is a piece title The Valley. This song is featured in the film’s opening.
Looking through the various films that Dario Argento has directed. And one area that he generally excels at is casting. And with Phenomena he assembles one of his strongest casts. In one of her first film roles Jennifer Connelly (Once Upon a Time in America) is cast in the film’s lead role Jennifer. So much of the film rests on her shoulders. And she proves to be up to the task. With her interactions with insects being her most compelling moments. Not to be outdone or overlooked is Daria Nicolodi (Deep Red) in the role of Frau Brückner. The woman who has been given the task of taking care of Jenifer. Throughout her collaborations with Dario Argento. She has played a wide variety of characters. And yet there is something about her performance in Phenomena. That is so diabolical evil and entertaining. Other performances of note include Donald Pleasence (Halloween) in the role of elderly entomologist who befriends Jenifer and Patrick Bauchau (The Pretender) in the role of a detective who has been given task of catching the killer.
Even though Dario Argento is primarily known for operatic thrillers. One must not overlook his supernatural cinematic endeavors. Most notably Suspria. A film that many critics and his majority die-hard fans widely consider his masterpiece. On the other end of the spectrum is his 1985 thriller / supernatural hybrid Phenomena. Which was butchered upon its original U.S. theatrical release and released under the title Creepers. So, it is not surprising that Phenomena has had trouble finding its audience due to these aforementioned cuts (about 28 minutes). Over the years, Phenomena has slowly gained a follow. And most of this can be attributed to the film finally being released in its 116-minute version and now Phenomena can finally be viewed with fresh eyes.
Phenomena comes on a 50 GB dual layer BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. While there have been many releases from around the world of Phenomena on DVD. My only exposure to the film is via Anchor Bay’s two DVD releases of the film. This new transfer from Arrow Video improves upon the transfers that were used for those aforementioned Anchor Bay releases in every way. Colors look consistently strong, accurate and at times vibrant. Flesh tones look healthy, black levels look very good and details look crisp throughout. There are no issues with compression and DNR while present it is never too intrusive.
This release comes with two audio options, a Dolby Digital Stereo mix in Italian and a Dolby Digital Stereo mix in English. Also included with this release are removable English subtitles. It should be noted that some lines of dialog were not recorded in English. And during these moments on the English audio track that audio reverts to Italian with English subtitles. Both audio mixes have no issues with distortion or background noise. Range wise they both do a very good job spreading out the more ambient aspects of the soundtrack. With the film’s pulsating rock music score benefiting most from these audio mixes.
Extras for this release include a brief intro before the film with special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti, a interview with composer Claudio Simonetti (6 minutes 33 seconds), a Q & A with Sergio Stivaletti (18 minutes 54 seconds) and a behind the scenes documentary titled ‘Dario Argento’s Monkey Business: The Making of Phenomena’ (52 minutes 11 seconds, in Italian with English subtitles). And the follow cast & crew are interviewed, Dario Argento, Sergio Stivaletti , filmmaker Luigi Cozzi, actress Daria Nicolodi and underwater photographer Gainlorenzo Battaglia.
The brief interview with Claudio Simonetti is the least interesting of the three extras. And his comments could have been easily incorporated into the documentary. The Q & A with Sergio Stivaletti, who discusses the various projects that he has worked on. The documentary titled ‘Dario Argento’s Monkey Business: The Making of Phenomena’ is a well rounded discussion about the film. Also it was refreshing seeing everyone’s comments broken up into one cohesive piece. That flows some much better. Then the one on one interviews that have graced previous Arrow Video releases. Also included with this release is a four panel reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork, a two sided fold out poster with new art work and a collectible booklet featuring brand new writing on Phenomena by Alan Jones, author of Profondo Argento. Overall Phenomena gets a strong BluRay release from Arrow Video.
Note: Arrow Videos is also releasing this film on DVD.