Wednesday, October 12, 2011

31 Days Of Horror: Day 11: Phenomenon

Phenomenon has always been to a certain extent, been the odd man out of the Dario Argento films (you know before the coconut accident). A big American star, a PG rating. A plot about a girl who psychicly controls bugs and uses them to solve a murder that even by Argento standards is “fairly nutty.”

Yet despite all of the above being entirely accurate I was surprised by just how well Phenomenon fit into his oeuvre. Like Suspiria before it, Phenomenon is essentially a fairy tale (I mean it begins with a young girl entering a black forest woods and approaching a house that may as well be made of ginger bread). Despite the fact that it heavily features a chimpanzee with a distended ass that refuses to get any less distracting no matter how many times you see it (said Chimpanzee may or may not have bit off Jennifer Connelly’s finger during filming).  

Phenomenon stars Jennifer Connelly as the daughter of a movie star sent to a European boarding school. She is also a sleepwalker/psychic/bug wrangler. Because you know, Argento. Unfortunately, said boarding school is the site of several gruesome murders (How this movie got a PG is beyond me. The woman next to me spent the film actually moaning in revulsion. Ah by cutting thirty minutes out of its initial US release never mind) and Connelly is compelled to solve them, with the help of her insect friends. Although her fellow students are so bitchy one has to wonder why she bothers. She’s joined in her hunt by Donald Pleasance, a kindly old paralyzed etymologist, who cheerfully sends Connelly off on her own to go hunt a serial killer in what is perhaps not the most believeable moment in cinema history. But then again when seen through the prism of fairy tale logic it works much better. 

This leads to several trademark awesome Argento, “Brian DePalma off his meds” set pieces and imagery. Still in command of his talents they are masterpieces of suspense and style. You can start to see the cracks around the edges that would widen into chasms in his post Opera career. While Argento is able to sell most of his truly lunatic concepts, there are a few that slip through the cracks, culminating with a shot of a Chimpanzee with a distended ass, wielding a straight razor walking into the woods, seeking revenge. This is not an image the movies have given to us prior to Phenomenon.

The film also features Argento’s trademark- er let’s just say lax, dubbed dialogue (sample: “He just stays up in his room alone with his crazy thoughts”) and Goblin music score. Actually Goblin shares scoring duty with the likes of Iron Maiden and Motorhead, which would normally be pretty great, but in this case just illustrates how much Argento’s films lost when they ceased to be scored by Goblin. The disjointed score kind of sums up Phenomenon on the whole. Fascinating but disjointed. Sadly one must face the fact that this is the film where Argento’s grip first began to slip. He recovers and sticks the ending with a last fifteen minutes as crazy and wonderful as anything in the oeuvre. But that can’t change the fact that at least for awhile it looked as if Argento had no clue what he was doing. 


Neil Fulwood said...

Monkey with straight razor deus ex machina ending.

For this reason alone, I will always love 'Phenomena'.

That and, y'know, Jennifer Connelly.

Drake said...

Phenomenon - do-do do-do-do
Phenomenon - do-do-do-do
Phenomenon - do-do dododo dododo do do do do do do-do do-do do

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, this is definetly an odd one within Argento's films, I do like the images when Connely's character goes into her stuff.

But that music...ugh. It messed everthing up for me. I dont understand how they saw it and agreed that the images matched the music. It's just so disjointed as you said.

Did you see the U.S. edited version or the Italian version, because there's more gory bits in the original. A decapitation even.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Neil: That is a pretty phenomenal ending. Hooboy I'm just making bad word play all over the place today.

@ Drake: That thought had occured to me.

@ FC: I definitely saw the uncut version. That was a pretty fantastic beheading!

Dimitris said...

Perhaps my favorite Argento movie. Sure, it's bugfuck insane, the Motorhead and Iron Maiden songs are hilariously misplaced and the acting is, eh.. variable, but it's still a masterpiece of some sort.

Jennifer Connelly is wonderful, Donald Pleasance is always a good thing and the fairytale atmosphere really evocative. Plus, only Argento would be weird enough to make a horror movie where the creepy crawlies are with the good guys. Love it..

David Robson, Proprietor, House of Sparrows said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Robson, Proprietor, House of Sparrows said...

"Jennifer has a few million close friends. She's going to need them ALL."

The film boasts Argento's most beautiful ending - Inga extending her hand to Jennifer is one of the cinema's most otherworldly moments of cross-species contact, and it moves me every time.

Bill Wyman's "Valley" (heard during the film's opening minutes) is my favorite track by any of the Rolling Stones. Together or apart.

I kinda love this movie.

brokeMC said...

Worth noting is the wardrobe is all designed by Georgio Armani... It's kinda the bow on the oddly-shaped and questionably-wrapped present.