Every October I make an effort to tick off at least one new-to-me Dario Argento movie to celebrate Halloween and this year’s entry is Phenomena. Now, much like every other post-70s Argento movie it’s a severely mixed bag. No matter how muddy the films get though, I never get the sense that Argento stopped trying to be innovative and audacious with his ideas. It just feels like his ideas and ambition stopped paying off at a certain time. The execution and surrounding elements stopped gelling together in the way they did in films like Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Suspiria, Deep Red and Tenebrae.
Phenomena has some interesting stuff – lots of vivid ideas regarding telepathy and insects, a few stand-out murder set-pieces and the occasional glorious moment of WTF-ness – but it still falls short of being memorable and satisfying. There are lots of reoccurring Argento motifs but can’t help but feel a bit tired and repetitive. The all-girls school Jennifer Connelly’s character attends, for instance, is nowhere near as atmospheric and memorable as the ballet school in Suspiria. There are some cringe-worthy splashes of 80s thrash metal on the soundtrack too which dates the film terribly. Again though, I sense this was an attempt on Argento’s part to make a film that was relevant and hip as opposed to cheesy and drab. Using Goblin in Suspiria paid off, using Motorhead here does not.
There’s some novelty value in the casting. It’s fun to see Connelly so early in her career and Donald Pleasance shows up to do his usual 80s thing of being an elderly expert on something. One or two Argento regulars pop up as well namely his ex-wife and Asia’s mother Daria Nicolodi. Apparently this is the film that firmly put the nail in the coffin of their relationship. I can’t say I disliked Phenomena as Argento’s craft always gives me a bit of a buzz, even when his decisions are misjudged but I can’t say I loved it either. A minor B-side for the Italian master of suspense that I might get some replay value out of in the future.